SAN JOSE SHARKS
LAST SEASON: 51-22-9, 111 points. Lost to Los Angeles in first round of playoffs.
COACH: Todd McLellan, 7th season with Sharks, 271-130-57; seventh overall in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Joe Thornton. Despite finishing second in the league in assists last season, Thornton was stripped of his captaincy this summer in response to the Sharks' playoff collapse against Los Angeles. San Jose became the fourth NHL team to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games. That prompted a search for new leaders. Thornton expressed no desire to leave San Jose but how he reacts to the new role and how he plays this season will be key questions going forward.
OUTLOOK: The Sharks began the offseason with general manager Doug Wilson talking of rebuilding and becoming a ''tomorrow'' team after being a Stanley Cup contender for most of the past decade. Wilson has altered his stance a bit and the players still believe this team can compete with the other powers out West. Much of the success will hinge on continued improvement from younger core players like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl; Brent Burns' move back to defense from forward; and more depth on the bottom two lines to take pressure off Thornton and Patrick Marleau.