Tanking has sadly become far too big a part of the sporting lexicon. We don’t really bat an eye when a team chooses to pass on a season or two and barfs up a malformed, odorous product on the fields or sheets of play with the promise of better to come. Price of doing business these days, their fans will tell themselves to get through a very long and cold six months or two years, however long they’re in the wilderness of “rebuilding.”
It becomes more acceptable when a team like the San Jose Sharks feels as though they have to speed up the wheel to take it to the bottom portion of the ride, given how long they were at the top of the wheel.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t marvel when a team dives so far into the muck, leaves such a pile of rubble, that one may wonder or forget what had stood there before. That is today’s San Jose Sharks, a truly unique marker of what tearing a team down to the studs can look like. Because there are no studs, there is no foundation, and when Ned Flanders asks, “Did the rubble burn down?” the answer is an unequivocal, “Yes.”
This weekend the Sharks gave up 20 goals in two games. A 10-1 loss to the Canucks on Thursday, backed up on Saturday night with a 10-2 loss to the Penguins (so, an improvement?). The Sharks’ two starting goalies, MacKenzie Blackwood and Kaapo Kahkonen, can’t manage a save-percentage over .880 between them. The funny thing is that Kahkonen, in five starts, actually has a goals saved over expected of 0.1. He’s been getting pelted so heavily with vulcanized rubber that his .876 save-percentage is what the numbers and graphs say is exactly what he should have.
And it’s not like the Penguins and Canucks are either of the league’s premier firing squads. Vancouver has had a nice start to the season, but this isn’t the Knights or the Oilers or Devils or Avalanche showing up at the door. They’re more than likely both going to end up middle of the pack of the NHL this season. And they both went for a face card against the Sharks to get right on their seasons.
One could look at the numbers for the Sharks to try to understand just how bad it’s been and how bad it will be. But Corsi-share or expected goals-share aren’t really the best way to go about capturing the whole aura of what’s skating out there in teal this season. Cold, hard numbers give you the enormity, but they can’t express the impact or feeling. You can be told what an aircraft carrier is in feet, but you have to see one up close to understand the sheer specter of it.
One has to look at this roster. A club can dumpster dive to put together a roster that won’t play its way out of a prime draft slot. And then a team can hang out on the docks and merely lash together whatever was floating under them and the wayward and lost souls that just end up there because they’ve run out of land to wander aimlessly.
Here at The Tank there is Tomas Hertl, who must spend every night beseeching God to answer him on what he could have possibly done to be sentenced to leading this. And after that, it is only the damned and the bewildered. Mike Hoffman was a 30-goal scorer not so long ago, and was considered Mark Stone’s running buddy and peer in Ottawa. He then vagabond’ed from Florida to St. Louis to Montreal and now to the part of California that does not represent hope and rebirth. Anthony Duclair is on his 27th team. Filip Zadina is yet another pile of scrap discarded from the Yzerplan as it keeps crashing particles together in the hopes of producing something, anything. Luke Kunin was discarded from Minnesota, yet another faceless foot soldier that they specialize in, and came to the Bay Area ready for his life of middling, unnoticeable work and playing in a terrible Dad Band on Thursday nights at the local. The charred husk of Marc-Edouard Vlasic stumbles around the rink, rambling incoherently of classic games played in 2010 or 2011 conference finals or Olympics past, no one able to remember that he actually did play in those games and those memories are all that’s keeping various ligaments of his together.
Fabian Zetterlund, Nico Sturm, Givani Smith, Kyle Burroughs . . . these are, assuredly, not real people. They must be aliases so that any hockey observer bored and interested enough cannot trace them back to the DMV or law firms that they had worked at as recently as August. It is a fantasy camp for at least half this roster, with as much of the masochism as they can enjoy, but with way less leather than they were probably anticipating.
Eleven games, one point and somehow getting the Avalanche to a shootout, the high-water mark of a season a month old already. The Sharks are on pace for eight points on the season. And what really darkens the Bay Area, is that the Sharks are not just bottoming out, but salting their own Earth for a draft that does not have a generational talent at the head of it. They are a roster away from being a roster away.
But anything worth doing is worth doing well. Anyone can strip down a team. The easy part is to remove all assets from a team for prospects and picks. But to put this together, to ice this loosely lassoed gaggle of atoms that barely constitute any element is a new accomplishment. GM Mike Grier is the homicidal artist that Jack Nicholson’s Joker could only dream of and weep that he would never reach. This is unique. This is an achievement. This is brilliance in destruction and sabotage. Bravo.
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