Sharks have solid young team
Last Friday, sports editor Jeremy Littau and I were talking about the upcoming hockey season as two sports fans normally would. We began by me sniveling about the Colorado Avalanche losing an important group of players to the New York Rangers and what kind of impact that would have on the Avs this season and quickly digressed into a discussion about the defending champion Dallas Stars.
Then I was thrown a question that I had thought little about: who is available in mid-season trades? The name that came immediately to mind was San Jose Sharks captain Owen Nolan. The Sharks have never finished a season at or above the .500 mark in their eight-year existence.
Nolan was to be their savior and take the team to the next level while being the team leader in every way possible. Three years have passed since he was traded to the Sharks from the Quebec/Colorado franchise. He lost out on a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche, and Nolan is still searching for the game that many thought would transcend him into one of the league’s elite.
The Sharks have been notorious for being slow-starters, as in evident in their 16-55-9 record in their first 10 games of each season since being awarded a franchise in 1991. This season should be different, as the Sharks have won both games they have played thus far.
Getting back to Nolan, his ears must have been burning because he has played magnificently in the first two games. Nolan has seven points, six coming in Monday’s victory against the Chicago Blackhawks as he and teammate Jeff Friesen recorded the league’s first two hat tricks of the season.
Nolan and Friesen, along with center Vincent Damphousse, should provide the Sharks with the most dangerous line San Jose fans have ever seen. Damphousse, after coming over from Montreal late last year averaged more than a point per game and brought a Stanley Cup ring to the San Jose locker room.
The Sharks have a very young team on offense with Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm providing some explosiveness and once again have Gary Suter to lead the defense by his example.
The Sharks’ goaltending will be a platoon system, with two-time Stanley Cup winner Mike Vernon and former back-up to Dominic Hasek, Steve Shields. This tandem will keep the Sharks in many games and more importantly keep them close in the standings.
n The Colorado Avalanche were the last team to begin the season in the National Hockey League, as they traveled to the hockey mecca of Nashville, Tennessee. By the way, do you know why it is apparent that the toothbrush was invented in Tennessee? Because if it was invented anywhere else, it would have been called the teethbrush. Thank you, I’ll be here all week.
Back to the travel problems of the Avalanche. The makeup of the Northwest Division of the Western Conference is jaded so bad that the Avs have not one division game inside the boundaries of America. Having to play Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver on the road will wear out the Avalanche come February or March. I’ts a joke to compare the Northwest Division to the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, where the longest trip is 200 miles.
To make matters worse, the Avs start the season on a five-game road trip and play ten of their first 12 away from the brand new Pepsi Center in Denver. Have skates will travel if you are a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
n Well, it didn’t take long for league gestapo agent Colin Campbell to shell out some suspensions. In Saturday’s game against Dallas, Ruslan Salei of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks put an inexcusable hit on the Stars’ Mike Modano, causing a mild concussion, broken nose and sore ribs.
If you have seen the play, then my words speak for themselves. Modano was in a vulnerable position past the goal line and was leveled and put into a position that quite honestly could have paralyzed him. Salei was suspended for ten games without pay, while teammates Pascal Trepaneir and Jim McKenxie were suspended for five and four games, respectively, for other incidents in the same game.
n There a good number of teams that are are still missing top players due to contract holdouts, but none more important than Boston goaltender Byron Dafoe.
Dafoe recorded ten shutouts last year and was the backbone for a team that made it to the conference semis. The team needs to come to terms with Dafoe after letting Dmitri Khristich walk because they thought they could get by without him.
Khristich led the team in goals last season with 29, but Boston G.M. Harry Sinden decided that upstarts like Anson Carter and Jason Allison should be able to take the team somewhere that they have not been since Bobby Orr played – the Stanley Cup. Boston, looking like the cast from “Welcome Back, Kotter” has not won a cup since 1970.
Sinden has been the G.M. for the last 29 years. The way I look at it is if you or I did not perform our duties linked to our job, we would be terminated after a period of time. Sinden has not performed his job for 29 years. That’s what I call job security.
Another superstar that has still not signed is Ottawa Senator Alexei Yashin. If Yashin does not sign, look for third-liners Radek Bonk and Marian Hossa to shoulder the load. Other top players that have not signed: Nikolai Khabibulin of the Phoenix Coyotes and Keith Primeau of the Carolina Hurricanes.
n Teams that have helped themselves in the off-season: The Los Angeles Kings with the addition of Zigmund Palffy, the Rangers with Theo Fleury, and the Chicago Blackhawks with Wendel Clark.
Some things to watch for during the first month of the season:
n If Dallas can play without Modano and Sydor, who are out indefinitely.
n If Detroit can build a big lead in a weak division.
n If Colorado can withstand their brutal road schedule and win their three measly home games.
n If San Jose can hang with Dallas in the Pacific.
n If the Flyers have the heart to challenge New Jersey.
n If the Rangers can provide New York with post-Gretzky excitement.
n If Buffalo can play knowing that Hasek is going to retire.
n If Pavel Bure can bring respectability back to Florida.
n Mike Keanan.
Trevor Smith is the Nevada Appeal hockey columnist.