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Summer Distractions
Ready or not, the 2023-24 season is here
10/9/2023 - By Ken Smyth

Everybody have a good summer? That's nice. The Sharks' had a wonderful summer compared to last season, entirely because there was no question about a new coach or general manager or any of that other stuff that distracts fans and owners. Like it or not, the new season is here, but there are some summer happenings that set the stage for the upcoming season. Let's go into things in detail:

1) Mike Grier -- He took care of the one big remaining distractions well before training camp by trading Eric Karlsson to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It helped for Kyle Dubas to be hired as President of Hockey Operations for the Penguins last June. Dubas needed to make a splash to push the Pens current lineup (at least in their fans' minds) as having a few more years of contention, and Grier needed somebody to eat most of that $46 million left on Karlsson's contract for the next four seasons. Both Grier and Dubas removed distractions, and made fans and owners happy; at least for a little while.

Now, it's impossible to not think Karlsson's Norris Trophy season in 2022-23 was a lucky fluke, and he's going to return to being an often-injured 33 year old defenseman with a whopper contract costing the Pens $10 million a year at sometime or other. But the Penguins are headed for a tear-down in a few years anyway, and Karlsson is still a few years younger than Kris Letang. Odds are pretty good over the coming season that at least one of them will be healthy at any time.

The Sharks got to dump over 85% of Karlsson's contract; in return for a first-round pick next year and some players (Jan Rutta, Mike Hoffman and Mikael Granlund) with only a year or two left on their contracts, and who could possibly play their way into being traded somewhere for a draft pick. Good deal for both teams.

2) Ryan Miller -- The Sharks goaltending development has needed something or someone ever since Warren Strelow passed away, and it gets mentioned every summer. Maybe this season Karlsson was a big enough story to push this topic down, but it was still a distraction.

Miller was hired in mid-August to the Sharks' "Hockey Operations" staff. The Sharks website states: "Miller will scout draft-eligible goaltenders as the Sharks goalie scout, and also assist Director, Goaltending Evgeni Nabokov in the organization's development of the goaltending prospects and players." Hey, I like this hire, and let me tell you why.

Besides keeping some terrible Buffalo teams somewhat respectable (and beating the Sharks very consistently) over the 2002-2014 time period, Miller was the goalie for Team USA in that 2010 Olympic Gold Medal game in Vancouver.

Summarizing, USA trailed Canada almost the entire game, tying it at 2-2 with 25 seconds left in regulation on a goal by Zach Parise. Sidney Crosby scored at 7:40 of OT to win the gold for the Canadians, but the look on Miller's face when receiving his medal said he'd have liked to cram that silver down Crosby's throat, and make him swallow it. Miller was tournament MVP. (Another player name Sharks' fans recognize on that USA team was Joe Pavelski, wearing #16.) Miller also won the 2010 Vezina trophy. Not bad for a fifth round draft pick. Keep your fingers crossed that he can help find and develop some goaltending talent with his own level of competitiveness.

3) Connor Bedard -- He's definitely a distraction, but for the Chicago Blackhawks. It doesn't involve sexual assault, so that's refreshing. Hawks fans are really, really, major-potency-high on this kid. If Bedard scores a goal in his first game for the Hawks, they'll retire his jersey. If he scores two, they'll petition for him to go into the Hall of Fame in 2024, forget any more of a career. I realize he's a tremendous talent, but give the kid some time.

I don't know if the Hockey News cover photo (provided by Sherwood Hockey) is real or Photoshoped but he looks like he's fourteen years old. It would be unjust to declare him a bust if he scored only 60 points this season, but the reporter and fans are expecting a lot. Give the Blackhawks credit for signing Corey Perry, that greatly reduces the chances of Perry taking Bedard out of the lineup with a knee injury.

4) Predictions, aka "Where Will the Sharks Finish?" -- No distractions here. Everybody knowledgeable says the Sharks are going to stink, they're lucky they can't be relegated down through the AHL to the ECHL, and even Ted Lasso would get depressed with this bunch. I think they'll be better than that and it might take some interesting trades at the deadline to keep them in the bottom three for the draft lottery.

Last season's team had a "bad" habit of tying games, and losing in overtime, getting some meaningless loser points that hurt their draft position. That may or may not be a "problem" this season. The Pacific Division includes the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks so there may be a fight for last place. There's really nothing much new to discuss here until everyone plays a few games. Go Sharks!

Contact Ken at at kensmyth@letsgosharks.com


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