The Sharks remain Stanley Cup contenders but their window is starting to close as their core ages.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN’s Prediction: 1st in Pacific
Stanley Cup odds: 16-1
Key additions: Mikkel Boedker, LW; David Schlemko, D
Key departures: Roman Polak, D; James Reimer, G
-Is this the San Jose swan song for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau? In reaching the Cup final last season, 36-year-olds Thornton and Marleau knew they were down to their last few strikes. Now in the final year of their contracts with the Sharks, we can start to see the end of the road.
But don’t be surprised to see the pair be open and willing to signing one-year deals with San Jose, starting in 2017-18 when they’ll both be 38. There are other factors in play, of course. Are the Sharks still a Stanley Cup contender? And are Thornton and Marleau willing to move down somewhat from the $6.75 and $6.67 million they now make?
Is Joonas Donskoi the next big thing? He dazzled fans and teammates in his rookie season with his breakaway speed and slick skills. Now is Donskoi ready to take it to the next level? He had some rough patches during the season, but still managed 11 goals and 36 points. He was even better with more on the line in the playoffs, scoring at a pace that would have topped 20 goals and 40 points. Donskoi is sure to get some work on the top two lines.
-Is this the year Brent Burns wins the Norris Trophy? Not since Mike Green scored 31 goals in 2008-09 has a defenseman scored as many as the 27 goals Burns had last season. And not since Ray Bourque took 390 shots in 1995-96 has a defenseman blasted away as Burns did – 353 shots. If Burns, 31, comes close to those numbers again, he’ll make believers out of Norris voters. Burns was a distant third to Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson last season, getting just three of 150 first-place votes.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The San Jose Sharks entered the 2015-16 season with pretty low expectations after a season where they missed the playoffs entirely. A few months later they found themselves playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time in their existence. Who saw that coming? Well, we sort of did.
If you recall last year’s season previews, one of the hotter takes from the stats-based write-ups was that not only were the Sharks still an elite team, but that they were the best team in the NHL. At a time when many were writing off their playoff chances completely, a statistical model said this team was far from done.
They started very slow and lost Logan Couture to injury, but once he came back the Sharks were hot and finished the season two games away from showing they were exactly what the numbers suggested. League’s best team may have been a bit of a stretch, but they were much closer to that than what many pundits suggested.
This year’s previews use a different model (last year’s used War On Ice’s wins above replacement which is now defunct after the creators were hired by NHL teams), but the results are much the same. The Sharks are one of the league’s best teams again, and after seeing what they did last year it’ll be much harder to disagree this time around.
One of the reasons the numbers were so high on this team last year was that their top-end talent is second to none. It’s the same case this year as not many teams can match the starpower up front and on the back-end. That core group of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is an excellent foundation to build off of and are the main reason this team is as good as it is.
The main issue with the team though is that most of those guys are all drifting farther and farther away from their prime years. Thornton is magnificent, but he’s probably not going point-per-game again. Thornton, Pavelski and Burns are the heart of this team and all are on the wrong side of 30.
That means there’s not much time left for this group to win it all. The Sharks are the best team in the West and could very well reach the final again this season. They came very close last year, but given the age of their core, this season might be their final chance.
Up next: New York Islanders
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