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CHICAGO -- There was no rush to celebrate on the mound. Cheap Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys . No dramatic walk-off moment to send the Wrigley faithful into a clinching frenzy. The players didnt even stick around to see if they would end the night as division champions or have to come back to cut that final 1 off the magic number themselves Friday afternoon.Sure, its anticlimactic to back into the playoffs, but when you do it on Sept. 15 -- or is it 16 -- it hardly takes away from the sentiment. The Chicago Cubs lost their clinching game to the Milwaukee Brewers?5-4 on Thursday night, but when the St. Louis Cardinals fell in San Francisco later in the evening the Cubs could still call themselves NL Central champions.It was only a couple of days ago, while the Cubs were in the midst of taking two of three from those Cardinals, that outfielder Dexter Fowler declared it was inevitable his team would clinch soon enough.It was an easy statement to make considering its September and the Cubs held a 17-game lead at the time, but he could have made the same declaration on Aug. 15, July 7 or even all the way back on June 1. The Cubs first division title since 2008 was months in the making and has felt inevitable since their incredible 25-6 start.Its a lot different scenario than last year, pitcher Jake Arrieta said Thursday. Not knowing where we were playing [in October]. Trying to catch the Cardinals. They had a lead and held onto it. Knowing where were going to go [this year] and having a brief period of off time to prepare, it just gives us a lot of options.Last year the Cubs made the postseason quite easily but fought hard to capture the division, eventually failing by three games to St. Louis. That push took its toll as Arrieta, the eventual Cy Young winner, hit a wall by the time the Cubs got to the NLCS. He wasnt the only one as manager Joe Maddon exacted all he could out of his young team -- but this year things can be different.Overall ... treat it like a spring training, Maddon said regarding the rest of the regular season. The kind of work you do before the game and the lineups. Make it more spring training-like.To truly understand how this season came about, and where it goes from here, we need to go back to the end of last year and the beginning of this one.The Cubs were just figuring out who they could be in the second half of 2015 and rode a wave of youthful talent all the way to the NLCS. Those four games -- all losses to the New York Mets?-- did nothing to diminish the excitement created by the previous months. Remember, the youngest team in the league had won its final eight regular-season games, shut out Pittsburgh in the wild-card game and steamrollered the Cardinals in the divisional round. Bowing out quietly to the Mets wasnt viewed as the end of anything, just the beginning.Fast forward to this spring. A short offseason brought one of the more memorable quotes from reigning Rookie of the Year -- and current MVP candidate --?Kris Bryant. He was asked how he viewed 2016 coming off of 2015.Its just a continuation, Bryant said back in February. With a three-month break. Thats what it feels like in here. Were just going to pick up where we left off but hopefully play a little longer this year.Picking up where they left off is exactly what the Cubs did, partly because of Bryants mindset and partly because Maddon made sure of it. With offseason expectations through the roof, he took advantage of it all instead of running away. He instructed his team to embrace the target and in doing so the players were locked in by the time April arrived.This teams greatest moments came early when other teams -- including contending ones -- were still feeling their way. Meanwhile, the Cubs were firing on all cylinders right from Game 1, a 9-0 drubbing of the Los Angeles Angels.Even then there was a feeling it could be a special season as Angel Stadium was full of Cubs fans. That scene would play out over and over again on the road as chants of M-V-P were directed toward Kris Bryant at Dodger Stadium, and Ryan Braun was booed at his home park in Milwaukee. Those are only two examples of when the Cubs had an extremely vocal crowd cheering for them on the road.The fans have been incredible, Fowler said. All year long, wherever we go. Ive never seen anything like it.Even well before clinching late Thursday, players were thinking about a longer postseason run then they had the year before. The Cubs have followed the path of many teams before them. First came learning how to win, then actually doing it and now comes finishing the job. Even though Maddon often reminds people he doesnt have fully developed players at many key positions, the Cubs simply dont have a glaring weakness this year. All areas of their game are better than last season.As a team, it was our first goal, but the focus of