| Changes lead to
Roster changes make Sharks a
After struggling to find an identity and missing
the playoffs for the first time in an eternity last season, the Sharks enter
the 2015-16 campaign with big expectations and even bigger questions about the
make up of their roster. Sharks GM Doug Wilson made several off-season moves to
fill holes vacated by several players moved late last year or who did not
re-sign with the club during the summer. On paper, the moves don't appear
drastic, but plenty of mysteries abound, including the massive question mark
hovering in front to San Jose's crease as the club prepares to start it's 25th
training camp and campaign.
With roster changes come plenty of
Is the Sharks "rebuild complete"? Is the team still relying
on aging stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to lead the charge? Will the
youngsters step up? Who will fill the role of captain? Will Brent Burns move
back to forward? Will Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski be given bigger roles in
terms of leadership? Who fills the void created by Scott Hannan's retirement?
All of those take a back seat to the most important query facing the
Sharks. That being, will Martin Jones fill the void / improve the Sharks play
between the pipes?
Jones was acquired by the Sharks on June 30th, when
Wilson shipped a 1st round draft pick and the rights to unsigned draft pick
Sean Kuraly to the Boston Bruins. Jones only has 34 NHL games under his belt,
but he's been handed the reigns to the Sharks crease as part of another big
gamble by Wilson. Serving as Quick's understudy last season, Jones compiled a
.906 save percentage in 15 games, which eventually earned him a trade to
Boston. He was a Bruin for all of 15 minutes before Wilson came knocking.
Jones now gets the chance to prove himself as an ever day netminder,
albeit with Alex Stalock nipping at his heels. Stalock wasn't much better than
Jones last season, but the goaltender also didn't have the luxury of the Kings
defense playing in front of him. Granted, the Kings had plenty of distractions
last year, but Jones had more stability in terms of defensive protection.
Jones gets the nod as the number one guy in net, but he'll have to earn
that right, starting in training camp. That battle begins the second the two
hit the ice in September. Jones replaces Antti Niemi, who had by far his worst
season as a Shark. Niemi's poor play came in a contract year, which gives you
an indication of had bad the Sharks defense was last season.
beating the Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks in succession in late
January, the Sharks regressed and eventually threw in the towel. Niemi's
deficiencies were magnified by the gaping holes in the defense, which went
through a metamorphosis of sorts this summer.
Here's the blueline the Sharks threw out on the ice on
opening night last October:
that group, Demers was traded to Dallas in November and Hannan retired after a
yeoman's career. Mueller struggled mightily during his rookie campaign, to the
point that he seemed to be regressing. The blueline this season will feature
Vlasic as the #1 defender, along with Dillon who the Sharks signed to a 5-year
contract extension on June 30th. To help shore things up, Wilson inked veteran
defenseman Paul Martin to a 4-year deal to help stabilize that leaky backline.
Martin should bring a calming effect to a young group of defensemen who
really do need some adult supervision. Mueller and Justin Braun will benefit
the most, assuming those two even make the opening night roster. San Jose has
other options available, including Matt Tennyson and newly signed Mark Cundari.
Don't be surprised if the Sharks start Mueller in the AHL with their
newly minted San Jose Barracuda franchise. The fact that the minor league
operation now resides in the same city as the big club gives the Sharks more
options to move players between the big club and the minor leagues and Mueller
could use some seasoning and confidence building.
If you're looking for
an upstart to possibly jump in the fray, Julius Bergman could make a splash
this fall. He's slated to appear in the Sharks prospects program, which will
feature two games against prospects from Anaheim in early September.
offense, there are also some new faces. Last year's opening night offense
looked like this:
The core really doesn't change. The only opening night omissions
are Andrew Desjardins, who got an early Christmas present from Wilson when he
was traded to Chicago. Desjardins would go on to win a Stanley Cup last spring,
and re-signed with Chicago this summer. You're welcome Andrew. Wilson gave up
on Tye McGinn, who became a Coyotes waiver claim last March. Wilson purged one
of the biggest mistakes of his career, when he bought out Adam Burish's
contract, ridding the Sharks of an underperforming player who was brought in to
Burish was replaced by Ben Smith, who San Jose received
for Desjardins. Like Burish, Smith is an energy guy, albeit younger and more
skilled with the puck. His addition made the separation with Burish a
no-brainer. Melker Karlsson picked up Desjardins' minutes last spring, and
blossomed into one of the few bright spots in an otherwise horrific season. The
only real off-season addition comes in the form of 34 year-old Joel Ward, who
inked a 3-year deal in July.
Ward should provide a little energy to a
Sharks offense that needs a kick in the pants. The spitfire winger needs to
show that the long-term deal (by a 34 year old's standards) was not a mistake.
Wilson whiffed on the Burish deal, so he can't afford another lengthy contract
that produces little in return. Burish didn't have the scoring chops that Ward
has, so the expectation is that he'll be an upgrade over all three of the
offensive opening night players that start 2015-16 elsewhere.
also has a couple of options waiting in the wings. Barclay Goodrow filled in
occasionally, but he'll have to step up his game if he wants to stick with the
big club this season. Given teh competion in the locker room, Goodrow won't
simply be a roster filler as he was last year. Chris Tierney is another young
option that the Sharks are looking for bigger and better things from. Matt
Nieto should be a lock to make the opening night roster, but all of these young
players have replacements chomping at the bit.
Nikolay Goldobin is the
player that holds the biggest promise and could be ready to make the jump to
the big club in 2015. Last year's 27th overall draft pick started the season
playing in the Finnish Elite League after teh Sharks drafted him out of the
OHL, then made his return to North America, playing in 9 games for Worcester,
the Sharks old AHL affiliate. The Sharks have another Tomas Hertl prototype in
Goldobin, who could make the Sharks forward lines be something to be reckoned
with in the future.
San Jose grabbed Timo Meier in the draft last June,
but it's unlikely the native of Herisau, Switzerland will make the jump to the
NHL this season. His 6'1", 210 pound frame gives the Sharks a potential power
forward option down the road, bu if the Sharks are smart, they let him get
acclimated to the faster pace of the NHL slowly and methodically. He was a
scoring machine in Junior last season, bagging 44 goals and adding 46 assists
for Halifax (QMJHL).
The Sharks did not sign 2013 2nd round pick
Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau this summer, essentially parting ways with the left
winger. That makes Goldobin and Meier's development that much more important.
They don't have a 1st round pick next summer, so they need to develop their
current stable of offesive prospects with kid gloves.
All of the
questions pertaining to the offense hinge on Thornton and Marleau's production.
If new head coach Peter DeBoer distributes more minutes to the duo, they need
to produce. DeBoer has other options, notably in Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture
and Tommy Wingels, but if he flip-flops on priorities as Todd McLellan did last
season, he could lose the trust of his younger core.
Both veterans have
something to prove this season. Thornton's well publicized dust up with Wilson
were magnified by reports that he also didn't see eye to eye with McLellan. A
new head coach gives him a fresh start. Marleau simply needs to score and score
early and often. After a 33 goal 2013-14 season, his production dropped off
significantly last year. As both players hit 36 (Thornton is already there),
their big contracts will be under more scrutiny. A failure to produce will only
create issues that the Sharks can ill afford. The West got stronger this year,
and San Jose could finish no better than 12th last season.
career years from several players if they expect to hop-scotch past 4 teams
just to get in to the playoffs, much less do any damage if they get there.
Lots of questions remained to be answered. Some of those will get
clarity in under 30 days as camp quickly approaches.
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