Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: San Jose Sharks
Last season: The Sharks finished seven games under. 500 yet again and missed the playoffs for the second straight season, perhaps marking the beginning of a very long end. They ranked near the bottom in nearly every team category, made history with the 12th-highest GA/GP in the cap era and, for the third consecutive season, allowed more than three goals per game. It was no coincidence Martin Jones also struggled for the third straight season, but to be fair to Jones, the defense was also a disaster. Former shutdown defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is now playing third-pairing minutes, and Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson were a combined minus-31. According to naturalstatrick.com, the Sharks allowed the fourth-highest shooting attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 in the league, and ranked 23rd in 5v5 CF%.
The picture on offense was brighter, highlighted by another solid fantasy season from Evander Kane, and a (mostly) healthy season from top center Tomas Hertl. They were the only two players to score more than 40 points, while the rest of the team largely disappointed. Logan Couture, usually a popular pick for his steady point production, scored at a sub-50-point pace for the first time in his career, Timo Meier had his worst season ever and Kevin Labanc continues to look like another very expensive mistake. The Sharks’ cap structure makes it difficult for them to find solutions when the big gambles don’t pay off, and their struggles will likely take some time to fix.
Best option: Tomas Hertl, C
Hertl is an unrestricted free agent next summer, so he’s got plenty of motivation to have a good season. But, beyond that, there just aren’t a lot of good options on the Sharks. Only four forwards are projected to score more than 40 points in the Pool Guide, and one of them is Kane. But, even in the best-case scenario, given the lack of quality depth surrounding Hertl and the Sharks’ general ineptitude, it’s difficult to see him as anything more than a mid-round pick. His fantasy value will be derived mostly from his usage as the No. 1 scoring option, and he’s perhaps the only Sharks forward really worth drafting, but then again, he doesn’t really have many quality linemates to pass to and will be banking on a bounce-back season from Meier, too.
Hidden gem: Timo Meier, LW/RW
Talk about high risk and high reward. Without Kane, Meier will be the Sharks’ best winger, and together with Hertl should play a significant role in their plan on offense. His career was off to a great start after scoring 30 goals in his third season, but he’s fallen off the boat a little bit and last season scored just 12 goals in 54 games, the worst pace of his career since his rookie season. There should be no way to go but up, but it also seems very possible that Meier winds up having another disappointing season. His slightly below-average 9.8 career shooting percentage is a signal that maybe he’s just not a very efficient goal scorer, and he’s never been a particularly good playmaker, either. That being said, in the best-case scenario, Meier could lead the team in goals, and that makes him more of a gem than any of the other Sharks forwards.
James Reimer and Adin Hill are going to be chum in the water all season. Less than one-fifth of all Yahoo leagues have teams with a Sharks goalie on their roster, and I’d like to think it was a result of auto drafts. Reimer and Hill are an improvement over Jones, but it’s also easily one of the top-three worst tandems in the league. Reimer is 33 years old with a .913 save percentage and has never been able to establish himself as a reliable starter with any of his three previous teams, and over the past three seasons ranks 89th out of 129 goalies (Jones is ranked last) in GSAA, according to naturalstattrick.com’s model.
There’s more reason to be optimistic with Hill, who won a gold medal at the World Championships as Team Canada’s backup. The sample size is small (49 games) and the overall results aren’t particularly good (.909 Sv%), but Hill did a commendable job last season, posting two shutouts for the Coyotes and winning nine games, just one fewer than Darcy Kuemper. It will be Hill’s first real test in the NHL, and in fantasy hockey it’s prudent to take a wait-and-see approach with an inexperienced goalie on a mediocre team. The probability of Hill being anything more than a matchup dependent waiver-wire pickup is very low. Also, no respect to Mario Ferraro, but he might end up being their best defenseman, and that’s not ideal if you want to win a lot of games.
As a testament to how successful the Sharks have been for more than a decade, they have never missed the playoffs more than two seasons in a row. That will probably change by the end of the season, barring some miraculous turnaround by multiple players. Hertl is the safest choice in fantasy because he’s their best player, but otherwise it’s gambles on low-upside veterans in Couture and Burns or high-risk/high-reward propositions in Meier, Labanc and Karlsson. None of them seem particularly appetizing, which makes the Sharks mostly an afterthought.