this group has been far beyond that, Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks said. We know where we have to go, so its a small stepping stone.That has been the theme since returning to the playoffs became a sure thing -- so basically since spring training. As far as the Cubs are concerned, Thursday was just the beginning of whats to come.They might have backed into the title but in reality they took it from day one. Wholesale Cavaliers Jerseys . NBA officials ruled the court unplayable in the Bucks final exhibition game on Oct. 25 because players were slipping, and the game was cancelled midway through the first period. Cheap Cavaliers Jerseys China . But what about the officials? Every sport has officials and they also have stories about hard work and sacrifice but their accomplishments are seldom recognized by anyone outside their inner circle. http://www.cheapcavaliersjerseysauthentic.com/ . The Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays, and Texas Rangers all won on Sunday meaning the Rangers will host the Rays in a play-in game on Monday. Yet again, the San Jose Sharks had a competitive year, reaching the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, though they suffered a seven-game loss to Los Angeles in the second round of the playoffs. Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Sharks team that figures to be contenders again next year, but the window of opportunity is closing for the teams core. While contract extensions could get worked out this summer, as it stands right now, Sharks veterans Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle are all set to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2013-2014 season. With all but Pavelski (who is most likely to get extended) in their mid-30s at that point, the coming season could be the last best shot for this group to win. "Were not a team thats going to miss the playoffs for five or seven years and go into a rebuild," GM Doug Wilson told CSN Bay Area. "We dont believe in that. We want to reset on the fly." The Sharks have pieces in place that should allow them to remain competitive as they transition from a team led by Thornton and Marleau to one led by Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns, but if they are going to win a Stanley Cup in 2014, theyre probably going to have to be aggressive in their attempts to add talent. The current core has established that it is competitive, good enough to win a few rounds in the playoffs, but if this is the final season for some of those long-tenured Sharks, will they be good enough to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender? The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65. Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com. GM/COACH Doug Wilson/Todd McLellan Returning Forwards Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Cap Hit Logan Couture 76.75 48 21 16 37 +7 $2.875M Joe Pavelski 75.08 48 6 5 11 +5 $4.0M Joe Thornton 72.15 48 7 33 40 +6 $7.0M Patrick Marleau 71.88 48 17 14 31 -2 $6.9M Brent Burns 69.37 30 9 11 20 0 $5.76M Raffi Torres 64.28 39 7 11 18 0 $2.0M Martin Havlat 64.07 40 8 10 18 +7 $5.0M Tommy Wingels 60.90 42 5 8 13 -9 $775K Adam Burish 52.86 46 1 2 3 -7 $1.85M Free Agent Forwards Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Class 12-13 Cap Hit T.J. Galiardi 63.52 36 5 9 14 +1 RFA $950K Scott Gomez 58.29 39 2 13 15 -10 UFA $700K Tim Kennedy 58.04 13 2 0 2 -3 UFA $675K James Sheppard 54.51 32 1 3 4 -9 RFA $825K Andrew Desjardins 53.59 42 2 1 3 -6 RFA $640K Sharks Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com Rising star Logan Couture has scored 84 goals in the last three seasons, which is tied for seventh in that time. The 24-year-old has already agreed to a contract extension that will carry through 2019, so hes a cornerstone piece for the franchise. A tremendous two-way player, Joe Pavelski faded after a quick start (12 points in seven games), only to rebound in the postseason, leading the Sharks with 12 points in 11 games. Pavelski finished with his lowest points per game (0.65 ppg) and time on ice (18:55) since 2007-2008. At 33-years-old, Joe Thornton isnt as prolific a scorer as he once was, with last seasons 0.83 points per game his lowest since 1999-2000 (his 18:23 time on ice per game as his lowest since 1998-1999), but Thornton remains an elite puck possession player and has been getting more credit for his defensive play in recent seasons. Over the last five seasons, Patrick Marleau has scored 166 goals; only Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos have more. Like Thornton, Marleau is 33, his most productive days are behind him and hes going into the final year of his contract, but hes a first-rate scorer and that talent cant be ignored. Moved to forward after spending the vast majority of his career on defence, Brent Burns was suddenly a scoring star, tallying nine goals and 20 points