Expectations are a funny thing. Once they been raised, they can be very hard to lower.
The Flyers and Blackhawks are going to the finals and while only one will end up with the Cup, you can say that to a certain extent, both teams have met or exceeded expectations.
The Sharks made it to the Conference finals, but got swept by the Blackhawks. Every round they won raised expectations on the team, so losing to Chicago seemed especially tough.
For instance, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, to a certain extent, the Sharks met expectations:
We need to be careful we’re not walking around patting ourselves on the back…We set some new standards for the organization and the players lived up to them, but ultimately we were beat by a very good Chicago team. I felt we could have played better and could have challenged them a little more.
GM Doug Wilson had a comparable take:
I’m damn proud of this hockey team and this coaching staff and the fan base for the support they gave us…It’s a different feeling we have. We’ve made a huge stride as an organization.
Those comments were great because if you ask an NHL fan about the Sharks, they’re probably going to tell you the team imploded and failed to meet expectations, given the regular-season play of the Sharks, as well as the talent on the ice.
To a certain extent, I wonder if the Sharks would have been better off going out earlier in the post-season. By making it to the Conference finals, but not the Stanley Cup finals, the Sharks showed they have a certain level of drive, but not quite enough.
Wilson and McLellan seem proud the Sharks came so close to succeeding, but to fans, it just makes losing all the more frustrating.
Fans don’t want close. They want achievement.
I bring this up, because after Boston blew their 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia in the second round, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote a great column taking the Bruins organization to task for not apologizing for the Bruins colossal breakdown. The funny thing is, if Boston hadn’t made it into the playoffs, fans would have been disappointed, but eventually OK.
The Bruins created expectations, though, and by overachieving against the Sabres in the first round, they wound up making things worse for their fans.
So it’s not that winning is bad, because winning creates expectations. But winning in general, and overachieving specifically, can actually make things tougher, once the winning and/or overachieving is done.
GMs and coaches always want to take their teams as far as possible, while fans want teams to win championships.
The Bruins and Sharks had good seasons, but ultimately failed. I wonder if they would have been better off failing sooner rather than later. By coming so close to meeting expectations, all either team did was prove they can’t win when something important is on the line.
Both teams showed to a certain extent they had the talent to win, but to a certain extent they also lacked the will.
Earlier exits would have proven they merely lacked the talent, which in a lot of ways is more palatable.