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What not to expect in 2010-11
Here's where the Sharks won't finish
10/3/10 - By Mike Lee -

The Sharks kick off the 2010-11 regular season in less than a week and there is no shortage of questions heading into the season opener with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Every pre-season prognosticator from the here to New Foundland will be sharing their predictions on where the Sharks will finish this season, so I’ve decided to simply throw darts at the things that really matter. I’ll be predicting all the things that have nothing to do with where the Sharks finish this season.

Truth is, I’ve given up trying to guess. If the Sharks are good at anything, it’s doing the opposite of what you think will happen. When they’re supposed to win the Stanley Cup, they get ousted in the first round by an 8th seed. When they’re supposed to be a playoff afterthought, they make it to the Conference Finals.

After 19 seasons, it’s easier to just say that I have no idea what this team is going to do. That unfortunately makes for blandly short article, so I’ll fill it with everything but where the Sharks will finish this season. Here are my pre-season predictions:

That’s Captain Boyle to you

GM Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan will name the franchise’s 8th captain in team history, preferably before the regular season opener, and that selection will be defenseman Dan Boyle. The veteran blueliner has four years left on his contract and Boyle has been the most vocal of the experienced players in the Sharks locker room, but more importantly he’s a defenseman.

Yes, Wilson might be a bit biased toward the back line, but more importantly, he understands that his forwards don’t need the distractions that the captaincy brings with it. Defenseman don’t have the same pressures, because they don’t have the constant report card called the stat sheet looming overhead.

Boyle might be a bit outspoken at times, but he’s been in the league long enough to know how to push buttons in the locker room. He’s also not a stranger to his teammates, so he knows how to handle each one.

How Swede it isn’t

Look for the Sharks to get out of the gate slowly. With the season starting 4,000 miles away from home, their trip itinerary will have more to do with a sluggish start. They’ll will have gone ten days before facing NHL caliber action when they kick things off on Saturday in Stockholm, then another week will pass before they return home, get acclimated to the Pacific time zone, and square off at home against the Atlanta Thrashers.

The league threw them a softball by scheduling the Thrashers once they get back but they’re only home for three more days before hitting the road again to play the Colorado Avalanche, who will have something to prove against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year. That’s followed by back-to-back games against Edmonton and Calgary.

Scheduling these international games should be conducted at the beginning of the pre-season, with ample opportunity to balance the playing field with teams that aren’t trekking half-way around the world.

What’s a yoot?

Not unlike any other franchise in the league, the Sharks will need to rely on prospects to round out its roster. The economics of today’s game will make it a priority for San Jose. The Jamie McGinns and the Derek Joslins aren’t new to the rodeo, but they’re not seasoned vets either. Logan Couture actually still qualifies for the Calder, because he only played in 25 games last season. What’s more important is the fact that he was able to play in 15 playoff games last year.

What you’re likely to see this season is the revolving door the Sharks used to ship prospects back and forth all of last season. It afforded the Sharks with a way to deal with the tight cap situation and gave multiple prospects with a taste of the NHL. Assuming Andreas Lilja lands a roster spot, that means fewer spots for other young players.

Tommy Wingels still creates an interesting option for Wilson, but he’s likely to be a platoon option with Frazer McLaren and John McCarthy until the Sharks return from Sweden. At that point the Sharks will hopefully establish a roster that has some continuity to it.

What you see is what you get

One thing that last year taught is that Wilson is comfortable with his roster and is willing to let his youngsters cut their teeth in the playoffs. With big dollars tied up in the current roster, don’t expect to see any blockbuster moves from Wilson.

Wilson also doesn’t have much to bargain with. Draft picks aren’t exactly big bargaining chips for San Jose. Teams that continuously finish atop their respective divisions tend to have late draft picks. Players like Nick Petrecki and Alex Stalock are likely untouchable, so don’t count on them being used to bait any deals.

Wilson is more likely to utilize his development organization to plug holes.

Surprise, Surprise

With so many big name players on the roster, it’s easy to say that a Patrick Marleau or a Joe Thornton will have a big year. This is the season that Devin Setoguchi breaks out and makes his mark on the roster. The fourth year player will rebound from what was perceived by many as a down year last season. His offensive numbers were cut in half from the prior season, but injuries played a big role in Setoguchi’s regression.

It’s easy to forget that he’s only 23-years old, because he’s been a fixture on the roster for so long. This is the year he becomes a player that McLellan leans on to pick up the slack if other teammates flounder. Setoguchi was 7th in scoring for the Sharks during last Spring’s playoffs, but he ranked 3rd in goal scoring for San Jose in the team’s 15 game jaunt during the second season. Look for Setoguchi to make his mark and become more of a fixture for San Jose’s offense this season.

Old Rivalry, New Rivalry

San Jose has run roughshod over the Pacific Division the last three seasons, but there’s been no shortage of competition. The biggest threat for the division crown will come from the south, but not in Anaheim or Phoenix. The Los Angeles Kings have quietly been stockpiling young talent and are the verge of breaking out.

Their 46 wins last season caught some by surprise, but the up and coming roster will be a force to reckon with this year. A solid foundation based on talented young defense and goaltending will make the Kings the team that will be breathing down San Jose’s necks in the pursuit for the Pacific division crown.

Who let the elephant in the room?

The goaltending platoon of Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki won’t sort itself out anytime soon because neither player has established any consistency. Part of that has been attributed to the fact that both are new to the organization and haven’t had a chance to establish any rapport with their teammates.

Don’t expect a clear #1 to surface before January 1. Sorting out who gets the majority of starts heading down the stretch will require more than a handful of starts.


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