Throughout their existence, teams go through periods of time which can be identified as their Stanley Cup Windows. In any season there are several teams who are being watched a little closer as their windows begin to slide closed with every turnover, birthday and injury.
The two biggest windows that are closing, or may have already been slammed shut after this year, are the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks.
It’s been widely thought throughout the hockey world that the Canucks window started to close as soon as the goaltending controversy entered Canada’s most Western city. After losing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins, the Canucks management, and fan base, took to thrashing then starting goaltender Roberto Luongo in what would be an up and down, love and hate, relationship for the next several years.
Meanwhile, in the background, the Sedins kept getting older, Mike Gillis became more unstable and injuries began to pile up. Without a starting goaltender that can legitimately compete and steal games, the Canucks window may have already been slammed shut at the trade deadline this past season. I will say, however, that if they could find a true #1 goaltender for this season, along with a new coaching system that highlights their strengths, they could crack that window back open, if only for another season.
The problem behind finding a starting goalie is that the Canucks have 17 players under contract for the upcoming season with only $15M in cap space and obvious depth issues. That is the equivalent of being in Cap Hell if you are a team who believes they can compete in the Western Conference. The defence is bogged down with overpaid, underachieving, blueliners and the solution, at least in the media, seems to be to deal their #2 center away. I just don’t see how it can work, or how the Canucks can get back on track quick enough to open the window back up before the Sedins ride off into the Swedish sunset.
Moving on to San Jose.
Before I get too deep into it, trading Thornton and Marleau is ridiculous. You don't take a 100+ point team and rebuild it. Losing those two (or one of), regardless of return, will make this team worse when they can clearly compete with the top teams.
No team has been as consistently good as the San Jose Sharks in the last 10 years except the Detroit Red Wings. That’s pretty good company to have. The only difference is that Detroit’s success extends into the post-season, whereas the Sharks success train derails in mid-April in a fiery display of failure.
The Sharks boast some of the best offensive players in the league with Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture, but they can’t seem to bring the regular season chemistry to the dance in April.
They’ve long ridden the rails of mediocre goaltending behind a rock solid defensive system to win low-scoring games. This year was different, though, because the Sharks could finally score. There was no well dry up of goals all season long and the Sharks could now win low-scoring games as well as shootouts with some of the best teams in the league. This should have been their year.
Fast forward to the Spring Formal and the Sharks blow a 3-0 series lead to find themselves in the middle of yet another epic collapse for Team Teal.
I don’t want to say the Sharks window is closed, because they still have their core group intact, complete with defensive system to succeed, but it is getting dangerously lower with each season.
The Sharks will be one of the top teams in the West during the regular season again next year but the key for them will be bringing in several guys who can bring the energy and experience to the locker room in April. When I say experience I don’t mean simple playoff experience, because the Sharks have tonnes of that, I’m talking about winning experience.
The Sharks have to go out and collect a handful of players from recent Stanley Cup winning teams and inject their knowledge and wisdom into the group of players they already have, and that includes preparation by the coaching staff. What worked in the regular season never seems to work in the post-season for San Jose so if they are going to stand pat management and coaching staff wise, then they have to inject some winning experience into the culture in the Bay Area or that window is going come crashing down on the fingers of Doug Wilson.
At the end of the day the Canucks window is almost completely shut and it may be more obvious that it has, in fact, closed based on what they do at the draft and in free agency heading into next season. The Sharks still have the opportunity to be a top Western team again but they need to bring in some Cup experience before Thornton and Marleau find themselves in a retirement home.
Thanks for reading.