No tanking

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:03 PM ET


 Look out for the Shark attack. All those who picked the gang from San Jose to be dead in the water before the season began will feel a big bite this spring.

 It's a year later than everyone figured but the time has come for the Sharks to ascend to their place among the NHL's favourites.

 There are teams with more experience. With more talent. More proven.

 Still, there aren't many teams that have all the elements San Jose can put together.

 Every team in the Sweet 16 has more holes than a Soprano family victim.

 * Tampa Bay. Sure, the Lightning can score but we've seen plenty of high-flying clubs crash and burn when the going gets tough.

 * Toronto. The Buds are a good bet to win the East if Eddie Belfour's back holds. They'll just run out of gas before winning it all.

 * New Jersey. The defending champs still have the goalie but the defence has shown holes in the second half without Scott Stevens.

 * Boston. Rookie goalie Andrew Raycroft deserves the Calder Trophy but he's not Patrick Roy. An injured Joe Thornton is cause for alarm, too.

 * Ottawa. Great scoring. Great defence with Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and the rest. Awful goaltending.

 * Philadelphia. Again, goaltending is a question. Sean Burke's goals- against average isn't much better than it was in Phoenix. Plus, the Flyers always, inexplicably, can't score come playoffs.

 * Montreal. Youngsters Michael Ryder and Mike Ribeiro led them to the playoffs. Don't bank on that formula in the post-season.

 * New York Islanders. Leading scorer is Trent Hunter. Adrian Aucoin plays 30 minutes a game, top goalie is still learning the ropes and besides, what's Alexei Yashin ever won?

 Now to the West:

 * Detroit. The way the Wings ran away with the league and conference titles, it's hard to write them off. We won't but goaltending is still a question.

 * Vancouver. Again, goaltending. Throw in the question marks about the scoring depth and you can see a problem.

 * Colorado. Who'd guess this team would have trouble lighting the lamp down the stretch? David Aebischer and Tommy Salo will feel the heat if they struggle.

 * Dallas. Injuries are piling up and Mike Modano is a minus-21.

 * Calgary. They have grit and moxie but calling them a Cup contender is a stretch.

 * St. Louis. Great talent up front but Chris Pronger can't play both sides of the blueline for 60 minutes.

 * Nashville. In the same boat as Calgary, without the star gamebreaker.

 Which brings us back to San Jose. Sure, there are questions about the goaltending -- can Evgeni Nabokov finally do it? -- and the Sharks aren't a scoring machine. Still, they have great penalty killing, good depth and speed, an excellent checking line and a better defence than credited.

 Thanks to the NHL's parity, everybody left standing has a chance.

 Don't bank on them wanting to swim with the Sharks.


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