Sharks

Analysis: Are Sharks better or worse since the season ended?

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USATSI

Analysis: Are Sharks better or worse since the season ended?

SAN JOSE – As we wrote last week, in his effort to set up the Sharks for long-term success, Doug Wilson has made some admirable moves recently. Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, defensive stalwart Marc-Edouard Vlasic and franchise goalie Martin Jones will all be in San Jose for the foreseeable future with their respective contract extensions, and represent three pieces that a team can build around. 

The general manager also avoided the mistake of offering Patrick Marleau a third season, leaving the club valuable salary cap space that could be better utilized than for a declining forward that would have been 40 years old in 2019-20.

The more immediate concern, though, is this: Are the Sharks a better team now than they were when they shook hands with the Edmonton Oilers following a first round defeat in April?

Right now, there’s not much reason to believe that they are.

Even with Marleau’s departure, the Sharks will rely on some aging veterans. Joe Thornton, returning on a one-year, $8 million contract, just turned 38, while Joe Pavelski turned 33 on Tuesday. 

We’ve written here before that there’s reason to believe Thornton can be better than his seven-goal, 50-point season in 2016-17. The future Hall of Famer recently said that he’s been focusing on his legs this offseason, which surely means that he identified that as a problem area last season through what was a difficult schedule. As long as his knee is fully repaired – and he, his agent and Wilson have all emphatically stated he’ll be ready for the start of camp – Thornton could rebound from his lowest statistical output since 1998-99.

And, a better Thornton would mean a better Pavelski, too, as the captain saw his goal output drop from 38 in 2015-16 to 29 last season. Assuming those two stay on the same line, the Sharks will need more from both. The guess here is they'll get it.

The defense isn’t getting any younger, either, as each of the Sharks’ top four defenders is now over the age of 30 including Paul Martin (36), Burns (32), Vlasic (30) and Justin Braun (30). But Vlasic, Braun and Burns are each in the prime of their career, while Martin -- maybe the most underrated Sharks player last season -- was arguably better in 2016-17 than he was in his first year with the Sharks.

The defensive corps is one of the best in the NHL top to bottom, even with the departure of David Schlemko, who could best be described as a serviceable third pairing defenseman. He should be easy to replace, most likely with Dylan DeMelo. That group, along with the steady Jones, could be enough to keep the Sharks in the postseason.

Whether they are anything more than just a playoff bubble team, though, will depend on if they have the horses to generate enough offense, even if Thornton and Pavelski rebound. And that’s where the tremendous uncertainty lies with the current roster.

The left wing spot on the top line is a good place to start. After trying virtually everyone there last season, and even adding Jannik Hansen at the trade deadline with the thought of putting him there, coach Pete DeBoer never seemed to find the right kind of player to complement Thornton and Pavelski. Who is penciled in there now? That’s anyone’s guess.

A group of forwards that didn’t produce as expected last season, as has been well documented, remains. Mikkel Boedker was a bust culminating in his getting scratched in the playoffs, Joel Ward scored 11 fewer goals than the previous season, Joonas Donskoi disappointed with just 17 points in 61 games, Chris Tierney has yet to show he can score more than 20-or-so points in a full season, and the jury remains out as to whether Tomas Hertl should be a full-time center or is better off on the wing.

Marleau’s departure leaves a 27-goal void that won’t likely be filled by a single player. They’ll need more from most of the players mentioned above.

But the Sharks also need at least one, and probably several of their young players to step up and show they are NHL-caliber. Unlike this time last offseason there seems to be a real opportunity for guys like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen to jump in and prove they can play at a consistent level in the best league in the world. Perhaps other prospects with lower ceilings like Barclay Goodrow, Danny O’Regan or Rourke Chartier will surprise in camp.

Now is the time, though, the Sharks need to get more from their younger players than they've gotten in recent years thanks to some unfruitful drafts. There were some flashes last season, such as Labanc’s midseason success and Meier and Sorensen playing well in the playoffs against Edmonton, but none of the players in the system look like a sure thing. There's still a huge leap that has to be made from putting up points in the AHL, as all of those players can, and becoming an NHL regular.

If Wilson is betting on some of these prospects to emerge as legitimate scoring forwards for the Sharks, it’s a tremendous risk, especially in a division that’s getting younger, faster and better. Right now, it looks like that is a risk he’s willing to take.

Sharks start training camp with familiar face elsewhere: ‘It’s kind of strange’

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AP

Sharks start training camp with familiar face elsewhere: ‘It’s kind of strange’

SAN JOSE — There was something familiar missing in San Jose when the Sharks opened training camp.

For the first time since 1996, the Sharks took the ice for their first training camp practice without Patrick Marleau on the team as the franchise's career leader in games and scoring left as a free agent for Toronto this summer.

"I've spent a lot of years with him. It is kind of strange," said Joe Thornton, who came to San Jose in 2005. "It's his birthday today too. It's a little weird, but he's going to do great up in Toronto."

Marleau had been with San Jose since being picked second overall in 1997 but left the Sharks to sign an $18.75 million, three-year deal with the Maple Leafs in July.

Marleau has 508 goals and 574 assists for 1,082 points. He had 46 points in playing all 82 games last season as he rebounded from a disappointing 2015-16 season by scoring 27 goals, including the 500th of his career. He ranks first in San Jose in career goals, games and points.

Only six players in NHL history have played more games with one team than Marleau's 1,493 in San Jose. The Sharks haven't played a game without him on the ice since April 7, 2009.

"Obviously Patty has meant so much to this organization and this group," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Everyone in this room has pretty much played with him and Patty has done something to help them out. He'll be missed. ... Just by committee somebody will step in and fill that kind of hole. That's what we'll need."

The Sharks made no major additions this offseason so will need to replace Marleau's 27 goals by getting development from younger players like Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Danny O'Regan, as well as bounce-back seasons from veterans like Thornton, Mikkel Boedker and Joonas Donskoi.

Only Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns are back after scoring more than 12 goals last season.

"When I look back at last year we had key people either have down years or miss significant time with injuries or coming off injuries," coach Peter DeBoer said. "I think if we can stay healthy I think we've got a large group of guys that can really take a step this year and I expect a step out of them."

While the Sharks lost Marleau in free agency, they did manage to keep Thornton by giving him a one-year, $8 million contract despite dwindling production last season and offseason knee surgery.

He scored just seven goals — his fewest in an 82-game season since his rookie year in 1997-98 — and was a key part of a power-play unit that uncharacteristically struggled last season. But he still managed 43 assists, teaming with captain Joe Pavelski on San Jose's top line.

Thornton missed the final week of the regular season and the first two playoff games with a left knee injury before returning for the final four games of a first-round loss to Edmonton. Thornton then underwent surgery to repair his MCL and ACL after the season but was back skating in August and started ramping it up for training camp two weeks ago. Thornton believes the lower-body work he did in rehab this offseason will pay dividends on the ice.

"They feel real strong," he said of his legs. "I feel a lot of pop out there. They're probably as strong as they've ever been just because I had to rehab that knee so much."

Sharks Media Day highlights: Beards, smiles & cup checks

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Sharks Media Day highlights: Beards, smiles & cup checks

The boys were back together in San Jose on Thursday for Sharks Media Day, with plenty of smiles and moments of levity. Check out the highlights...

Hey Jumbo, you dropped something. 👖🤷‍♂️

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Martin Jones is pretty good at photobombs 📸💣

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🤳 Media Day #SJSharks

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New season. New commercials. 🕉🚌📺 #ComingSoon #SharksForLife

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