Sharks

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2001-02 team ranks in franchise history

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2001-02 team ranks in franchise history

Editor's note: In honor of Shark Week, NBC Sports California will look back at the five best teams from Sharks franchise history. Numerous factors have been taken into consideration, including overall team success, roster makeup, historical significance and more. We begin with the 2001-02 Sharks.

It's Shark Week, and you know what that means.

"Jaws" marathons, maybe a rewatch of "Deep Blue Sea", and -- oh yeah -- a ranking of the best teams in San Jose Sharks history.

After all, in a week dedicated to some of the most intimidating underwater creatures, it's only fitting that we do the same to the NHL team named after them.

Some choices are obvious, others not so much. The Sharks have qualified for the playoffs in 19 of the last 21 seasons, so there's plenty of quality teams to choose from, but that can make distinguishing between them that much more challenging.

Still, though, we're talking the best of the best. With that, here's a look back at the fifth-best team in San Jose franchise history -- the 2001-02 Sharks:

Why they're the best

In the first decade of the Sharks' existence, they never won more than 40 games, nor did they claim a Pacific Division title.

In year No. 11, that all changed.

The 2001-02 squad was arguably the first team in franchise history that had the look of a legitimate Stanley Cup champion. San Jose won 44 games and tied with the Avalanche for the second-highest regular-season point total (99) in the conference behind only Detroit.

The 2001-02 team's strength lied in its balance, as it had six different 20-goal scorers, not including Mike Ricci and Adam Graves, who scored 19 and 17 goals, respectively. Owen Nolan led the Sharks with 66 points in 75 games, while Teemu Selanne scored a team-high 29 goals.

The depth wasn't limited to the skaters, though, as San Jose's goaltending was arguably in as good of a spot as it had ever been. Evgeni Nabokov was the unquestioned starter in his second full season, while Miikka Kiprusoff appeared in 20 games, and Vesa Toskala appeared in a single game as a rookie. In total, the Sharks' goalies posted a .915 save percentage (third-best in NHL) and 2.33 goals-against average over the course of the regular season.

Why they're not

The Sharks have had several heartbreaking playoff losses throughout their history, and 2001-02 certainly qualifies.

San Jose breezed through the first round of the postseason, beating the Phoenix Coyotes in only five games. The Sharks then advanced to the Western Conference semifinals to face Colorado in what would turn out to be an epic seven-game series.

Facing the likes of Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay and Peter Forsberg, the Sharks took Games 1, 3 and 5 to put themselves in position to finish the series off at home in Game 6.  After a scoreless first period, Marcus Ragnarssson scored to give the Sharks a very brief lead, as Colorado tied it up 24 seconds later on the last goal scored in regulation. Less than three minutes into the first overtime, Forsberg kept the Avalanche's season alive.

That wasn't the end of the pain, though.

Heading into Game 7, Selanne had scored 408 regular-season and 18 playoff goals in his decorated career. The Sharks could not have asked for a better person to have the puck facing an empty net, which is precisely what happened less than five minutes into the winner-take-all contest. Selanne came behind the Colorado net on a backhand wraparound, but as he tried to tuck it in, the puck slid off his blade and went across the crease, right to Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy.

San Jose went on to lose Game 7, 1-0, missing an opportunity to reach its first-ever Western Conference final, and that appeared to have a carry-over effect into the next year, when the Sharks finished dead last in the Pacific Division and posted their lowest point total in a non-lockout-shortened season since the turn of the century.

[RELATED: Projecting Sharks' protected list for 2021 expansion draft]

Verdict

There was no shame in losing to an uber-talented team like Colorado (who went on to lose in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Red Wings), but it's easy to look back and wonder, what if?

The 2001-02 Sharks had a tremendous opportunity, but get dinged for their inability to capitalize on it, and the ensuing hangover. They may not have been the most star-studded team in the league, but nonetheless, they had one of the best combinations of skill, grit and goaltending in franchise history.

Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

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Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

Sharks captain Logan Couture thanked Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu for speaking out against racism in hockey, tweeting a note Saturday that said the sport and society "are only scraping the surface in what desperately needs fixing."

"Racism exists in society, it also exists in hockey," Couture wrote. "That's a fact. Growing up in this game is a privilege. [At times,] I think most of us have been at fault for turning a blind eye when it comes to racism. It cannot continue."

Kane later tweeted his appreciation of Couture's message.

