The San Jose Sharks, the first Sun Belt team added to the NHL in 1991, are the prime example of a thriving hockey team in the Sun Belt. They have a legion of great fans and are an overall successful team with many strong players. They are a profitable team and are potential Stanley Cup contenders. They should start off the 2011 – 2012 season strongly, building off their post season momentum and working in the strengths of new players, RW Martin Havlat and Defenseman Brent Burns.
In the middle of sunny California, the Sharks boast many devoted fans. This is confirmed by their average attendance rates since they moved into the HP Pavillion in 1993 – 1994. Since that season, when they made their first playoff run, their attendance capacity has been 90% or higher, and their average attendance is higher than the league average. That’s pretty impressive for a team situated outside the typical winter hockey environment. Also, in a 2010 Sports Illustrated survey of 272 NHL players, the Sharks’ HP Pavillion was voted as the “toughest road arena to play in”, tougher than the Bell Centre in Montreal. Now, those are some dedicated and intimidating fans!
Beyond fans, the Sharks are a successful playing team, making the playoffs 14 times in 20 seasons. That number is the highest of all Sun Belt teams. For 6 of those playoff runs, the Sharks were Pacific Division Champions (02, 04, 08, 09, 10, 11). They won the President’s Trophy in 2009 and made the Western Conference Finals in 2004 and again for the last two seasons, losing to Chicago in 2010 and Vancouver in 2011. Although they have not won the Stanley Cup yet, they consistently play well enough to do it. They are still in it to win it, possibly in the next few years.
The Shark’s management made some nice off-season changes including acquiring defenseman Brent Burns and a second round 2012 draft pick from Minnesota by trading RW Devin Setoguchi, F Charlie Coyle, and a 2011 first round pick. With Burns, the Sharks now have two top defensemen, including super star defenseman Dan Boyle. The Blue Line is looking better and stronger in San Jose.
In a separate trade, San Jose swapped winger Dany Heatley for Minnesota’s RW Martin Havlat. Havlat will bring more speed and should play nicely with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Once they work out their chemistry, the results should be impressive. Havlat should play better in San Jose than he did in Minneapolis with this great first line support. This trade also freed up cap space for San Jose to make future team improvements.
With these new changes and the already existing framework of the team, the San Jose Sharks are in a good position to make progress toward the Cup this year. They have quality players in their top 3 lines, solid defense including two very strong players in Dan Boyle and Brent Burns, solid goaltending with starting goaltender Antti Niemi and back up goaltender Antero Niittymaki, and there is room for improvement.
The future looks bright in sunny San Jose.
Every week, this blog will focus on each of the Sun Belt teams, their players, and their fans.
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