This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the San Jose Sharks.
What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?
For the 8th time in the last 10 seasons, the Sharks finished with a .600 or better winning percentage. They finished 6th in the NHL or better in goals scored (2.92), goals against (2.35), 5-on-5 scoring (1.17), penalty killing (84.9), shots for (34.8), shots against (27.8) and faceoffs (52.8%). How the heck did they not win a round in the playoffs?
It’s not often you see a 29 year-old player in his 8th NHL season break out and become one of the better two-way players in the game. That’s exactly what Joe Pavelski did last season. He led the Sharks with 41 goals and 79 points, both career-highs. He added a +23 and finished in the top 10 in Hart Trophy and Selke Trophy voting.
Before getting injured in December, rookie Tomas Hertl all but had the Calder Trophy locked up with 15 goals and 25 points in 35 games. While his season was derailed, he showed excellent potential and a consistency unusual for a 20 year-old.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic had the best all-around season of his career. He scored 24 points, led the Sharks with a +31 and earned a spot on Canada’s Olympic roster.
With Antti Niemi not signed past this season, the Sharks will likely be looking for a new starting goaltender and 26 year-old Alex Stalock will get a long look this season. He earned some more starts with a very impressive stat line last season going 12-5-2 with a .932 save percentage, a 1.87 goals-against-average and 2 shutouts. In the playoffs, he got into 3 games for San Jose and posted a .929 save percentage and 2.05 GAA.
What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?
Speaking of Niemi, while his regular season was on par with his career numbers, he was extremely unreliable come playoff time posting an .884 save percentage, hardly good enough for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle has been one of the NHL’s most consistent point producers for years, but age finally started to catch up to him last season. He played just 21:17, his lowest total since 2001-02, and managed just 36 points in 75 games.
Another veteran who struggled for the Sharks was Martin Havlat. His three seasons in San Jose were all quite forgettable, but last season was definitely the worst. He scored just 22 points in the 48 games he played and saw his role and ice-time get reduced as the season went on.
“Jumbo” Joe Thornton was always a pass first kind of player, but 11 goals in 82 games is low even by his standards. His shooting percentage the last two seasons (8.2% & 9.0%) have been well below his career average of 13.1%. He also managed just 3 points in 7 playoff games, his least productive post-season since his last one in Boston when he went pointless in 7 games in 2003-04.
So what did they do to get better?
Everyone expected the Sharks to blow things up after squandering a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings. In reality, there’s not much to improve on paper.
The biggest move was probably a change of position, moving Brent Burns back to defense for the upcoming season. That will give them a little more size on the back-end, while making room at forward for some of the younger forwards.
Player to watch
The ascension of Logan Couture to superstar status was delayed thanks to an injury last season, but look for it to take place this year.
He’s one of, if not the fastest skater in the NHL. He also has a quick, accurate shot and isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas to score.
He’ll be healthy, and he’ll be in the mix for the league lead in goals.
The window is open for at least one more season.
They will make the playoffs if…
Making the playoffs is a given for this group. What they do when they get there is what will matter.
They will miss the playoffs if…
They have such a horrid start to the season due to the after-effects of their playoff collapse that they decide to rebuild in-season.
What should we expect this season?
The San Jose Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead. They failed to make it to the Stanley Cup Final despite being a top regular season team. They had star players who didn’t produce in the post-season.
All that is true, but it is way too easy to forget that the San Jose Sharks were also one win from eliminating the Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings, and potentially one win away from a very, very long playoff run.
This is a very good core supported by solid young talent in Couture, Hertl, Matt Nieto and Jason Demers, and they deserve one more chance at redemption. I believe this loss was the worst this group has faced, and they play with a chip on their shoulder because of it.
They may no longer be a Presidents’ Trophy contender, but I think reports of the Sharks’ demise are greatly exaggerated. The window is open for at least one more season.
48-27-7 103 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division, 4th in the Western Conference