Yet again, the San Jose Sharks had a competitive year, reaching the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, though they suffered a seven-game loss to Los Angeles in the second round of the playoffs.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Sharks team that figures to be contenders again next year, but the window of opportunity is closing for the team's core.
While contract extensions could get worked out this summer, as it stands right now, Sharks veterans Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle are all set to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2013-2014 season. With all but Pavelski (who is most likely to get extended) in their mid-30s at that point, the coming season could be the last best shot for this group to win.
"We're not a team that's going to miss the playoffs for five or seven years and go into a rebuild," GM Doug Wilson told CSN Bay Area. "We don't believe in that. We want to reset on the fly."
The Sharks have pieces in place that should allow them to remain competitive as they transition from a team led by Thornton and Marleau to one led by Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns, but if they are going to win a Stanley Cup in 2014, they're probably going to have to be aggressive in their attempts to add talent.
The current core has established that it is competitive, good enough to win a few rounds in the playoffs, but if this is the final season for some of those long-tenured Sharks, will they be good enough to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender?
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Doug Wilson/Todd McLellan
Sharks Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
Rising star Logan Couture has scored 84 goals in the last three seasons, which is tied for seventh in that time. The 24-year-old has already agreed to a contract extension that will carry through 2019, so he's a cornerstone piece for the franchise.
A tremendous two-way player, Joe Pavelski faded after a quick start (12 points in seven games), only to rebound in the postseason, leading the Sharks with 12 points in 11 games. Pavelski finished with his lowest points per game (0.65 ppg) and time on ice (18:55) since 2007-2008.
At 33-years-old, Joe Thornton isn't as prolific a scorer as he once was, with last season's 0.83 points per game his lowest since 1999-2000 (his 18:23 time on ice per game as his lowest since 1998-1999), but Thornton remains an elite puck possession player and has been getting more credit for his defensive play in recent seasons.
Over the last five seasons, Patrick Marleau has scored 166 goals; only Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos have more. Like Thornton, Marleau is 33, his most productive days are behind him and he's going into the final year of his contract, but he's a first-rate scorer and that talent can't be ignored.
Moved to forward after spending the vast majority of his career on defence, Brent Burns was suddenly a scoring star, tallying nine goals and 20 points in 24 games. That didn't carry over the postseason, but there is understandable temptation to see what a guy who goes 6-foot-5 with soft hands could do in a power forward role. The question for the Sharks is whether Burns' offensive production is worth losing a top pair defenceman.
One of the league's most devastating hitters, Raffi Torres was acquired from Phoenix and impressed enough in his late-season and playoff showings to get a new three-year contract. He's always a suspension risk, but is also capable of contributing secondary offence, with seven double-digit goal-scoring seasons.
Injuries may have caught up to Martin Havlat, as the 32-year-old has only 45 points in 79 games in two seasons with the Sharks. After playing only 15:51 per game, his lowest since 2001-2002, Havlat is a prime candidate for a compliance buyout because his production doesn't warrant a $5-million salary cap hit. (edit: He would have been a prime candidate if not for surgery on his pelvic area.)
Tommy Wingels is a physical checking forward, but he struggled in puck possession terms last season, suggesting that he either has to be better or may not be suited for the more than 14 minutes per game he played in 2013.
While Adam Burish may be highly-regarded as a teammate, he's outrageously compensated for the quality of play he provided last season. A player that broke into the league with 214 penalty minutes in 81 games in 2007-2008, Burish had 25 penalty minutes in 46 games last season. Penalties aren't a positive, but that does suggest Burish's level of aggression has gone way down.
A decent checking winger, T.J. Galiardi was skating on the Sharks' top line at the end of the season, which is more a reflection on the Sharks' forward situation than a glowing recommendation for his offensive prowess. Galiardi has his best season as a rookie, in 2009-2010 with Colorado, and hasn't had near the ice time or production since.
Out of the league for two years due to injuries sustained in an ATV accident, James Sheppard earned a spot with the Sharks after scoring 23 points in 32 AHL games last season. He didn't produce much but, after his layoff, it's probably worth seeing what he can for a full season.
An aggressive fourth-line forward, Andrew Desjardins has 23 points in 135 career games, so his contributions are limited, but the versatile forward is useful in a depth role.
The Sharks may have an opening for a scoring forward, particularly if they find a way to unload Martin Havlat's contract. A scoring winger like Brad Boyes, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Daniel Briere or Mason Raymond could come at a reasonable price.
Free Agent Defence
||'12-'13 Cap Hit
Sharks Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
It's possible that, at 36-years-old with 979 (regular season plus playoff) games on his resume, there might be an inclination to believe that Dan Boyle has lost a step; after all his point production (0.43 ppg) was at his lowest rate since 2001-2002 and his ice time, 22:48 per game, was his lowest since 2003-2004. However, even in a lesser role, Boyle had superb puck possession numbers and with Burns shifting up front, his offensive ability is needed on the Sharks' blueline.
