COACH: Todd McLellan
2013-14 RECORD: 51-22-9, 111 points (second in Pacific, lost to Kings, 4-3, in first round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.91 goals-for per game (T-6th); 2.35 goals-against per game (5th); 17.2 power play pct. (20th); 84.9 penalty kill pct. (6th); shootout record: 10-7 (2nd)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Patrick Marleau — Joe Pavelski — Tommy Wingels
Tomas Hertl — Logan Couture — Matt Nieto
Raffi Torres — Joe Thornton — Tyler Kennedy
Tye McGinn — Andrew Desjardins — Mike Brown
Adam Burish, James Sheppard*, John Scott
OUTLOOK: Maple Leafs fans wail about their bad luck and Islanders fans lament their team’s annual mediocrity, but San Jose's faithful might be rooting for the most snake-bitten team of the 21st century. Lest we forget, the Sharks were one win away from sweeping the Kings in the first round last spring before losing four straight games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions and becoming only the fourth team in NHL history to blow such a lead. A paragon of regular-season dominance during the past five seasons, the Sharks have appeared in the Western Conference Finals only twice, losing in five games each time. Last season’s team appeared to be capable of exorcizing its demons, but it instead collapsed in spectacular fashion and spent a summer of discontent that couldn't pass fast enough. GM Doug Wilson was vocal about his plans to alter the franchise's landscape, saying, “We now become a tomorrow team" before backtracking and more or less standing pat. So San Jose’s aging core of stars (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski) have returned along with coach Todd McLellan, who some are surprised to see is still behind the bench after last season’s meltdown, but Thornton was stripped of his captain’s title.
San Jose still has two of the most fearsome forward lines in hockey. The defense lost two veterans in Dan Boyle (free agency) and Brad Stuart (trade), but the ferocious Brent Burns will shift from forward to his former position on the blue line where he'll be the puck-moving complement to shutdown defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Yet, despite this team’s formidable star power and a proven regular-season track record, the big question now is how the Sharks will respond after the worst postseason collapse in franchise history. They would do well to remember the Bruins who squandered a 3-0 lead to the Flyers in the 2010 playoffs only to come back and win the Stanley Cup in 2011. Bitter defeat can be inspiring. The Sharks should have no trouble making the playoffs, but a stumble out of the gate or an exit before the Western Conference Finals will mean that wholesale changes finally come to Silicon Valley.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tomas Hertl
Hockey fans gawked (while some players and coaches bristled) at Hertl’s flashy play last season, but the 20-year old winger’s skills are worth more than a handful of YouTube highlights. He scored eight goals in last season’s opening month and appeared to be on his way to Rookie of the Year honors before sustaining a knee injury in an ugly collision with the Kings’ Dustin Brown in December and missing 45 games. Paired with perennially underrated Logan Couture, Hertl may be destined for a 30-plus goal season if he stays healthy and avoids a sophomore slump.
PREDICTION: 101 points (third in Pacific)