Season Preview: San Jose Sharks
Another year, another post season disappointment.
San Jose surrendered a 3-0 series lead against Los Angeles to crash out of the play-offs last season, triggering something of a self inflicted crisis within the club.
After a summer of chaos, can San Jose remain a dominant force out West? Will a ‘reboot’ finally put them on the path to glory? Or have they simply cut off their proverbial nose in attempting to fix things?
The Sharks transition from ‘Joe and Patrick’s team’ to ‘Logan and Joe’s team’ seems to be complete.
Joe Pavelski led the team with 41 goals and 79 points last season, whilst Logan Couture passed the 50 point mark for the third time – despite missing 17 games. At 30 and 25 respectively, the pair are seen as the new leaders in the San Jose dressing room, an idea only furthered by the controversial removal of Joe Thornton as Captain this summer.
The veteran centre registered 76 points last season, but had just 2 goals and an assist as the Sharks lost four straight and were eliminated by the Kings.
Along with Patrick Marleau, who scored 30 goals for the seventh time last year, Thornton has shouldered much of the blame for San Jose’s inability to convert regular season supremacy in to Stanley Cup glory. But the manner in which the club have demoted the former Bruins forward from 1st line lynchpin and Captain to fourth line plug this summer is truly bizarre.
Averaging just under a point per game in over 1,200 NHL contests, Thornton remains one of the elite play makers in the game today and may garner interest from other General Managers if the situation becomes any more sour in San Jose.
Marleau, who also Captained the team for nearly six years, also lost his ‘A’; but seems to be part of the clubs projected top 6 heading in to the new campaign.
The return of Tomas Hertl, who missed 45 games with a knee injury, is a welcome positive for the club after such a difficult off season. The 20-year old Czech had 15 goals and 25 points in 37 games before being sidelined, and looks to have a bright future in the game.
Tommy Wingels also made significant strides last season, earning a 3-year, $7.4m extension this summer, but the Sharks depth chart seems more about brawn than brains.
Mike Brown, Adam Burish and new signing John Scott are hardly known for their silky skills, with agitator Raffi Torres also returning from injury to give the franchise an abrasive bottom six.
At The Back
Brent Burns returns to the blue line, boosting the defence but weakening the offence.
But with Dan Boyle moving to pastures new, San Jose needed someone to drive play from the back. And after impressing on the wing, former Minnesota man Burns is handed the task.
26-year old Jason Demers impressed, picking up 35 points along the way, but it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic who stood out the most for San Jose last season – earning a spot on Team Canada for the Olympics.
Veteran Scott Hannan enters the final year of his deal, while Justin Braun’s new deal kicks in next year.
Between The Pipes
Antti Niemi enters the last season of his current contract under serious pressure as the Sharks #1.
An inconsistent effort last season, which ranged from elite to distinctly average, was underpinned by a woeful post season effort in which he posted an abysmal .884 save percentage.
And as a result, the door is open for the younger (and cheaper) Alex Stalock to stake a claim for the starting job.
The Minnesota native has just 27 games NHL experience, 24 of which came last season as he went 12-5-2, posting a solid 1.87 GAA. Stalock looks set to get further opportunities this year though – leaving San Jose with another personnel decision heading in to the new campaign.
Behind The Bench
It’s hard not to believe Todd McLellan isn’t on the hot seat heading in to the new season.
The former Red Wings assistant Coach has taken San Jose to the Conference Finals twice, but has seen his Sharks side eliminated by LA for two seasons in a row, and hasn’t got past the second round since 2011.
In terms of raw numbers (most wins, most games coached), he is the most successful Coach in Sharks history – but that counts for little if the franchise cannot build on its regular season success to finally lift the Cup.
Biggest Addition – Brent Burns
The Sharks added no one of value this summer – unless you consider ‘grocery stick’ John Scott as a significant addition…
But it’s Burns move to defence that might have one of the biggest impacts. Impressive as a forward, Burns could quarterback the Sharks power play and be an effective weapon from the blue line.
Or the move could severely dent the Sharks offence without providing enough of an upgrade at the back.
Biggest Loss – Dan Boyle
Boyle may be past his best, but he was still a strong puck moving D man with a ton of experience.
Like Thornton and Marleau, he received his share of criticism that San Jose couldn’t get the job done in the post season. But his departure had a direct affect on how the franchise handled Brent Burns, as well as triggering change on their power play.
Key Man – Joe Thornton
Thornton is one of the NHL’s premier playmakers. If San Jose keep him, they need to figure out his role on the team and set him up with the right line mates.
If they don’t want to keep him, he could still fetch a good return.
It’s a major decision for the organisation, but one that should be made sooner rather than later.
This Seasons Chances…
Matching last years 51 wins and 111 points is not entirely out of the question, but San Jose need to figure out where some of its veterans fit in to the line up and where this team is heading.
If they accept that the ‘old guard’ aren’t the guys to lead them to glory, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and look to make some deals. But if they believe they have a championship capable roster, they need to start treating a few guys a little better.