NHL history was made last season as the California-based teams — the San Jose Sharks, L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks — all made the playoffs. It was the first time the three qualified for the postseason in the same year and, given how strongly they finished (each had at least 46 wins and 98 points), it looked like the start of a compelling three-way postseason rivalry.
But now, less than a year later, things couldn’t be more different.
The Ducks and Kings both fired their head coaches before Dec. 15 and are in a dogfight for eighth place. The Sharks, meanwhile, have blown their lead in the Pacific Division and face the sobering reality that, halfway through a season-high nine-game road trip, they too are in a playoff battle.
“All of us realize what we’re in for right now,” Joe Thornton told the Mercury News after a 6-3 loss to Columbus. “We’ve pretty much hit bottom now and hopefully we can dig our way out of it because we’re definitely in a race now to get into the playoffs.”
The Columbus loss moved San Jose to 1-4-1 on its nine-game trek and essentially wiped out its division lead. Phoenix is now tied with San Jose on 69 points while Dallas, once thought to be out of the running, is just five points back.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan says he’s concerned about the current swoon.
“I don’t know if some guys really understand where we are at this point in the season and how the season is dwindling quickly,” McLellan said. “You can’t just come to the rink and wear a jersey. You have to find a way to contribute. There’s been a few that haven’t lately and that’ll be my job tomorrow. We’ll address it in one-on-ones.”
It’s unlikely that none of the California teams will make the playoffs this year, but the possibility is there. If Phoenix overtakes top spot in the Pacific, the Sharks (69 points) would find themselves in the mix for spots seven and eight with L.A. (66), Calgary (65), Dallas (64) and Colorado (62). Anaheim (60) has been hot of late but still has plenty of ground to make up and teams to leapfrog, including the Minnesota Wild (61).