Posted: Monday May 8, 2006 1:22PM; Updated: Monday May 8, 2006 3:43PM
Patrick Marleau has extended his career season (86 points) into the playoffs, where he has scored eight goals in six games.
Darren Eliot will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
The San Jose Sharks' story this season is compelling on so many levels that it's tough to know where to begin. With the top four seeds falling in the first round in the Western Conference, the Sharks have home ice in this round against the Edmonton Oilers and the conference final should they advance. That is no small advantage. The patrons of the Shark tank engage in game proceedings in as loud a fashion as any in the entire league.
Maybe that is the starting point in all of this. The Sharks are this community's team. When the team joined the league in the fall of 1991, some wondered about the viability of a franchise set in Northern California. But even through the lean early years, the fans embraced the Sharks. The team made the playoffs in 1994 for the first time and upset the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings in seven games. In fact, the Sharks' first three playoff series went seven games, giving the neophyte fan base plenty of action to feed its frenzy.
After going through organizational transitions in ownership and management from 1995 to '99, the Sharks are now a playoff perennial, qualifying for the postseason in six of the last seven seasons. In 2004 they went to the conference final, only to lose in six games to the Calgary Flames. After the Sharks' 2-1 victory over the Oilers on Sunday in Game 1, the locals are entertaining thoughts of another trip to the final four -- maybe in the form of an all-California clash against their SoCal rival, the Anaheim Ducks.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, because no matter how this series plays out, the Sharks faithful have plenty to root for. They have Joe Thornton, the Art Ross winner as the regular-season scoring champ. His winger, Jonathan Cheechoo, won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-getter. Centering the next line is captain Patrick Marleau, a quiet leader who is likewise coming off a career-best season. And backstopping the effort is longtime backup Vesa Toskala, who has turned his sometimes-frantic acrobatics into fundamentally sound puck-stopping.
Toskala's journey to this run of excellence is at the root of the Sharks' current success, which is rooted in being homegrown. The Sharks have drafted well, taught their young players well at the AHL level and nurtured with patience. They have six official rookies -- seven if you include 27-year-old Pat Rissmiller and his 27 games of NHL experience.
Executive vice president Doug Wilson oversees the hockey vision, and his wrangling to bring Thornton from Boston should net him Executive of the Year honors. With Thornton in the lineup, the Sharks rolled to a 35-15-7 record before dispatching the Nashville Predators in five games in the first round.
Bringing it all together is head coach Ron Wilson. His team plays an exciting brand of hockey based on skating skills and a puck-possession offense generated below the hash marks. The Sharks pressure and bang and generally perform at a lively pace.
That enthusiastic style is the culmination of many well-thought-out decisions throughout the organization, making the franchise a well-run business. But don't tell the fans that. It may be too mundane a concept and spoil all the fun.