Three reasons why this year’s San Jose Sharks team is different

If you ask me, it’s ridiculous to make a Stanley Cup victory the only barometer for a successful NHL season. Yet that’s the way it is with some hockey fans and pundits, at least when it comes to teams who have a reasonable chance at success.

Fair or not, the San Jose Sharks – and their frequently critiqued captain Joe Thornton, in particular – have been dismissed as paper regular season champions who fold once playoff time comes. Perhaps that’s the price they pay for consistent success at the “wrong” time.

Still, with the Sharks claiming their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title, experts are starting to wonder if this might be the San Jose team that breaks through. With that in mind, I thought I’d look at the biggest reasons why this Sharks team is different from previous, some-might-say disappointing editions.

1. Improved scoring depth

While people practically trip over their own feet rushing to blame Thornton for the latest “collapse,” those same folks often overlook the fact that hockey is a team sport. Maybe depending so much on one player – particularly a playmaker whose passing lanes clog up considerably in the postseason – isn’t such a great idea in a time when teams can dedicate far more time to getting matchups right.

Thornton is still a go-to guy in San Jose, but their offense isn’t leaning on him as much as years passed. Jumbo Joe only has 68 points in 2010-11, his lowest total since 01-02 (when he was 22 years old).

Beyond stalwarts Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, the Sharks are generating more offense from lower lines. While Joe Pavelski was a well-respected two-way forward among knowledgeable hockey fans, he truly burst onto the scene during a red-hot 2010 playoffs run.

Beyond “The Big Pavelski,” the Sharks are also reaping the rewards of trusting rookie center Logan Couture. He’s an odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy for his offensive ability (31 goals and 54 points), but distinguishes himself for being a superior all-around player. Devin Setoguchi is another wild card at the wing position, giving the Sharks a more robust set of options when they need a goal.

Add this extra versatility with a roster that was already jam-packed with big, talented players and you have a team that could go all the way.

2. A new workhorse goalie

When reporters took a break from blaming Thornton, they turned their sights on former franchise goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Honestly, those criticisms were often a bit more reasonable, especially judging by the Sharks’ frustrating 2009 playoff series defeat to the Anaheim Ducks.

He began his Sharks career with a shaky start, but San Jose is clearly sold on Antti Niemi as their goalie of the present and future. Niemi has flourished with the increased security of being the clear No. 1 in the middle of the season. He is on a run of starting 34 consecutive games and won 25 games in that span, leaving him with 34 overall.

Of course, Niemi also provides something the Sharks desire almost as much as his steady netminding: the clout that comes with having a Stanley Cup ring.

3. Maybe a bit less baggage?

There will likely always be a segment of the hockey media and fans who won’t let the Sharks off the hook until they raise the Cup. That being said, making it to the Western Conference finals last season (and beating the Detroit Red Wings in the second round) probably validated the team’s efforts to some extent.

They also won’t go into the playoffs as the biggest favorites, being that the Vancouver Canucks are the Presidents’ Trophy winners and the top seed in the West. Sure, San Jose isn’t likely to slip under the radar, either … but maybe a little less pressure will help them succeed.

***

The Sharks aren’t a perfect team. There are still some concerns about their depth on defense and some worries about the health of burly forward Ryane Clowe.

Still, there are reasons to think this San Jose team might have the juice to make some serious noise in the playoffs. Does that mean they will be able to silence their loudest critics or will they just make those points echo louder? We’ll just have to wait and see.

WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings vs Anaheim Ducks

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Los Angeles Kings

Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tanner PearsonTrevor LewisTyler Toffoli

Alex IafalloNick ShoreMarian Gaborik

Kyle CliffordTorrey MitchellAndy Andreoff

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez

Kevin Gravel– Christian Folin

Starting Goalie: Darcy Kuemper

NHL on NBCSN: Kings look to end losing streak vs. Ducks

Anaheim Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Andrew CoglianoRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting Goalie: John Gibson

Red Fisher, as told by those who knew him

The Canadian Press
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Red Fisher is a mythical name in sports journalism.

Fisher’s death on Friday at 91 sent shockwaves through the National Hockey League community, and stories upon stories — snippets of Fisher and his life — began circulation around the Internet, many on Twitter by those who worked alongside him and those who had the pleasure to speak with the man.

Fisher’s life will be immortalized in print in the coming days. Michael Farber wrote this beautifully done piece for the Montreal Gazette already today. A must-read.

Here’s what his contemporary’s are saying, those that revere him and the people who Fisher made an impact on in so many ways:

 

Kraken? Totems? New domains raise interesting Seattle possibilities

Oak View Group
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It’s all in the name. A domain name.

As DetroitHockey.net’s Clark Rasmussen points out, even though a Seattle franchise hasn’t been announced yet, it hasn’t stopped some interesting speculation as to what that team would be called if and when that announcement comes.

