Are key personnel losses too much to overcome?
The Sharks have been running with a veteran lineup for years. That experience keeps them competitive but catches up to them when it comes to contract renewals. This off-season, there wasn’t enough cap space to retain Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi. Justin Braun was another casualty, moved to create space. The only new signings were fringe players like Dalton Prout and Jonny Brodzinski. Sure, less-experienced players from within (Lukas Radil, Dylan Gambrell, Tim Heed, Radim Simek) will move up the depth chart, but a 25-percent roster overhaul is rarely seamless. Perhaps the Sharks don’t do as well in the regular season during the transition but find a way to make a playoff push.
Can Martin Jones regain his dominating form?
It was odd seeing Martin Jones with a sub-.900 save percentage and the Sharks in the bottom 10 of most goaltending stats. That absolutely has to change if San Jose is to go far in the tough Western Conference. Jones struggled most of the season – but did come up with hot stretches in the playoffs. The stats don’t lie. San Jose gave up the second fewest shots (behind only Calgary), yet was sixth in shots taken. Only Carolina and Vegas had a greater positive differential in shots for versus shots against. San Jose’s plus-31 goal differential should have been higher – it was ranked seventh. Jones’ save percentage of .896 last season pales compared to the .918, .912 and .915 he posted in his first three seasons with the Sharks.
How big will Kevin Labanc's payday be in January?
Labanc did his team a big favor by signing a one-year contract worth $1 million when he was easily worth four times that amount. The friendly deal helped San Jose hang on to star UFA Erik Karlsson. The payback will surely come after Jan. 1 when Labanc is eligible to sign his next contract. A great start to the season will move that number past the $5-million mark. Problem is, there’s scant money coming off the books next off-season. The Sharks have almost $60 million allocated to eight players, leaving a little more than $20 million to the other 15 players. Labanc’s next deal will cut into that even more.
Stanley Cup Odds: 26/1
The Sharks have a few prospects coming off outstanding offensive seasons in major junior, but at least some of Sasha Chmelevski, Ivan Chekhovich and Joachim Blichfeld will require development time in the AHL. Center Dylan Gambrellhas the inside track on one of the few openings at forward.