Sharks search for elusive playoff success after years of regular season dominance
Scott Hannan, Tyler Kennedy.
T.J. Galiardi, Scott Gomez, Thomas Greiss, Dominic Moore.
Last year: One of the league’s most consistent teams did exactly what they have been known to do from year to year. Play a solid campaign during the regular season and then get bounced in the postseason without a sniff at the Cup Final.
In 2012-13, it was at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings - after earning a first-round victory over the Vancouver Canucks in a four-game sweep.
This was the ninth consecutive trip to the postseason for the Sharks, who have not been able to translate their regular season success into a championship.
The continued growth of young superstar Logan Couture, who led the team with 21 goals and with his 16 assists finished second in team points behind Joe Thornton was a high water mark for the campaign.
Solid seasons were also turned in by the veterans that surround the young talent on this team, as Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski were all solid contributors up front.
Defenceman Dan Boyle played in 46 games and was a key cog for the Sharks as they worked their way into the playoffs, while goaltender Antti Niemi tied for the league lead with 24 wins and also posted a very strong 2.16 goals-against average in 43 games.
This Year: Are the Sharks getting closer to a breakthrough or are they getting closer to the end of the line? That is the question hanging over this group of talented but aging group as they try to reach a 10th consecutive postseason.
Thornton, Marleau and Boyle are all headed to unrestricted free-agency at the end of the season. If there's no change to their contract status, this could be the last year for this group of players to finally make that break.
Martin Havlat had surgery in the summer and will probably be unavailable to the team at the beginning of the season, leaving them short on depth in their forward ranks. Brent Burns will now play forward full time for the Sharks after splitting time on defence last season.
Niemi will have to be his usual brilliant self for the Sharks to reach their goal, which goes well beyond just making the playoffs.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Sharks' performance after a shortened season?
Freshness. That is what the Sharks can expect out of a veteran lineup that was not forced to play a full schedule of games before heading into the post-season. Couple that with good health and the Sharks should be solid heading into the new season.
While players like Thornton are among the strongest in the league, the Sharks could think about reducing some of the minutes their veterans play to keep those legs moving as the postseason approaches.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Sharks make to get themselves back in cap shape?
With a lot of long-term deals on the payroll, the Sharks find themselves slightly over the cap as they prepare for the new season. A few minor moves will need to be made in training camp to get them back on track.
Their real problem will be next season, where they have already committed over $44 million to 14 players. They will either have to re-sign or replace Thornton, Marleau and Boyle and will face very tough decisions.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Sharks after realignment.
While the division gets tougher with the addition of the Canucks and younger with the Oilers, the Sharks will still have their eyes on California cousins Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.
The first time they visit the Canucks, though, expect a loud chorus of boos from a fan base that carried high hopes last season, until the Sharks erased them from the playoff chase in four games.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Brent Burns, RW - When the Sharks moved Burns to wing last season, they took a top pair defenceman and turned him into a dangerous power forward who scored 20 points in 24 games while playing on Joe Thornton's wing.
It's not an easy decision to keep Burns up front, after he had established his level of play on the blueline. After all, what's more valuable, a two-way defenceman who logs 23 minutes per game or a 6-foot-5 winger with soft hands who might be able to score 30 goals? Nonetheless, the career transformation continues this season and 28-year-old Burns is going to be a front line forward playing with proven point producers, so his numbers ought to be good.
Click here for the latest Fantasy News!
Pressing Question: Should the Sharks deal their veterans and turn the team over to Logan Couture?
It has been a strong run for the Sharks making the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons, but they have also failed to get to the final in any of those years.
During the same period of time they’ve watched both of their state rivals lift the Stanley Cup and parade the spoils.
Logan Couture is the present and future of this franchise, there's no doubting that fact, but as long as Thornton, Marleau and Boyle are on the roster, the Sharks will never truly be his team to lead.
As currently constituted, is this team good enough to go all-in on these veteran players and make another run at the Cup? Or should they move the older stars along while they still can and load up on young talent to restart one of the most consistent teams in the NHL?
- San Jose Sharks Preview by Ken Rodney, TSN.ca