The San Jose Sharks were just two wins removed from making it to the Stanley Cup Final last season, so they didn’t see fit to make many changes over the course of the summer. That said, the club will have to make do without Joe Pavelski and forwards Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. There were question marks about Joe Thornton, but he signed a one-year deal in early September.
After 13 seasons with the Sharks, Pavelski signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Stars on July 1. Donskoi is with Colorado, while Nyquist is with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The absences will mean a period of adjustment for San Jose, but the team was able to secure Erik Karlsson to an eight-year deal. Timo Meier signed for four years, too.
“The guys moving on played significant roles up front so those jobs, those minutes, that ice time is now open,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think in talking to [general manager Doug Wilson], we’re committed to giving the young guys in the organization good opportunities to earn those jobs. We have some really good depth, especially up front, and it’s going to be an exciting camp.”
That probably means good things for the likes of Antti Suomela and Dylan Gambrell. The former had eight points in 27 games last season but spend most of his time with the Barracuda. 23-year-old Gambrell was with the big club for eight games, but he put up 45 points in 51 games with the Barracuda.
The Sharks finished second in the Western Conference last season with 101 points, putting them behind the Calgary Flames. San Jose scored 289 goals, tying the Flames as the most offensive team in the Western Conference. Four players had 30 or more goals, including Evander Kane, Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Pavelski.
Hertl is probably the most offensively feasible of the outstanding forwards. He had a breakout year last season with 35 goals and a total of 74 points. He averaged 19:01 of ice time a game and fits in all situations, but most analysts expect to see him spending time with Kevin Labanc. The 23-year-old from Brooklyn had a career-high 56 points last season, including 17 goals.
Like Hertl, Meier had a great season. He set career-high totals in goals and points, plus he was second behind Hertl in even strength points. With Pavelski gone, Meier will see more time on the top power play. He likes to shoot the puck, so that should mean considerable category coverage for the 22-year-old.
Logan Couture piled on the points like he always seems to: without anyone noticing. Last season, he put up a career-high 70 points, including 27 goals. He scored six goals on the power play and recorded 204 shots on goal. Pavelski’s departure should mean an uptick in ice time for the Guelph-born centre.
The Sharks are the sort of team that likes to propel the offence from their D, which is what makes Brent Burns one of the best in the business. His nose for the net made him the top point-getter on the team last season, with 83 in 82 games. He scored seven power play goals and recorded a team-high 300 shots.
With Burns firing the puck from just about anywhere, the Sharks toy with their opponents. That’s where Karlsson comes in, as he provides some serious offensive coverage as well and further jams up the attack. The 29-year-old had 45 points in 53 games, but only managed three goals for a shooting percentage of 1.3.
San Jose’s tendency to counterpunch leaves them open for odd-man rushes, which is why the Sharks allowed 261 goals against last season. That made them the least defensive of all playoff teams in the West, with only the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks allowing more goals against. No, seriously.
With the Sharks doing the netminders no favours, you might imagine Martin Jones would have to be proverbially on his toes. Of course, the 29-year-old put up a career-worst season in 2018-2019. He was the fourth-worst goalie among those playing in at least 30 games, posting a 2.94 goals against average with a .896 save percentage. Things were even worse in the playoffs, especially in his first four outings.
30-year-old Aaron Dell is the backup. He has a year to go before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The Airdrie native did not play well last season either, however, and that dampens things. He had a 3.17 goals against average with a .886 save percentage in 25 games. In two playoff games, his goals against average was 3.33.
These Sharks will struggle to fill the void left by Pavelski, but it can be done. There’s time to transition this group to some of the younger players, which means there’s time for those younger players to take advantage of having Jumbo Joe in the fold for one more year. If Jones rebounds, those aforementioned younger players could also get some invaluable playoff experience.
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