| The Longest
Sharks look to repeat last season's
Summer is officially over. Technically it was the
shortest break in franchise history, but for the San Jose Sharks, it was
excruciatingly long. Falling two wins short of a Stanley Cup Championship, the
Sharks had four months to stew over the "what ifs," and ponder what might have
been. A bounce here, a shot 6 inches to the one direction there, and history
could have been much different. What the Sharks get to do now is prove to
everyone that they belonged in the Stanley Cup Finals.
prognosticators don't think much of their accomplishments from last Spring.
Sports Illustrated picked them to finish 6th in the West this season, and don't
give them much of a shot once the playoffs roll around in April.
Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson feels his roster is good enough to make it
back to the Finals. So much in fact, that he barely tweaked a thing during the
off-season. The only major additions come in the form of forward Mikkel Boedker
and defenseman David Schlemko.
The rest of the lineup is essentially
the same. More younger players will be given a shot at playing on an everyday
basis, and the farm system is ready to shuttle many of the prospects that made
the jump to the big club last season. It's rare to have a lineup make it
through an NHL regular season without some dings along the way, so those
prospects will be given a chance to prove they deserve to stay.
Players like Nikolay Goldobin didn't play with the consistency that warranted a
spot on the opening night roster. Mirco Mueller is another player who hasn't
evolved into the everyday player that the Sharks expect from their draft picks.
Mueller joined Goldobin and four other players as the final training camp cuts
Kevin Lebanc, Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Carpenter and Dan
Kelly were part of the six player move that finalized the lineup that will hit
the ice on Wednesday night for the Sharks.
With 82 games in front of
them, here are the biggest questions heading into the 2016-17 NHL Season:
How do the Sharks get back into the Stanley Cup Finals this
The simple answer is, stay healthy. The Sharks top dogs are
longer in the tooth than they were a year ago, and overall team health will
decide what happens this season. San Jose stayed relatively healthy last
season, aside from Logan Couture's broken leg to start the campaign. What made
a big difference last season was that they entered the playoffs with a healthy
lineup from top to bottom.
Keeping the old guys fresh is also
something head coach Peter DeBoer will have to factor in this season. He rarely
gave guys the night off, but it might be something he may want to consider
heading into 2016-17. This will be Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau's 20th NHL
campaign. Keeping those guys fresh will be priority one for DeBoer.
Will we see a decline from the Sharks older players?
of Thornton and Marleau, last season was a tale of two players. Thornton had a
resurgence in his play and seemed to excel under DeBoer's system. He recorded
his highest point today (82) since the 2009-10 season. Credit the veteran after
all the turmoil that was centered around him two summer's ago when he had an
open feud with Wilson. The former captain shined in the playoffs, recording 24
points (3 goals 18 assists) in 24 games. We'll see if a taste of the Finals
inspires Thornton for one more go around. He says he's fit and ready to play
another three to four seasons.
Marleau on the other hand had what was
arguably a bad season by his standards. To make things worse, his numbers
continue to slip and DeBoer bounced him up and down the lineup last season.
It's likely he'll center the Sharks third line, but don't be surprised if
DeBoer starts to experiment more with younger players at the cost of Marleau's
Did the Finals affect Joe Pavelski's game?
The Sharks captain was the best player on the ice from October
through May, then the Stanley Cup Finals rolled around and San Jose's money
player disappeared. He recorded 14 goals in the playoffs as a whole, but was a
non-factor against Pittsburgh. The Penguins figured out how to suppress the
Sharks top scorer and San Jose never recovered. Pavelski also looked horrible
in the World Cup of Hockey last month, which seemed to serve as a hangover
period from the Finals.
Pavelski turned 32 in July and should be primed for
another career year assuming the rest of the league didn't figure out
Pittsburgh's recipe. Pavelski also should have some help in the scoring
department this season with Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson all
emerging as threats with the puck. Throw in Couture and Marleau, and San Jose
has a steady stream of scoring punch that can keep opposing teams off balance.
