San Jose Sharks 2015-16 preview
COACH: Peter DeBoer
2014-15 RECORD: 40-33-9, 89 points (fifth in Pacific, missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.73 goals-for per game (15th); 2.76 goals-against per game (24th); 21.6 power play pct. (6th); 78.5 penalty kill pct. (25th); PDO: 99.3 (23rd); Corsi For pct.: 51.9 (9th); Fenwick For pct.: 51.9 (10th); face-off pct.: 51.9 (6th)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: D Paul Martin, G Martin Jones, F Joel Ward
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: G Antti Niemi, D Matt Irwin, F John Scott, D Scott Hannan
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:
Joonas Donskoi – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Matt Nieto – Tomas Hertl – Tommy Wingels
Ben Smith – Chris Tierney – Mike Brown
Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – Dylan DeMelo
OUTLOOK: After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the perennially underachieving Sharks mutually parted ways with Todd McLellan, the winningest coach in franchise history. The move accelerated a housecleaning that has been underway for two years. Just eight players remain from the 2013 roster and the team is now being guided by Peter DeBoer, who coached New Jersey for three-and-a-half seasons and Florida for three. Even though DeBoer’s teams qualified for the playoffs only once (he took the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final), the Sharks are optimistic about what he brings to the table: a more defense-minded system, a desire to give his players a clean slate, and a history of improving teams during his first season. Veteran center Joe Thornton told reporters that DeBoer has a “powerful voice” and a strong command of the team despite his short time in San Jose.
A fresh approach will be key if the Sharks are to regain their former contender status. One of DeBoer’s first tasks was ending the game of captain roulette that saw Thornton stripped of the C in favor of a rotating cast of alternates (Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic). Pavelski was given the honor. Another key will be how much the team’s aging core has left. Thornton, 36, the Sharks’ usual top scoring threat, only had 65 points last season, his lowest total since 2000. Marleau, 36, generated his lowest total (57) since 2008. Pavelski is productive, but he's 31. The team added more scoring depth by bringing Joel Ward (19-15-34) in from Washington, the hope being that his strength and speed will make for a nice pairing with Logan Couture, 26, who posted a career-high 67 points in 2014-15.
The Sharks are also hoping for significant contributions from their kids, some of whom will start the season in the minors. Promising forwards Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto, Chris Tierney, Barclay Goodrow, 2014 first rounder Nikolay Goldobin and 2015 Finnish league MVP Joonas Donskoi are all under 23. Blueliner Dylan DeMelo, 22, has impressed in camp and challenged Mirco Mueller, 20, and Matt Tennyson, 25, for a top six role. San Jose’s defense should be improved from last year’s group that was one of the worst in the league. Brent Burns has been moved from forward to defense, and San Jose picked up veteran puck-mover Paul Martin from Pittsburgh, which should make for a formidable duo.
With former starting goalie Antti Niemi dealt to Dallas, one of the major question marks is in net. The Sharks traded a first round pick and a prospect to Boston for former L.A. Kings backup Martin Jones—who has yet to be a No. 1 in the league. Much depends on his success.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Martin Jones
The 25-year-old could become the steal of the summer or turn out to be a complete bust. Jones spent the last two seasons as Jonathan Quick’s backup, and was stellar for the Kings in 2013-14 when he tied an NHL record by winning his first eight starts and had a .934 save percentage and 1.81 GAA in 19 games while Quick was injured—making him one of the best backups in the league. But now that Jones has finally been handed a starting job, will he be able to keep up that level of play for 60+ games? If not, there is no reliable alternative.
PREDICTION: 85 points, fifth in Pacific