Chicago, IL — Have you ever heard stories where some distant cousin or brother-in-law that you saw several times a year at the typical holiday functions like; Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings, funerals ect that you thought was an ok guy and someone you would hang around with if you had more time? Can totally relate right? There is always someone like this in your family or extended family. Until this nice guy that you thought you would have as a friend, up and runs away with your wife. Here you thought he was just being nice talking to you and your wife at these tedious functions when all along he was scoping her out to swoop her away. Well that is what the Blackhawks and Sharks relationship is akin too.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson has a long history with the Blackhawks and when the Sharks needed some defensive shoring up where did Mr. Wilson look? Well he went shopping in the Blackhawks camp with posing offers to both Goaltender Antti Niemi and Hawks blueliner Niklas Hjalmarsson. With making offers to both he was assured of getting one of them if not both. We all know San Jose ended up with Niemi or in the above scenario our wife.
The Sharks ended last year as the Pacific division leader with 105 points. The Pacific division is the most competitive division in the Western Conference. The Sharks ended up second overall in the Western Conference behind the Vancouver Canucks but was exited by these same Canucks in the conference finals. The Sharks have been in the playoffs for the past 5 years and has been knocking on the door in the conference finals the past two years. It was the Blackhawks who escorted the Sharks out of the playoffs in the finals in the 09-10 season in 4 straight games where they swept the Sharks.
In the 2010 campaign the Sharks were a very, very good team. The were 2nd on the PP in the league, 6th overall on offence and 10th overall on defense. Their glaring weakness was on the PK where they ranked 24th overall. 1 You could never question the Sharks offensive power with the likes of Marleau, Heatley, Thornton, Pavelski, Setoguchi, Couture all 20 goal plus scorers. It was the Sharks Defense that was always suspect which is why they wanted Niemi. But it was this years off-season trades that may just push San Jose to the Stanley Cup Finals. With big time trades of Heatley and Setoguchi to the Minnesota Wild, it is not who they lost but who they gained Brent Burns and Marty Havlat (another former Hawk). The key is Brent Burns and how much he will solidify the Sharks D in front of Niemi.
Most will revel in the Blackhawks bitter rivalry with the Canucks as the foe to beat in 2011 but I believe it will be the Sharks that will be the Hawks biggest nemesis outside of the Central Division and the team that I think they are destined to meet again in the Western Conference finals. Did the Sharks do enough to shore up their D so Antti Niemi does not have to carry them every game? Can the Blackhawks best Niemi as they most certainly know his weaknesses and how best to beat him. These two teams will be done meeting each other early in February and will not see each other again unless they meet in the playoff and somehow I have a gut feeling they will. The experts are picking on of these two teams to represent the West in the SCF but which one will it be? I think it boils down to who will have the hot goalie and the least amount of defensive mistakes.
This is shaping up to be a great contest between two excellent teams. Can you really blame them for also thinking that your wife was attractive and that they wanted her for themselves? Everything always works out for the best. Niemi would never have gotten the long term commitment or deal he got with the Sharks. The Sharks got stability in goal. The Blackhawks got another great young goaltender that was in their backyard all along in Corey Crawford. It will be epic for these to Goalies to face each other once and for all to settle the question of whether or not the Blackhawks made the right choice in letting Niemi go.
The one thing about having your wife run off with someone else is that, yes it will initially sting and maybe sting for a long time. There maybe times when you miss her face but life goes on for all. In time once past the hurt, you may even wish her well in her endeavors and genuinely want the best for her. Then one day you see her again, looking beautiful and maybe have a twinge of jealousy that she is not still your wife. Then you realize you didn’t really lose anything because if someone will leave you easily, they were never really yours to begin with and you ended up with a better wife in the long run.
Antti Niemi is a good goaltender, potentially a great goaltender with a solid D in front of him who knows what he can accomplish. Always liked Niemi when he was a Hawk, still like Niemi and wish him the best except when facing the Blackhawks of course. Crawford though has made the Blackhawks faithful forget about Niemi which is no easy task and almost singlehandedly kept them in many games last year which was not the defenses best. It is fair to say if it wasn’t for Crawford, the Blackhawks would have been out of it earlier in the 2010 season. So you might think Crawford is already a great goaltender and last years playoff experience will only help him.
Yes all is right in the hockey world and everything is as it should be with Niemi in the Sharks net and Crawford in the Hawks net. Let’s hope the experts and I are correct and these two teams and goalies face each other this year in the Western Conference finals. There’s nothing like having a beautiful woman on your arm at a party when you run into your ex who looks spectacular as well. Two stunners in the same room and you get to gaze at both beauties all night! No matter how the party ends, you know you’ve won because your going home with the best woman for you.
1 taken from the Hockey News Yearbook