The San Jose Sharks had a disappointing 2014-2015 campaign, missing the post-season with a 40-33-9 record. That this came after 2014’s historic playoff fumble against the Los Angeles Kings probably didn’t help confidence levels around the Sharks’ franchise, so changes were only a matter of time in coming. Head coach Todd McLellan was out after seven seasons in a “mutual decision.” New head coach Peter DeBoer is in.
DeBoer led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with the team and that feat was accomplished just a year after the Devils found themselves in the league’s basement. The Sharks are hoping their new boss can work the same magic. The downside is that DeBoer hasn’t taken a team to the playoffs since the Devils’ 2012 run.
The Sharks scored a respectable 224 goals last season, but they allowed 226 goals against and went an unacceptable 19-17-5 at home. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson hinted at a “blockbuster trade” around the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but nothing materialized. His team will subsequently look very similar to the team that took the ice in 2014-2015 – apart from one important change in goal.
Up front, the 2015-2016 edition of the Sharks is almost identical to last year’s model. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau will still account for the lion’s share of offence. Thornton had 65 points in 78 games last season, including 16 goals. He averaged 18:25 of ice time a game and is one of the best centres in the game, even as his play declines.
35-year-old Marleau had 57 points in 82 games and continues to be the heart and soul of this Sharks franchise. He is as versatile as they come, with blazing speed and a swift shot. And Pavelski managed 70 points in 82 games, including 37 goals. He benefits from the skill of his teammates, but he’s also quick on the draw and versatile. Pavelski showed up in all situations last season, averaging over 20 minutes of ice time a game.
26-year-old Logan Couture is often considered the future of the Sharks and for good reason. He had 67 points last season, including six power play goals and two short-handed goals. Couture can play centre or wing, plus he always seems to be in the right place. With the newly-acquired Joel Ward in the mix and players like Tomas Hertl and Melker Karlsson finding significant ice time, the Sharks may be more stable than they first appear.
For DeBoer the name of the game is pressure. He believes in applying pressure in all three zones, which means a shift from McLellan’s puck possession philosophy. 28-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic is San Jose’s most unruffled defenceman and he’ll have to step up his physical presence. He averages just over 22 minutes of ice time a game and had nine goals in 70 games last season. He’s capable in any situation.
The insanely adaptable Brent Burns, who can also play forward, had 60 points last season as the Sharks put him anywhere and everywhere. He averaged nearly 24 minutes of ice time a game, scored 17 goals and is an extremely mobile skater. There’s not a lot Burns can’t do, although he is prone to defensive lapses.
Paul Martin was acquired by the Sharks in the off-season and he’ll bring even more veteran presence to the roster. The 34-year-old put up 20 points last season and can push nearly 23 minutes of ice time a game, plus he can do a little bit of everything. Martin’s presence could help Brenden Dillon tighten up his game. And with the loss of Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin to free agency, Justin Braun could also see more minutes.
The Sharks have been looking for a goaltender to call their own for a few seasons now, especially after Antti Niemi proved a less than feasible option. Martin Jones looks to be that guy, although some argue San Jose is putting its eggs in one basket. The former Los Angeles Kings netminder has only played 34 NHL games, but he won his first eight starts and has a 1.99 goals against average on his career. The Sharks will push him this year.
28-year-old Alex Stalock is the backup plan. The St. Paul native is an agile goalie capable of making the Big Save. But his numbers are second-rate, plus he’s disposed to to streaky play. Scouting reports suggest problems with his coverage and some gaps in the fundamentals, but the Sharks are hoping he’ll be acceptable in a support role.
Defenceman Mirco Mueller is not the flashiest player in the world, but he’s a reliable blueliner and that’s what the Sharks are after. The 20-year-old saw action in 39 games last season and could be primed for more, although injuries and a sense of diffidence likely held him back. San Jose will take another long look at him this season and will be hoping for bigger strides in his development.
Moscow’s Nikolay Goldobin is a natural goal-scorer and an explosive player. The 19-year-old is said to be a throwback to the smooth Russian skaters of the 1990s, with the knack for scoring sleek goals. In two seasons with the Sarnia Sting in the OHL, Goldobin had 68 goals. He’ll be eligible for the AHL this season and the Sharks will likely recommend him to the Barracuda for a while before they test him in the bigs.
The Path Ahead
While there’s a lot to like about Peter DeBoer behind the bench in San Jose, the roster is still relatively the same and the team’s ethic will take more than a few adjustments to change. Many have suggested that there’s something in the makeup of the Sharks that keeps them from pushing to the next level and that’s probably a fair assessment. If DeBoer can work with this team and push them, so much the better.
But on paper, it’s hard to see the Sharks as a winner. They’re getting older at nearly every position. The acquisitions of Ward and Martin attest to this fact. And while there are some worthy prospects like Mueller and Goldobin in the wings, that’s not enough. San Jose requires something more, however. The hope is that Doug Wilson can see that before it’s too late.