The San Jose Sharks suffered through an historic meltdown in Round 1 of the playoff last season, but most of the same team will return – are they still a contender?
2013-14 record: 51-22-9
Acquisitions: John Scott, Tye McGinn, Taylor Fedun
Departures: Brad Stuart, Martin Havlat, Dan Boyle
Top five fantasy players: Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Had San Jose closed out Los Angeles in Game 4, 5, 6 or 7 of their opening round series, the landscape would look a lot different in California. The Kings would be the ones regrouping from a first-round loss and Stanley might have found a summer home farther up the coast. But the Sharks again couldn’t execute that springtime killer instinct, and they still come across as an aging group of pretenders. That said, San Jose has young cornerstones in Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl and has already started the transition to building around them instead of 35-year-olds Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. The team has the utmost faith in GM Doug Wilson and coach Todd McLellan, and those two men have a ton of faith in a roster that saw just cosmetic changes made to it.
Antti Niemi, just two seasons removed from posting a .926 save percentage, is fully capable of bouncing back. If he does, the Sharks will be back in business among the West’s elite.
Bust: Depending upon your perspective, San Jose’s Waterloo last season was either a painful dagger to the heart by rival Los Angeles or an encouraging setback that tells Sharks fans they were oh-so-close to winning it all the way the Kings did. The organization is going with the latter, knowing it has the horses to charge ahead again in 2014-15.
Losing Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart on the blueline hurts, but that will be mitigated if Brent Burns makes a successful re-transition there and Mirco Mueller steps in and shines as a rookie. The big question is in goal. Unless Niemi is lights out in both the regular season and playoffs, it’ll be lights out for his career in San Jose.
The same applies to Thornton and Marleau, even though they’re under contract until 2017. Thornton was stripped of the captaincy in late August, four years after the ‘C’ was stripped from Marleau and given to Thornton. How ‘Jumbo Joe’ and the rest of the Sharks handle that leadership transition will tell the tale of the season. Quite easily, it could end poorly and result in swift changes.
Bottom Line: Canvass the experts and most will tell you the San Jose Sharks are among the top six or seven Stanley Cup contenders again. Yet the same forecasters will tell you they rank San Jose third among three teams in California. More and more critics distance themselves from the Sharks because they’ve disappointed too many times in the past. Put us among that group. We’re not believers in the Sharks until we see it happen first.
Prospect To Watch: Mirco Mueller is a solid 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman who is the most likely rookie to stick with the team out of camp. At the end of his junior year last season, Mueller joined the AHL’s Worcester Sharks for nine games, scoring two points. The movement of Brent Burns back to the blueline might make it harder on Mueller, so also keep an eye on winger Freddie Hamilton. He scored 22 goals and 43 points in 64 games in the AHL last season and although he went pointless in 11 NHL games, he’ll be given a long look.
THN’s Prediction: Third in Pacific Division
Contributors: Brian Costello, Rory Boylen