in 24 games. That didnt carry over the postseason, but there is understandable temptation to see what a guy who goes 6-foot-5 with soft hands could do in a power forward role. The question for the Sharks is whether Burns offensive production is worth losing a top pair defenceman. One of the leagues most devastating hitters, Raffi Torres was acquired from Phoenix and impressed enough in his late-season and playoff showings to get a new three-year contract. Hes always a suspension risk, but is also capable of contributing secondary offence, with seven double-digit goal-scoring seasons. Injuries may have caught up to Martin Havlat, as the 32-year-old has only 45 points in 79 games in two seasons with the Sharks. After playing only 15:51 per game, his lowest since 2001-2002, Havlat is a prime candidate for a compliance buyout because his production doesnt warrant a $5-million salary cap hit. (edit: He would have been a prime candidate if not for surgery on his pelvic area.)  Tommy Wingels is a physical checking forward, but he struggled in puck possession terms last season, suggesting that he either has to be better or may not be suited for the more than 14 minutes per game he played in 2013. While Adam Burish may be highly-regarded as a teammate, hes outrageously compensated for the quality of play he provided last season. A player that broke into the league with 214 penalty minutes in 81 games in 2007-2008, Burish had 25 penalty minutes in 46 games last season. Penalties arent a positive, but that does suggest Burishs level of aggression has gone way down. A decent checking winger, T.J. Galiardi was skating on the Sharks top line at the end of the season, which is more a reflection on the Sharks forward situation than a glowing recommendation for his offensive prowess. Galiardi has his best season as a rookie, in 2009-2010 with Colorado, and hasnt had near the ice time or production since. Out of the league for two years due to injuries sustained in an ATV accident, James Sheppard earned a spot with the Sharks after scoring 23 points in 32 AHL games last season. He didnt produce much but, after his layoff, its probably worth seeing what he can for a full season. An aggressive fourth-line forward, Andrew Desjardins has 23 points in 135 career games, so his contributions are limited, but the versatile forward is useful in a depth role. The Sharks may have an opening for a scoring forward, particularly if they find a way to unload Martin Havlats contract. A scoring winger like Brad Boyes, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Daniel Briere or Mason Raymond could come at a reasonable price. Returning Defence Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Cap Hit Dan Boyle 73.67 46 7 13 20 +3 $6.667M Matt Irwin 68.16 38 6 6 12 -1 $1. Collin Sexton Jersey. 0M Brad Stuart 65.65 48 0 6 6 +4 $3.6M Marc-Edouard Vlasic 64.48 48 3 4 7 +5 $4.25M Justin Braun 62.20 41 0 7 7 -5 $1.25M Free Agent Defence Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Class 12-13 Cap Hit Scott Hannan 63.39 33 0 1 1 -14 UFA $1.0M Jason Demers 61.82 22 1 2 3 -4 RFA $1.25M Sharks Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com Its possible that, at 36-years-old with 979 (regular season plus playoff) games on his resume, there might be an inclination to believe that Dan Boyle has lost a step; after all his point production (0.43 ppg) was at his lowest rate since 2001-2002 and his ice time, 22:48 per game, was his lowest since 2003-2004. However, even in a lesser role, Boyle had superb puck possession numbers and with Burns shifting up front, his offensive ability is needed on the Sharks blueline. A 25-year-old rookie, Matt Irwin stepped into the San Jose lineup and played like a seasoned pro, with strong possession metrics and a bomb from the point that helped him snipe four of his six goals on the power play. 33-year-old Brad Stuart returned to San Jose a much different defenceman than when he left as a 26-year-old, in the Joe Thornton trade, but hes a reliable top-four defenceman, even if its in a strictly defensive role at this stage of his career. From the moment he arrived in the league as a 19-year-old, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been a steady defensive defenceman, but he also played a career-low 20:49 per game last season, his ice time declining in April, but hes a 26-year-old who has missed two games or fewer in six of his seven seasons and he takes on tough defensive assignments regularly. Justin Braun has improved steadily and played a career-high 18:48 per game in his third season and while his possession numbers werent as strong as previous years, Braun was also handling a higher level of competition. Wrist, head and ankle injuries contributed to Jason Demers playing only 22 games last season, and he wasnt terribly effective in those games. He has been a decent puck-moving defenceman in 205 career games, but could use a