The Seattle Kraken? Totems? Rainers? They’re all interesting (and perhaps potential) possibilities for what would be the NHL’s 32nd franchise.

Rasmussen has been following the registration of domain names for websites that are cropping up over the past several weeks. Many, he says, are bought by “known domain speculators” looking to make a quick buck if their speculation turns out to be accurate.

But Rasmussen stumbled upon something a little meatier on Thursday.

“By my count, 38 domains representing 13 different possible names were registered under the name of Christina Song,” Rasmussen wrote on his blog. “Ms. Song, according to her LinkedIn profile, is General Counsel at Oak View Group, who won the bid to redevelop Seattle’s Key Arena on December 4. The domains were registered via an email address for a lawyer at Gibson Dunn. That firm assisted Oak View Group in the Key Arena bid process.”

Rasmussen isn’t new to this. He did some great work in the lead up to the naming of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Rasmussen is quick to point out that 13 names that were registered don’t necessarily mean one of them will be the chosen name for the new club.

“The franchise hasn’t even been applied for,” he writes, noting that the ownership group hasn’t even been formed yet. “There is the distinct possibility that this is nothing. That said, someone so close to the process applying for so many related domains is worth noting.”

Indeed.

The names Rasmussen found were:

Seattle Cougars
Seattle Eagles
Seattle Emeralds
Seattle Evergreens
Seattle Firebirds
Seattle Kraken
Seattle Rainiers
Seattle Renegades
Seattle Sea Lions
Seattle Seals
Seattle Sockeyes
Seattle Totems
Seattle Whales

In an update to his original story later on Friday, Rasmussen identified 38 domains that were registered on Thursday for two years.

They are:

seattle-cougars.com
seattlecougarshockey.com
seattleeagles.com
seattle-eagles.com
seattleeagleshockey.com
emeraldshockey.com
seattle-emeralds.com
seattleemeraldshockey.com
evergreenshockey.com
seattleevergreens.com
seattle-evergreens.com
seattleevergreenshockey.com
firebirdshockey.com
seattlefirebirds.com
seattle-firebirds.com
seattlefirebirdshockey.com
seattle-kraken.com
seattlekrakenhockey.com
rainiershockey.com
seattle-rainiers.com
seattlerainiershockey.com
seattlerenegades.com
seattle-renegades.com
seattlerenegadeshockey.com
sealionshockey.com
seattle-sealions.com
seattle-sea-lions.com
seattlesealionshockey.com
seattleseals.com
seattle-seals.com
seattlesealshockey.com
seattle-sockeyes.com
seattlesockeyeshockey.com
seattle-totems.com
whaleshockey.com
seattlewhales.com
seattle-whales.com
seattlewhaleshockey.com


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

No suspensions, just fines for Dustin Brown, Evgeni Malkin

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At least one things seems consistent when it comes to the NHL’s fines and suspensions: Dustin Brown sure has a knack for avoiding supplemental discipline.

The hard-hitting Los Angeles Kings forward agitates and frustrates, and sometimes he hurts with polarizing hits. Yet, even with a resume full of debatable checks, Brown only has one suspension to his name.

Many expected that toll to rise to two today after an ugly looking cross-check on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz, but that was not the case. Instead, the Department of Player Safety is only giving Brown a $10K fine.

Evgeni Malkin was also fined $5K for spearing Brown (video isn’t available at the moment, but many claim that Malkin speared Brown in the groin).

The Penguins ended up winning last night 3-1, adding to their recent upswing and extending the Kings’ losing streak to five games.

You can see the Brown incident, which drew a match penalty, in the video above this post’s headline. Brown explained his side of the story, as you can see in this post, and maybe that hearing ended up going in his favor?

“I’m going to close on him. He stumbles, toe picks. I don’t drive him into the wall or anything,” Brown said afterward via LA Kings Insider. “Also, closing on the play, at the most it’s probably a two, I think. I mean, who knows because of the protocol and all that, but it’s one of those plays where I’m going to close and he’s in an unfortunate spot.”

The bright side is that Schultz at least seems OK.

Even so, plenty of people are upset with this drawing a mere fine instead of forcing Brown to miss time, particularly in the backdrop of Andrew Cogliano seeing his ironman streak end thanks to a two-game suspension.

This isn’t just a matter of Penguins fans griping, either, as Brown tends to draw wider ire from observers in moments like these.

The Department of Player Safety is no stranger to handing out head-scratching rulings, but we’re no longer in the Brendan Shanahan days in which there would be more widespread explanations for decisions. The league seems responsive when it comes to complaints about spin-o-ramas and lengthy offside reviews, but when it comes to suspensions and fines, it seems like fans and media are still on for an uphill battle.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.