Like a lot of NHL teams these days, the San Jose Sharks are mindful more than ever of the importance of the paying customer. To that end, the Sharks annually put staff and players into the community, to hand-deliver season-ticket renewals prior to the start of training camp.
For Sharks' coach Todd McLellan, the exercise had a secondary value beyond its public-relations value. It helped him put the finger on the pulse of what the average Sharks fan was thinking. And yes - all that anti-Joe Thornton, anti-Patty Marleau sentiment that swept the NHL in the aftermath of their opening-round upset playoff loss to the Anaheim Ducks was also deeply rooted in San Jose, the anti-Phoenix, one of the few markets in the NHL's U.S. expansion that has been a success story right from the beginning.
"My pain individually is one-year pain," said McLellan, who began his second season behind the Sharks' bench Thursday night, by absorbing a painful 5-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. "For the fans and other people in the organization, it's longer. So when you go out in the community, you can sense a frustration level. I think the lightning rods - fairly or unfairly - are always Marleau and Thornton. They're the two best players on our hockey club, so that comes with the territory.
"What's often forgotten here is that there are a number of other players who have to perform. If you look at Milan (Michalek), (Joe) Pavelski and (Ryan) Clowe, they only had a goal or two in the playoffs last year. That's unacceptable for that group of people.
"The pressure and stress in the community always goes to two people - Marleau and Thornton - and I'm not denying that should or should happen. It would be nice to see some others have that pressure, so we can spread it out. Maybe then we'd have a better chance for success that way."
The Sharks return to the scene of the crime as it were on Saturday, playing the Ducks in the second game of the season, after laying a big-time egg in the opener, on Joe Sakic night in Colorado - a game in which Dany Heatley finished a grim minus-three and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was downright awful. San Jose outshot the Avs by a two-to-one count and Marleau potted a pair of goals, but they were thoroughly lax in the defensive zone, something that they'll need to correct over time.
In the immediate emotional aftermath of last year's playoff loss, San Jose general manager Doug Wilson promised sweeping changes, which led to a summer of speculation that either Thornton or Marleau or maybe both would be swept out the door.
The problem with taking productive players out of your lineup without replacing them properly is that suddenly, you can go from great to good in a hurry. The Sharks were great for most of last year's regular season -a league-leading 117 points - and actually outplayed Anaheim for large stretches of their series.
Simply put, they couldn't finish around the net, either because the Ducks' Jonas Hiller happened to be in one of those zones that goalies get into, or because the Sharks really didn't have a pure goal-scorer in the lineup.
It's why Wilson bided his time, but ultimately upped the ante to land the unhappy Heatley out of Ottawa. As San Jose pushes to erase last year's disappointing post-season, Heatley gives the Sharks something on paper they haven't had since Jonathan Cheechoo lost his 50-goal touch - an accomplished NHL sniper.
For all of his comparative inexperience at the NHL head coaching level, McLellan made a telling point about the need not to over-react in the face of a playoff disappointment, noting that he was an assistant on the Detroit Red Wings' staff in 2005-06, when they lost in the first round to the Edmonton Oilers, the last time an eighth seed eliminated a first seed in the playoffs.
"It would have been easy for (GM) Kenny Holland to say, 'we've got to rebuild it,' because they had some longer-term pain there as well," said McLellan. "Kenny had a clear vision of what he believed in; so he tinkered with some pieces and did it that way. Just to throw a bomb into it and blow it up, I don't think that's the answer.