A 25-year-old rookie, Matt Irwin stepped into the San Jose lineup and played like a seasoned pro, with strong possession metrics and a bomb from the point that helped him snipe four of his six goals on the power play.
33-year-old Brad Stuart returned to San Jose a much different defenceman than when he left as a 26-year-old, in the Joe Thornton trade, but he's a reliable top-four defenceman, even if it's in a strictly defensive role at this stage of his career.
From the moment he arrived in the league as a 19-year-old, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been a steady defensive defenceman, but he also played a career-low 20:49 per game last season, his ice time declining in April, but he's a 26-year-old who has missed two games or fewer in six of his seven seasons and he takes on tough defensive assignments regularly.
Justin Braun has improved steadily and played a career-high 18:48 per game in his third season and while his possession numbers weren't as strong as previous years, Braun was also handling a higher level of competition.
Wrist, head and ankle injuries contributed to Jason Demers playing only 22 games last season, and he wasn't terribly effective in those games. He has been a decent puck-moving defenceman in 205 career games, but could use a healthy season with good production to get back on track.
While the Sharks could upgrade their defence, they could also move ahead with in-house options, giving Matt Irwin, Justin Braun and prospect Matt Tennyson more ice time. If they don't bring back Scott Hannan, then adding a veteran to provide depth would make some sense.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'12-'13 Cap Hit
A Vezina Trophy finalist, Antti Niemi had a career-best .924 save percentage while playing more minutes (2581) than any other goaltender in 2013. In three seasons with the Sharks, Niemi has a .919 save percentage, ranking seventh among goaltenders with at least 100 games over that span.
If the Sharks can't get economical backup Thomas Greiss re-signed, they will have to find a new second-team 'tender. If the Sharks intend to stick with an inexpensive option in that spot, Al Montoya might be the best bet, with Dan Ellis, Jason LaBarbera and Mathieu Garon likely to cost more among the backups on the market.
||Slavia Praha (CZE)
||18-12-30, +5, 43 GP
||5-22-27, -6, 60 GP
||Boston University HE)
||18-19-37, +5, 39 GP
||18-39-57, +6, 68 GP
||7-47-54, +35, 56 GP
||1-9-10, -2, 40 GP
||13-13-26, -9, 76 GP
||Boston University (HE)
||16-22-38, +2, 39 GP
||Colorado College (WCHA)
||20-33-53, +10, 41 GP
||14-14-28, even, 43 GP
A playmaking forward with good size, Tomas Hertl was the 17th overall pick last summer and has had a couple of strong seasons in the Czech League, scoring 55 points in 81 games as a teenager. He should get a chance to show his stuff in North America next season.
A 23-year-old defenceman signed out of Western Michigan, Matt Tennyson had a strong first pro campaign, earning a four-game trial with the Sharks. The right-shot blueliner has good size, makes a good first pass and could be ready for regular NHL duty soon.
Speedy winger Matt Nieto turned pro following his junior year at BU, where he had 79 points in 76 games over his last two seasons, scoring six points in 11 games for Worcester at season's end. Given time in the AHL, the 2011 second-round pick should be ready for his chance in the NHL before long.
A second-round pick last summer, Chris Tierney has made steady improvement, and scored 21 points in 21 playoff games for the Knights. He should play a prominent role in junior next season.
A 6-foot-5 defenceman with offensive skills, Konrad Abeltshauser scored 74 points in 73 (regular season plus playoff) games in 2012-2013. The Sharks have some young defencemen pushing for playing time, so Abelshauser should have some time to develop in the AHL.
6-foot-8 blueliner Taylor Doherty hasn't put up big numbers in his first two pro seasons, but with that size, he's eventually going to get a chance to play in a shutdown role.
A solid two-way player, Freddie Hamilton made modest point production in his first pro season, but the 21-year-old is doing a lot of things right, so once the points come in the AHL, he could get his opportunity to move up.
Taken in the fifth round of the draft last summer, Danny O'Regan scored nearly a point-per-game as a freshman at BU. If that production carries forward, he'll be a nice asset a couple years down the road.
An undrafted free agent signing out of Colorado College, Rylan Schwartz had 93 points in 76 games through his junior and senior seasons, adding four points in seven games for Worcester at the end of the year.
A Russian winger who played in the USHL, Daniil Tarasov was on an AHL deal and spent some time in the ECHL last year too, but his point production as a first-year pro makes him worth watching.
The Sharks have some other prospects of note including defencemen Dylan DeMelo and Sena Acolatse as well as right winger Eriah Hayes, a 6-foot-4 winger signed as a free agent after scoring 20 goals for Minnesota State-Mankato.
20th - Curtis Lazar, Andre Burakovsky, Fredrik Gauthier.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Sharks have approximately $56.7M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 15 players.
Check out my possible Sharks lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: One top six forward, two defencemen.
What I said the Sharks needed last year: One top nine forward, depth forwards, one top four defenceman.
They added: Scott Gomez, Adam Burish, Brad Stuart.
Martin Havlat, T.J. Galiardi, Jason Demers.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.