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New faces, same outlook
San Jose faces lots of uncertainty with midsized overhaul
10/6/2022 - By Mike Lee

The 2022-23 NHL Season kicks off on Friday morning with the Sharks squaring off with the Nashville Predators in Prague, Czech Republic, a mere five months after San Jose wrapped up arguably one of their worst seasons in franchise history. Lots of new faces from top to bottom for a franchise that finds itself with a new general manager, coaching staff and a spattering of players that weren't on the roster when the Sharks last played. For those of you who forgot, that last game was a 3-0 loss to the expansion Seattle Kraken.

The 32 win season San Jose limped through last season sets a nice low water mark to try and match. General Manager Mike Grier gets a bye this season, so he can use the first few months to honestly evaluate his roster. The problem is, he doesn't have much collateral to try and revamp a roster that is not expected to do much better than last season's 77 point output.

Grier's big additions this past summer include a bevy of bottom six forwards, who don't have scoring track records. The defense arguably got worse with the exit of Brent Burns and Jacob Middleton. Marc-Edouard Vlasic can't turn back the clock and his game can only continue its steady decline. They will rely on both the young and old to stop the puck in net with Kaapo Kahkonen and James Reimer.

That doesn't exactly scream playoff contenders. It's more likely that San Jose will compete for a lottery pick spot again next summer.

San Jose will lean on Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture to lead the offense. Meier and Hertl combined for 75 goals, but Couture stumbled with his 23 goals in 77 games played last season. Without competitive linemates, Couture was hung out to dry last season.

Like last season, after that trio, there's a massive drop in talent among forwards. Luke Kunin and Oskar Lindblom are journeymen who just don't have the tools to generate big offensive numbers. Kunin has never scored more than 15 goals in an NHL season and Lindblom scored a career-high 17 goals for the Flyers four season ago. German Nico Sturm will likely fill 3rd and 4th line minutes.

The youngsters, who can no longer lean on the youngster moniker have to deliver, so it's put up or shut up time for a series of mid-line forwards. At the top of that list is Kevin Labanc, whose 21-22 season was cut short by injury. He missed the final 54 games of the season and only participated in 21 games total for San Jose. Alexander Barabanov had some interesting moments, but he'll start the season on the injured list and didn't even travel to Prague.

The Sharks patience with Noah Gregor may begin to wane if he doesn't start to produce. He has all the tools, but finishing was a major issue for the centerman. He's bounced between the Sharks and Barracuda each of the last three seasons, but this year looks to be the year he'll have to show more consistency in the scoring department. The Sharks can't afford to wait for Gregor to finally figure it out.

The real intrigue lies with youngsters William Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau. Eklund got a taste of the NHL last season, but San Jose shipped him back to Sweden in order to preserve the length of their control over his contract. That won't happen this season. The flashy forward will get a shot at sticking with the big club. If he struggles, he'll be part of the Barracuda shuttle that the Sharks used over excessively the last two seasons.

Keeping Eklund motivated will be difficult if they don't give him the chance to learn what life in the NHL is like. Bordeleau could crack the lineup, because it's so thin, but it's likely that he suffer the same fate as Eklund last year and will find himself relegated to a farm assignment somewhere.

The rest of the roster on offense is filler. Nick Bonino is playing out his career. Matt Nieto just isn't a guy that the Sharks can count on for steady scoring. Jonah Gadjovich, Steven Lorentz, Evgeny Svechnikov and Jeffrey Viel will all compete for the right to watch games from the press box and get an occasional look when the Sharks have to fill holes.

If the defense was the big unknown last season, it's more like black hole status this year. San Jose rid themselves of Burns contract, and received value in dealing Middleton at the trade deadline last March. The problem, they didn't fill the void with any quality.

Markus Nutivaara is probably the most able bodied defenseman San Jose added, but he's not exactly a Norris Trophy candidate. Erik Karlsson will be the de facto whipping boy simply because his contract doesn't match the production. You can't fault him for taking the money, but the $11.5 million cap hit the Sharks will incur five years is going to continue to debilitate the Sharks ability to put a competitive roster on the ice. Sadly, San Jose will also still pick up $2.72 million of Burns contract for the next three years to add to the financial misery.

Mario Ferraro can't be the lone defensive plug for San Jose, so either Matt Benning and Radim Simek step up, or it's going to be an extremely ugly season. Look for Scott Harrington or Jaycob Megna to eventually take Vlasic's minutes when they figure out that he's out of gas.

In net, Kahkonen is the Sharks youth experiment. They think he's the guy that can be a long term solution. They thought the same thing about Adin Hill, who was shipped to Vegas at the end of August in a move that finally answered what San Jose would do with their log jam in net. Aaron Dell will hang out with the Barracuda unless either Kahkonen or Reimer gets hurt.

That's more likely to happen with the veteran Reimer who will turn 35 in March. Reimer has been extremely resilient for most of his career, but he did spend a brief stint on the shelf last year. Without much protection out front, he'll need to expend more to stop pucks. That could easily translate to the wear and tear that you don't want exposing an aging netminder to.

New head coach David Quinn may have to play roster mad scientists like Bob Boughner did the last two seasons. The Sharks just don't have the depth to compete and Grier may want to evaluate more of the prospects that are being groomed on 10th street. The hope is that Quinn will rule with more of an iron fist, which may be required to extract the most value out of a roster thin on talent.

It's put up or shut up for some of the bigger dollar players.


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