THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Second in Pacific Division.
2013: 25-16-7. Sixth in West.
KEY DEPARTURES: Scott Gomez, Tim Kennedy, Thomas Greiss, T.J. Galiardi.
KEY ADDITIONS: Tyler Kennedy.
THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Joe Thornton (70), Logan Couture (67), Patrick Marleau (61).
PROS: With Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks have some of the best center depth in the league and while Couture is still on the ascent, ‘Jumbo’ hasn’t slowed down much – meaning a pick-your-poison matchup problem for the opposition. Meanwhile, the Brent Burns experiment was a smashing success, so expect the hirsute banger to remain on the wing instead of back on the blueline. Antti Niemi was one of the top goaltenders in the NHL last season, tying for the lead with 24 wins and posting a stodgy 2.16 goals-against average. In front of Niemi, the defense is still a solid and underrated bunch, headlined by veterans Dan Boyle, Brad Stuart and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. In the whimsy/depth department, the Sharks even upgraded at the Kennedy position, trading for Tyler while cutting ties with Tim. Tyler brings a Stanley Cup ring from Pittsburgh with him.
CONS: The Sharks have had a tough time graduating prospects lately and only part of that is because of the depth in front of them. If Tomas Hertl cracks the roster, he’ll be the first draft pick to wear teal since Tommy Wingels and Jason Demers – both of whom came from the 2008 class. A lack of elite youth outside of Couture is eventually going to catch up to San Jose and in a new division with some serious young guns, that’s going to be a problem. Speaking of depth, as good as Niemi has been, the Sharks have been a little too reliant on him lately. With Thomas Greiss gone, San Jose’s backup options of Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri have combined for one NHL win in three career games – all of which belong to Stalock. Riding Niemi during a 48-game schedule was fine, but it’s going to be a lot tougher with a full slate and the compressed Olympic year.
X-FACTOR: Outside of their wealth of centers, how much quality depth do the Sharks possess? Certainly the consistency of wingers outside of the top line could be a concern, with the oft-injured Martin Havlat being counted on to provide some level of production. Raffi Torres, Tyler Kennedy, Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard are some other wingers who will land on the second or third line, but none inspires a whole lot of confidence. In net, Antti Niemi is a world-beater, but the Sharks should be wary of leaning on him too hard and having it come back to bite them in the playoffs. This depth concern has led to some level of overall inconsistency the past two years, when the Sharks have flirted with missing the post-season. They haven’t fallen that far yet, but it’s certainly a new, troubling development in the franchise’s recent history.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Brent Burns challenges the NHL’s “jersey tuck” rule – partly designed to keep numbers visible – by growing his hair so long it obstructs his No. 88. Penalty or no penalty?
PACIFIC NO. 2: SAN JOSE SHARKS