The knock against San Jose has always been that they’ve never been able to go deep in the playoffs. A regular season wunderkind, the Sharks always lose their bite (excuse the poor pun… and alliteration) in the postseason, and their star players always seem to disappear, despite numbers that suggest otherwise. With a new head coach in place, and after begging management to keep the core for another year, the players have vowed to exceed all expectations and perhaps bring the Cup back to sunny California.
At first glance, the Sharks seem to have a great offense, with big Joe Thornton as the anchor. However, it may surprise some (or many) that the Sharks only managed a 19th ranked offense last year. A common misconception is that the Sharks are a high-scoring team, but due to inconsistency issues, they’re really not, although they can be. Patrick Marleau had one of the most disappointing seasons in his career, and never more has the captain endured more harsh words from critics. Now set to lineup on Thornton’s left wing, Sharks fans hope Marleau can re-find his scoring touch. Jonathan Cheechoo, a former 56-goal scorer, also needs to re-find his scoring touch, and will be counted on to provide a lot of goals. His goal output dipped for the third straight season last year, and new coach Todd McLellan is hoping he can inject some life into the former Richard winner. All is not lost, however, if neither Marleau or Cheechoo can regain their form. Youngsters Torrey Mitchell and Joe Pavelski are also expected to step up their play, especially Pavelski, who is expected to improve on his 19-goal total. The third-year player played himself onto the squad and didn’t hit the dreaded sophomore slump, and is slotted to be the team’s new second line centre, while Mitchell will handle the third-line. Milan Michalek is also another player that saw his point total dip last year, but once again is expected to chip-in some substantial points. Ryane Clowe rounds out San Jose’s offense, after being sidelined early last season, only to come back in time for the playoffs and became arguably the Sharks’ best player, with 9 points in 13 games. Also another player to watch out for is the speedy Devin Setoguchi. The former Saskatoon Blade standout scored 11 in just 44 games last year, and 20-25 goals is not completely out of the question. The ever colourful Jeremy Roenick (who you can bet is one of the players who begged Wilson to keep the squad together for another year) will be hard-pressed to top his 10 game-winners, but the Sharks won’t complain if he manages to equal, or even top, that total. If a slumping offense can take the Sharks to a division title, could you imagine what would happen if they realize their full offensive potential? Hopefully McLellan can turn loose a formerly defense-first team.
The Sharks’ defense doesn’t boast a bit a name as its offense, but the players worked cohesively as a group and finished with a third ranked defense and first ranked penalty kill. However, in order to push the Sharks over the bump, Doug Wilson decided to shake up his defense by adding former Cup winners Dan Boyle and Rob Blake. The two new anchors for the Sharks defense bring experience and mobility to the Sharks’ offense after they struck out on re-signing Brian Campbell, but most importantly, they bring Cup-winning experience. While both players are excellent offensively, defensively they’re not as sound as Craig Rivet or the recently waived Kyle McLaren. However, along with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Blake and Boyle can hopefully further ignite a snoozing Sharks offense and provide some spark on their tenth ranked powerplay. The underrated Christian Ehrhoff, Doug Murray, and veteran Brad Lukowich, also acquired in the Boyle trade, round out a deep top six.
Evgeni Nabokov emerged as the West’s best last year, and some pundits have argued that he should’ve won the Vezina as the league’s best goaltender. Even without Vesa Toskala pushing him, Nabokov still managed to finish tops in all the goaltending categories. Brian Boucher won’t challenge for the number one spot anytime soon, but will be enough to give Nabokov a little push should he need it.
The Sharks have been competitive for a long time, but the writing’s on the wall for Wilson. With Ron Wilson gone, and if the Sharks find themselves exiting the playoffs early, he may be following Ron out the door real soon. New coach McLellan comes from a great team in Detroit, and hopefully is the missing piece for them. The Sharks won’t be turning any heads in the season, as they’re expected to win their division once again, but they really need to win when it counts most or otherwise potentially face a major roster shake-up.
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Devin Setoguchi
Milan Michalek – Joe Pavelski – Jonathan Cheechoo
Ryane Clowe – Torrey Mitchell – Mike Grier
Tomas Plihal – Marcel Goc – Jeremy Roenick
Christian Ehrhoff – Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Rob Blake
Doug Murray – Brad Lukowich
Evgeni Nabokov – Brian Boucher
Coach: Todd McLellan
GM: Doug Wilson
Predicted finish: 2nd Pacific, 2nd West