Well, here we are the cusp of another NHL
campaign. Can anyone even remember the last normal season? For
those who may need a refresher, when we last saw the league in a semblance of
normal it was March of 2020. The Toronto Maple Leafs had just lost a game to a
Zamboni driver. Marc-Andre Fleury looked like a lifer in Las Vegas. And the San
Jose Sharks were putrid.
Some things never change!
forward 18 months, 2 playoffs, 1 shortened Divisional season. The
question is: what to expect from this years squad?
answer is that this is a crapshoot of a season due to the numerous incalculable
variables. Will a home training camp be a factor? Is a fully healthy roster
capable of playing to their ability? Have age and playoff miles eroded the
skills of Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Logan Couture? And of course, what
exactly does GM Doug Wilson foresee as his 35-year plan for the club?
Everyone has their own answers to these questions. Every fan may want
the same ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup winner, but the pathways to get there
make for passionate debate. Personally, I see the next two drafts as having
Superstar caliber talent at the top of the class, the type of dynamic offensive
players that the Sharks havent had since Teemu Selanne donned the teal.
Id say go all in on draft capital and hope to grab one. Maybe you
disagree. Thats what makes being a fan so fun.
point of this Season Preview isnt to discuss what the Sharks should do.
Rather, its my take on what I see actually happening. So, buckle up,
because were not going where you might anticipate.
I think the
2021-2022 San Jose Sharks are a playoff team.
Yes, you read that
Most of this belief stems from two simple facts: 1) The Pacific
Division is not very deep. 2) Goaltending changes everything.
Lets start with the Pacific Division as a whole. Even the most biased fan
would have to admit that only Vegas is a legitimate Cup contender, with
Edmonton a step below, but near playoff lock as well. That leaves 6 teams to
fight over 1-2 spots.
While Seattle is getting some of the residual
Expansion Team overvaluation that Las Vegas generated, a quick look at their
roster shows that this isnt a good team. Meanwhile, Calgary is facing a
last chance scenario for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, but question marks
on their backend. Anaheim isnt ready to contend yet. That means the final
Pacific playoff spot should boil down to a race between San Jose, Vancouver,
and Los Angeles.
And the case can be made that the Sharks are better
than both of them.
In the case of the Canucks, the roster is solid if
unspectacular. Theyll go as far as goaltending and defense can take them,
with offense being a serious concern. Conversely, the Kings are assembling a
potentially deadly offensive attack but are still anchored at the back by Drew
Doughty and the tandem of Jonathan Quick/Cal Peterson. Additionally, the recent
serious injury to Quintin Byfield shows how quickly holes can appear in a young
Which leaves San Jose as perhaps the most legit of the three
Obviously, the roster isnt going to make
anyone recall the 1970s Montreal Canadiens. However, there is enough
talent and experience to make a serious run at the post-season. If the Top 6
forwards and Top 4 defensemen play up to their skill levels, theyre
better and deeper than either LA or Vancouver. Its extremely unlikely
that Tomas Hertl, Couture, Karlsson, Burns, and Timo Meier have forgotten how
to play hockey at the NHL level. Players of that caliber dont usually
fall off cliffs, and even if Father Time remains undefeated, simply having
those five play up to their skill level will result in several more wins.
Next, bringing in Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano provides Bottom 6
depth and extra leadership into the locker room. For the past two seasons the
biggest knock on the Sharks was that they lacked the depth to compete night in
and night out. A rotating chorus of players would get their chances, and while
many of them brought heart, the lacked the essential skill to hold up against
the best competition in the world. The end result is that San Jose would bleed
possession and zone time, leading to defeat. Having capable veterans who can
play tough minutes, while assisting in the development of youngsters, will pay
On the back end, for the first time in a while there appears to
be enough depth for everyone to play in their proper spot. Mario Ferraro looks
the part of a top pairing defenseman, which allows Burns and Karlsson to slot
appropriately. The club also appears to understand that Marc-Eduard Vlasic is
no longer a player that can be leaned on, but his placement on the 3rd pairing
and against lesser competition should allow him to still be
Lastly, while the exact roster composition is still
undecided, the injection of youthful high-end talent from William Eklund, or
the long anticipated debut of Ryan Merkley, can only help. For proof, think
back to how infectious Hertl and his energy was during the 2013-14 and 2014-15
The elephant in the room is, of course, Evander Kane, who
currently is on a leave of absence from the team. At the time of this writing a
report on a potential COVID-19 vaccine scandal was just breaking, making it
ever more likely that Mr. Kane will not be part of the Sharks this season.
While his on-ice talent is undeniable, this appears to be a situation where
addition by subtraction may apply.
Despite all of this, it would be
for naught if the Sharks hadnt improved their goaltending. While a good
goaltender can cover a multitude of mistakes, a bad goalie can create the
appearance of several new ones. Its hard to say whether Martin Jones and
Devan Dubnyk were the victims of bad defensive play, or the cause? Did the team
play differently knowing they couldnt count on a save and would have to
outscore their opponents to win? Did that lead to bad habits which only
exacerbated the situation?
Right now, we dont know the answers
to these questions. However, we do know that the tandem of Adin Hill and James
Reimer will be an upgrade. It may only be to league average, but its been
calculated that even such a minor improvement would have generated an extra 5-7
points on the standings last season. Over the course of a full campaign, that
should be enough to move the Sharks back into the playoffs.
it! The 2021-22 San Jose Sharks will be a playoff team.
Thats the best I can give you in a season where most
of us are expecting nothing.