Colorado Avalanche

Sharks' Evander Kane calls out racism in hockey in response to bigoted comment

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Sharks' Evander Kane calls out racism in hockey in response to bigoted comment

After a fan told Sharks winger Evander Kane to "stick to basketball" in an Instagram comment, the 28-year-old took to the platform to criticize hockey's blind eye to racism. 

Kane, who is black, wrote that another fan had "shouted" that to him at Denver's Pepsi Center during Game 4 of San Jose's Stanley Cup playoff second-round series with the Colorado Avalanche. 

When a commenter wrote that Kane should not "let stupid s--t bother you and move on," the Sharks star replied that his post wasn't just about this instance.

The NHL was the last major sports league to integrate, and Sports Business Daily found that, at the start of last season, fewer than 5 percent of NHL players were people of color. Black players, such as former Shark Joel Ward and current New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban, have faced racist abuse on social media. A few fans were banned from attending games in Chicago in 2018 after chanting "Basketball, basketball, basketball" at then-Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly, and current Devils forward Wayne Simmonds had a banana thrown at him during a preseason game in 2011. 

The league has made efforts to root out racism in the sport. Willie O'Ree, the league's first black player, long has been at the forefront of the NHL's efforts to bring the sport into underserved and underprivileged communities. In 2017, the NHL hired Kim Davis as its executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs. Davis, a black woman who worked for over two decades at JPMorgan Chase, was a driving force behind a traveling museum that highlighted contributions of black players and coaches to the sport during a nationwide tour in February.

Davis told The Undefeated in March that she felt her hiring said "a lot about ... the sport's willingness to embrace differences and change." The racist comment Kane highlighted indicates just how far there still is to go. 

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.

How Sharks' NHL playoffs win drove Avalanche to go big in free agency

How Sharks' NHL playoffs win drove Avalanche to go big in free agency

If your team gets booted from the playoffs, you're going to want to take stock in what got you eliminated and then improve on those things in the offseason, right? 

Just a few months after being knocked out of the playoffs by Sharks, the Colorado Avalanche did just that.

With the departure of captain Joe Pavelski headlining an emotional first day of free agency for the Sharks and their fans, it was probably easy to tune out what other teams around the NHL were doing. But the Avs made plenty of noise, and they did far more than just sign winger Joonas Donskoi to a four-year deal.

They specifically added to areas of their game that were lacking when they faced San Jose in the second round.

Hours after signing Donskoi from San Jose and depth center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare from the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado set hockey Twitter on fire by trading forward Alexander Kerfoot, defenseman Tyson Barrie, and a sixth-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for center Nazem Kadri, defenseman Calle Rosen and a third-rounder. This came a week after dealing center Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes for blue liner Kevin Connauton, and days after bringing in Andre Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals for a pair of picks.

Sure, one motivation behind these moves is preserving salary-cap space. The Avalanche's flurry of moves have (so far) resulted in a little under $3.5 million in additional salary, leaving plenty of space to re-sign restricted free agents Miiko Rantanen and Burakovsky.

But did losing to the Sharks in the playoffs also inspire some of the moves the Avalanche just made? Here's how that's possible.

San Jose had two advantages over Colorado when the teams faced off in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. The Sharks had more offensive depth and were more physical. While Colorado stars Rantanen, MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog weren't always easy to contain, San Jose limited the trio on the scoreboard by using muscle to take away the center of the ice. Beyond that, the Avs weren't working with a ton of firepower.

Kadri and Bellemare bring scoring depth, as well as a boost in physicality. Bellemare plays a strong two-way game, and has enough skill to boost Colorado's bottom six forwards as he did in Vegas. Meanwhile, Kadri gives Colorado another center to help flesh out its lineup, plus he's good at drawing penalties -- in part because he's something of an agitator -- and producing on the power play. 

But the Avs are still a speed-and-skill team, which is where adding Donskoi and Burakovsky will help. Both players are coming off of up-and-down seasons, these are two dangerous forwards who have motivation to improve with a new team.

Donskoi also provides coach Jared Bednar some versatility, as he can be deployed on any of the Avalanche's top three lines. Plus, his eventual series-clinching wrapround goal in Game 7 on Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubauer likely made an impression as well.

[RELATED: Sharks might have to trade these players to free cap space]

Despite being in a different division, the Avalanche's additions make them a growing threat in the Western Conference for the Sharks. Colorado's newfound depth and physicality this offseason will lead to a more complete team next season, and one that is even more competitive.

It's hard not to see how the Sharks themselves influenced those moves after knocking the Avs out of the playoffs just a couple months ago.