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Half Empty/Half Full?
It's time to do it all over again
9/30/13 - By Ken Smyth -

The summer is over, and the San Jose Sharks are beginning a new season with pretty much the same collection of players as last year, former Penguin Tyler Kennedy being the major off-season signing. The Sharks' as presently built are at that lovely spot where the casual fans are comfy with players who are heading into the down years of their career.

This takes pressure off management, but as the Calgary Flames found out (again), fans can turn quickly. The Sharks still look to be a contending team in the new-old Pacific Division, but this a transitional season. Never mind the half-full or half-empty, are we getting a refill anytime soon?

The Sharks already put some stakes in the ground for the future by locking up Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture through the 2018-19 season and Marc-Edouard Vlasic through 2017-18. But Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau are all free agents at the end of this season. Will these guys, Boyle especially, start really showing their age or have the classic Mark McGwire big-year-as-the-contract-runs-out?

These are some of the if's, along with Los Angeles and Chicago, that keep one from picking the Sharks to make the Western Conference Finals. But there are a lot of games to be played between October and April.

The Sharks look locked in a fight with Anaheim and Vancouver for the 2nd and 3rd Pacific Division playoff spots behind the Los Angeles Kings. Stack Phoenix and Edmonton after that and Calgary as a consensus pick for last. Should something happen to Jonathan Quick in LA, it gets very interesting.

The Central Division is the Chicago Blackhawks and seven other teams that could all tie for second place behind them; quite a ways behind them. I'm not really that interested in the Eastern Conference right now, despite (maybe because of) listening to NHL Radio on XM and being inundated with Maple Leafs, Senators, Canadiens, etc news.

Trades during the season are hard to predict. A lot depends on Doug Wilson's feeling about this team, and the one in Worcester as we get a few weeks into the season. Looking at Sharks as a probable playoff team, anyone traded will need to be replaced with somebody competent to take on their minutes and their role. This is not yet a bottom-dwelling team that can go into audition mode and play youngsters.

Replacing Raffi Torres for a few months will be the first challenge. Expect the waiver list to be a source for tough guys as training camps break up and GM's juggle rosters. Remember that last season, just as we thought Wilson was taking naps in the afternoon and watching Matlock reruns; he pulled some good moves around the deadline giving up future free-agents Douglas Murray and Ryan Clowe for draft picks, then getting Torres as an upgrade in Clowe's role.

Kennedy was an interesting pick-up over the summer, looking like the guy they hoped Torrey Mitchell would be, and he played well on the line with Logan Couture and Marleau in the exhibition games. Fifty-fifty on whether Tomas Hertl stays in San Jose or starts in Worcester. He looked good in an exhibition games but that's not really a test of how a European player will do on smaller North American rinks.

So transition year, are we going up or going down? Half empty or half full? Doesn't matter, where's that waiter? This season could be the last gig in San Jose for a lot of the old band.

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