Kane, who is black, has become increasingly vocal speaking out against racism within -- and beyond -- the sport in the past year. In September, Kane told TSN 1040 in Vancouver that hockey lagged behind other professional sports in diversity and addressing racism after fan told him to "stick to basketball" in an Instagram comment. Kane called a story in "The Players Tribune" earlier this month authored by Aliu, whose revelation that Bill Peters directed racial slurs towards him in the AHL led to the Calgary Flames firing their now-former coach late last year, a must-read for everyone involved in hockey.

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody Monday outraged Kane, tweeting that video of the incident made his "[f---ing] blood boil." Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, could be heard on video saying "I can't breathe" as former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck while three other officers at the scene looked on. Chauvin and the three officers were fired Tuesday, and Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

[RELATED: Kerr says he, white people have to do more to fight racism]

Kane said Friday in an interview on ESPN's "First Take" that white athletes couldn't leave speaking up against systematic racism to their black peers. While Kane felt supported by his teammates, he told "Writers Bloc" on CJCL in Toronto later that day that hockey's team-first culture often encourages silence on a wide range of issues in the sport and outside of it.

“Is it going to change? I hope," Kane said (H/T Sportsnet's Sonny Sachdeva). "I’m going to try to be a part of the solution and process in creating that change. But … when it comes to social injustices and racism in hockey, it requires change at the top. Because, you know, that’s the only way true change is going to take place. At the top. Because it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.

“And until things change at the top ... until they make the necessary change to condemn these sort of acts and mindsets … and really weed out that type of thought process, we’re going to be stuck in the same position we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often publicly comment, said in a rare statement Friday that the Sharks applauded Kane's "rational and thoughtful response to the terrible tragedy" of Floyd's death. Defenseman Mario Ferraro retweeted the statement, and Couture's note is the first tweeted by one of Kane's San Jose teammates in support.

Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality

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Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality

Sharks winger Evander Kane called on prominent white professional athletes to speak out against police brutality against African Americans.

Kane, who is black, joined ESPN's "First Take" on Friday morning to discuss George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this week. The 28-year-old Kane said it can't just fall on black athletes to lend their voices to causes of racial justice, and white players joining their black peers is "the only way" for professional athletes to truly affect change.

"We've been outraged for hundreds of years and nothing has changed," Kane said of black people speaking out against racism (H/T Fear the Fin's Sheng Peng). "It's time for guys like (Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback) Tom Brady and (Pittsburgh Penguins center) Sidney Crosby and those types of figures to speak up about what is right, and clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong. Because that's the only way we're gonna actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change, especially when you talk about systematic racism."

Bystanders in Minneapolis recorded video Monday of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, having a white police officer's knee pressed into his neck for nearly eight minutes as three other officers looked on. Floyd pleaded that he couldn't breathe, but state charging documents alleged that the officer, Derek Chauvin, continued to have his knee on Floyd's neck for almost three minutes after he became non-responsive. Chauvin and the three other officers were fired Tuesday, and he was arrested on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday.

Kane tweeted Tuesday night that the video of Floyd's death made his "[f--king] blood boil." He shared a petition Wednesday night calling for the four former officers to face charges.

The forward has been increasingly outspoken against racism in the last year, particularly in hockey. Kane is one of just 43 NHL players of color, according to WDET, and they account for fewer than 5 percent of the league. He said he hasn't seen "too many" hockey players discuss Floyd's death, but Kane feels supported by his teammates in speaking out.

"In terms of my teammates, they're incredibly supportive of me and what I stand for," Kane said. "I think hockey, unfortunately, has a different culture than some of the other sports in terms of speaking out and using your voice and speaking your mind. I think for me, I'm one of the anomalies when it comes to NHL players doing that. That's another part of the problem, guys being scared to really speak their mind and stand up for what is right."

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often address the media, shared his support of Kane in a rare statement Friday hours after Kane's appearance on "First Take."

"There is no room for racism in society," the statement read. "We applaud Evander for his thoughtful and rational response to the recent terrible tragedy. Events like this occur way too often. We all must find a way to do better."

Kane tweeted he was "proud to be part of" the Sharks in response.

[RELATED: Kap starts fund to pay lawyers for Minneapolis protesters]

Kane said sports have the inclusive potential to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds. In order to live up to it, Kane thinks athletes -- white and black -- need to pull in the same direction off the rink, field and court.

"[When] we talk about our own personal battles outside of sports, there's a lot of people that are silent on issues," he said. "They're important issues. They're issues that have been going on for hundreds of years, and we need that same type of team mentality to be brought to issues outside of our sport."