healthy season with good production to get back on track. While the Sharks could upgrade their defence, they could also move ahead with in-house options, giving Matt Irwin, Justin Braun and prospect Matt Tennyson more ice time. If they dont bring back Scott Hannan, then adding a veteran to provide depth would make some sense. Returning Goaltender Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Cap Hit Antti Niemi 82.91 43 24 12 6 2.16 .924 $3.8M Free Agent Goaltender Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Class 12-13 Cap Hit Thomas Greiss 69.79 6 1 4 0 2.53 .915 UFA $588K A Vezina Trophy finalist, Antti Niemi had a career-best .924 save percentage while playing more minutes (2581) than any other goaltender in 2013. In three seasons with the Sharks, Niemi has a .919 save percentage, ranking seventh among goaltenders with at least 100 games over that span. If the Sharks cant get economical backup Thomas Greiss re-signed, they will have to find a new second-team tender. If the Sharks intend to stick with an inexpensive option in that spot, Al Montoya might be the best bet, with Dan Ellis, Jason LaBarbera and Mathieu Garon likely to cost more among the backups on the market. Top Prospects Player Pos. Team/League Stats Tomas Hertl C Slavia Praha (CZE) 18-12-30, +5, 43 GP Matt Tennyson D Worcester (AHL) 5-22-27, -6, 60 GP Matt Nieto LW Boston University HE) 18-19-37, +5, 39 GP Chris Tierney C London (OHL) 18-39-57, +6, 68 GP Konrad Abeltshauser D Halifax (QMJHL) 7-47-54, +35, 56 GP Taylor Doherty D Worcester (AHL) 1-9-10, -2, 40 GP Freddie Hamilton C Worcester (AHL) 13-13-26, -9, 76 GP Danny ORegan C Boston University (HE) 16-22-38, +2, 39 GP Rylan Schwartz C Colorado College (WCHA) 20-33-53, +10, 41 GP Daniil Tarasov RW Worcester (AHL) 14-14-28, even, 43 GP A playmaking forward with good size, Tomas Hertl was the 17th overall pick last summer and has had a couple of strong seasons in the Czech League, scoring 55 points in 81 games as a teenager. He should get a chance to show his stuff in North America next season. A 23-year-old defenceman signed out of Western Michigan, Matt Tennyson had a strong first pro campaign, earning a four-game trial with the Sharks. The right-shot blueliner has good size, makes a good first pass and could be ready for regular NHL duty soon. Speedy winger Matt Nieto turned pro following his junior year at BU, where he had 79 points in 76 games over his last two seasons, scoring six points in 11 games for Worcester at seasons end. Given time in the AHL, the 2011 second-round pick should be ready for his chance in the NHL before long. A second-round pick last summer, Chris Tierney has made steady improvement, and scored 21 points in 21 playoff games for the Knights. He should play a prominent role in junior next season. A 6-foot-5 defenceman with offensive skills, Konrad Abeltshauser scored 74 points in 73 (regular season plus playoff) games in 2012-2013. The Sharks have some young defencemen pushing for playing time, so Abelshauser should have some time to develop in the AHL. 6-foot-8 blueliner Taylor Doherty hasnt put up big numbers in his first two pro seasons, but with that size, hes eventually going to get a chance to play in a shutdown role. A solid two-way player, Freddie Hamilton made modest point production in his first pro season, but the 21-year-old is doing a lot of things right, so once the points come in the AHL, he could get his opportunity to move up. Taken in the fifth round of the draft last summer, Danny ORegan scored nearly a point-per-game as a freshman at BU. If that production carries forward, hell be a nice asset a couple years down the road. An undrafted free agent signing out of Colorado College, Rylan Schwartz had 93 points in 76 games through his junior and senior seasons, adding four points in seven games for Worcester at the end of the year. A Russian winger who played in the USHL, Daniil Tarasov was on an AHL deal and spent some time in the ECHL last year too, but his point production as a first-year pro makes him worth watching. The Sharks have some other prospects of note including defencemen Dylan DeMelo and Sena Acolatse as well as right winger Eriah Hayes, a 6-foot-4 winger signed as a free agent after scoring 20 goals for Minnesota State-Mankato. DRAFT 20th - Curtis Lazar, Andre Burakovsky, Fredrik Gauthier. FREE AGENCY According to www.capgeek.com, the Sharks have approximately $56.7M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 15 players. Check out my possible Sharks lineup for next season on Cap Geek here. Needs: One top six forward, two defencemen. What I said the Sharks needed last year: One top nine forward, depth forwards, one top four defenceman. They added: Scott Gomez, Adam Burish, Brad Stuart. TRADE MARKET Martin Havlat, T.J. Galiardi, Jason Demers. Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook. ' ' ' 

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