Before the madness of the WCF tonight (stupid stupid freakin' Oilers), it's time to hand out the grades for the Sharks' players, coaches, and management. Today's installment -- the top two lines:
Joe Thornton: It's hard to argue with winning the Art Ross, being one of your team's top penalty killers, and sparking the Richard winner. Even though Joe didn't put up the points in the playoffs, he had a great first round by drawing a ton of penalties and creating a lot of plays. His point totals against Edmonton were roughly the same, but his play had been diminished as Chris Pronger did what the Predators couldn't. Regular Season: A+. Playoffs: B-.
Jonathon Cheechoo: We knew Cheech was good, but Rocket Richard good? Cheech turned into a combination of Brett Hull and John LeClair -- disappearing into shooting positions and firing away one-timers like Hull and mucking around the crease for goals like LeClair. However, passing lanes were taken away from him in the playoffs, and if you can't get the puck to him, he can't shoot. Regular Season: A-. Playoffs: C-.
Nils Ekman: Is there another NHL player that goes offsides as much as Ekman? From the doghouse (4th line/scratched) to the penthouse (Thornton/Cheechoo) and back, Ekman's lack of intensity has been frustrating since he has so much talent. If someone could do a heart transplant on Ekman, he may be a 40-goal scorer. Regular Season: C-. Playoffs: D.
Patrick Marleau: Before the Thornton trade, Marleau was the only consistent player on the Sharks. Sandwiched between rookies and journeymen (hello and goodbye Niko Dimitrakos and Grant Stevenson) for the entire season, Marleau started finding some chemistry with Milan Michalek in January and the pair really clicked when Steve Bernier returned. Against Edmonton, their line was smoking until Michalek's injury knocked things out of whack. Regular Season: A. Playoffs: B.
Milan Michalek: After an atrociously slow start, Michalek finally found his groove with Patrick Marleau and Steve Bernier. The biggest success of this season was the fact that Michalek's knee held up as he rounded into form. Next season, look for his confidence and strength to go up; as he does that, 30 goals/60 points should be a reasonable expectation. Regular Season: B-. Playoffs: B.
Steve Bernier: Bernier's first half of the season was actually worse than Michalek's simply because he didn't even make the big squad back in September. After being called back up, Bernier found a home with Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek. For once, a Sharks rookie was actually being noticed by the Canadian media. Like his linemates, Bernier had a great series against Nashville and was going strong until the Michalek injury derailed things. Regular Season: B. Playoffs: B.