SANTA CRUZ, May 30, 2014— As the 2014 NHL season winds down, the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in unfamiliar territory, rebuilding and retooling in spite of dominant regular season performances. Both clubs have finished at or near the top of their respective divisions for several consecutive seasons, yet each team has fallen short of the expectations of fans, pundits and club management.
Pittsburgh has been the more successful of the two, appearing in two Stanley Cup finals, taking home the storied hardware in 2009. However, this did not stop the Penguins from parting ways with general manager Ray Shero this month, and if the buzz is correct, more changes are in store.
In San Jose, an aging core have succeeded in putting up dominant regular season numbers for almost a decade, but have sputtered and collapsed in the playoffs. The Sharks’ postseason ineptitude is well documented, and, after each successive playoff exit, general manager Doug Wilson has scrambled to make subtle adjustments to a roster he must have felt was always just one or two pieces short.
The fact that two teams which have compiled such impressive win totals are contemplating extreme overhauls is a testament to the fleeting nature of NHL success. All the regular season victories and goal differentials mean little if the team is not successful in the playoffs.
Clearly, management in Pittsburgh has grown weary of the same show being repeated year after year, and Ray Shero, by all accounts a brilliant and proactive hockey executive, was the first to pay the price. The Penguins are likely not finished, and when the dust settles, fans can expect a vastly different roster than the one which lost to the New York Rangers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. Aside from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, there may be few untouchables on the current Penguins depth chart.
The Sharks must also decide who to keep, and their decision is made more difficult by the fact that two of the players with whom they must part ways just signed extensions and have no trade clauses in their contracts. For now, San Jose head coach Todd McLellan appears to be safe, and it is reasonable to expect Wilson to hang on to young players like Thomas Hertl, Matt Nieto and Justin Braun. Whichever way things go, it will be an interesting summer for the Sharks, and fans will likely be cheering for several new players next season.
Two successful teams built by savvy executives and adored by rabid fan bases have been brought to their knees by their collective inability to play championship hockey. Fans of these two clubs face a summer of uncertainty and change, and their allegiance will be tested by a host of new faces next year. They will also likely face the reality of seeing once revered players in different sweaters. It is the nature of the game, and the price of too much of one kind of success.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.