Gotta be honest. Of all the Sharks' offseason issues that figured to generate discussion, the "ice girls" decision did not strike me as the No. 1 conversation starter.
Shows you what I know about people and bare midriffs.
It seems that, to amp up the arena atmosphere for next season, the Sharks' front office wants to employ a coed crew that will scrape and clean the ice during the two mandatory television timeouts per period. In past years, that duty was handled by building maintenance personnel.
This idea of an "Ice Team," as the crew is being called, was expected to draw little notice. But when the team released pictures of the team's preliminary uniforms, with the female members' belly buttons exposed while the male outfits were more conventional sweatsuits, it led to criticism that the Sharks were (A) objectifying women's bodies and (B) injecting a frivolous element into the intense hockey game experience.
Fans being fans, many Sharks followers also made a link between the "Ice Team" decision and the team's ignominious playoff exit.
In case you have forgotten -- and I'm guessing you have not -- the Sharks lost four straight to the Los Angeles Kings after taking a 3-0 series lead. So the response to that horrible early elimination by our beloved Los Tiburones is ... skating fashion models? Really?
"This has nothing to do with the playoff performance," Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora said Tuesday. "If our performance in the playoffs was good or bad, we would be going ahead with some of these initiatives we want to implement."
He then explained the big picture about the "Ice Team" in relation to those other initiatives.
Tortora came aboard as franchise COO last summer. He spent the 2013-14 season observing the arena and fan experience. Tortora then created a menu of changes he thought would be positive. One was not raising ticket prices. Another was a draft party for fans. Another was moving the summer "Prospects Game" to SAP Center from the team's practice facility so that more people could watch. Another was pursuing an outdoor game for next season at AT&T Park or Levi's Stadium. Another was forming a Sharks alumni association to bring more former players back to the arena for fan connections.
The "Ice Team" was just another item on that list. But it definitely has drawn the most attention and social media discourse. Tortora is diplomatic and cautious in discussing the topic.
"Our first priority is finding people who can skate and do a good job of cleaning the ice," Tortora said. "We also want people who can represent the team in the community. We've had around 130 applicants so far, probably split 50-50 between males and females."
Tortora also said those pictures of the "Ice Team" released by the Sharks are "not the final uniforms" and that the front office hasn't decided what they will ultimately look like.
My own philosophical stance about cheerleaders (or "ice girls") is well documented. I believe they play the same role at athletic events that flower displays do at supermarkets. They're pleasant enough to look at, but unnecessary and superfluous and definitely not the reason you go to the supermarket. Cheerleaders don't matter. They comprise perhaps 1 percent of my total thoughts about the sporting world. This stance has landed me in hot water with some readers, many of them cheerleader moms.
Nevertheless, if an issue is an issue with paying customers, then it's an issue. I personally wonder why the Sharks even wanted to poke the bear by releasing those female "Ice Team" photos -- although, in fairness, the Warriors and both Bay Area NFL teams all employ far more scantily clad cheerleaders or dance teams.
If the Sharks wished to provide something more showy for those ice-cleaning interludes, my unsolicited recommendation would be to copy the template I witnessed in Sochi during the Winter Olympics. Whenever the whistle blew for ice cleanup, a dozen young men and women in sleek sweat suits and crash helmets skated onto the rink with shovels and buckets at about a million miles per hour. They performed the scraping and cleanup at rapid speed before also skating off at a million miles an hour.
The spectacle, every night, was quite impressive and a crowd pleaser. This being Silicon Valley, the Sharks could outfit a similar crew with uniforms and helmets covered with LED lights. Are you telling me a corporate sponsor wouldn't go for that?
Meanwhile, in more boring news during this Summer of Shame for the Sharks, the actual hockey team is also going through changes. The personnel shake-up that was intimated if not outright promised by general manager Doug Wilson has progressed to some extent. He's said farewell to veteran defensemen Dan Boyle (trade en route to free agency) and Brad Stuart (trade). Wilson has also persuaded owner Hasso Plattner to fork over millions for an "amnesty" buyout of ineffective veteran forward Martin Havlat.
Will there be further deals? Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau remain on the roster. More and more, it appears they will begin the 2014-15 season on the roster. But there could be a significant shift in their roles. Answers may not arrive until training camp in September.
By then, the team may have even resolved the bare midriff crisis.
"I recognize the tradition of the Shark franchise and understand the connection our fans have to our brand," Tortora said Tuesday. "But we don't want to be status quo, on or off the ice. If you're status quo, you aren't progressing."
Right. So my advice is: Go for those ice cleanup team uniforms with the LED lights. No charge for the suggestion.
The proposed uniforms for the Sharks' "Ice Team" have prompted criticism from some fans. The Sharks say these uniform designs are not final.