What is the Sharks biggest hole entering this season?
This is a coin toss between goaltending and the bottom two lines. Yes, you read
that right, goaltending. Martin Jones was god like in net for the Sharks last
season, but when it came to giving the netminder the night off, former backup
Alex Stalock fell flat on his face. It worried Wilson so much that he traded
Stalock and acquired former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer as an
insurance policy. Reimer saw action in once playoff game for the Sharks and was
never an option as a backup this season.
Insert Aaron Dell, a 27
year-old farm hand that finally gets a shot at the NHL after stints with the
Allen Americans, Utah Grizzlies, Abbotsford Heat and the Worcester sharks / San
Jose Barracuda. Dell beat out Troy Grosenick for the backup spot during
training camp, but that could be part of a plan to keep Grosenick active. Dell
will be lucky if he gets a start every 6 or 7 games with San Jose.
Look for Grosenick and Dell to split time in San Jose.
generally good when the 4th line is a problem area. San Jose will lean on the
likes of Michael Haley, Tommy Wingels and Chris Tierney to generate some energy
for the Sharks. All are capable and saw plenty of action last season, so the
rigors of the role aren't new to the trio. Tierney was inconsistent last season
and Wingels is on the verge of making himself expendable after a sub-par second
half last season.
Who will be the biggest surprise this season?
While not a surprise, look for Donskoi to have an even better year
than he did in his rookie season. The forward gets to focus on evolving his
game in a system that's no longer new. He also has so much offensive fire power
surrounding him, it's going to be hard for opposing defenses to key off him.
Look for his goal production to double from the 11 goals he pocketed last
season. He scored 6 goals in the playoffs alone, including his huge Game 3
overtime winner against Pittsburgh, so look for bigger and better things.
Who will be the Sharks comeback player of the year?
Logan Couture's season was derailed early, and the Sharks used the rest of the
regular season to get him primed for the playoffs, only to have a blood
clotting issue that could have cost him his career. If anyone takes things
personally, it's Couture. His numbers were hampered by his injuries during the
regular season, but then he went nuts in the playoffs.
Couture to carry that momentum into the new season. He wants to be considered
an elite player in the league and he was poised to show the league his stuff
last season. Look for this to be a career year for the Sharks forward.
What was the most important move of the off season for San Jose?
The addition of Mikkel Boedker was a nice enhancement to the
offense, but David Schlemko's addition to the blueline could prove to be the
most meaningful. The defense was a lockdown unit last season. Marc-Edouard
Vlasic has one of the worst seasons of his career, but San Jose got the job
done defensively in the playoffs. Schlemko's addition brings another seasoned
guy into the mix, providing the Sharks with much needed depth. He's got decent
size, and can skate. With Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun maturing on the
blueline, it provides the Sharks with another tool to allow those guys to grow.
Dillon will likely pair with Schlemko, which leaves Martin to work
with Vlasic, and Brent Burns paired with Braun.
What's the biggest
question mark heading into the season?
As has been the case the
past few years, the Sharks have a couple of prospects that are poised to make
the jump, but that's a hard thing for a young player. Timo Meier is the guy
this season. The former first round draft pick looked good late last season in
junior, including a nice playoff run for Rouyn-Noranda where he recorded batter
than a point a game over an 18 game stretch for the Huskies. Problem is, he's
already behind the 8-ball. Meier contracted mononucleosis in training camp and
won't be back on the ice for another three weeks.
That means he
essentially missed training camp and needs to catch up. He'll do that with the
Barracuda once he returns, because he never had the chance to show coaches
anything in September.
The forward looked out of place a year ago in
his first taste of an NHL camp, but another year in junior allowed him to
develop at a pace that allowed him to have some success. The Sharks have been
patient with their youngster, but they'll want to see a return on their
investment sooner than later.
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