Sharks look to rebound after missing playoffs last season
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) The San Jose Sharks have spent most of the past decade facing questions about what it would take to get over the hump in the playoffs and finally make it to the Stanley Cup.
Coming off their first missed postseason since 2003, the questions around the Sharks heading into this season are about whether they can even make it to the playoffs.
With new coach Peter DeBoer and key offseason additions in goalie Martin Jones, defenseman Paul Martin and forward Joel Ward, the Sharks are looking to prove that last year's struggles were just an aberration and the franchise still has what it takes to contend for a title.
''The bottom line is not everything here is broken,'' DeBoer said. ''We're going to concentrate on the areas that need fixing right away.''
DeBoer said his biggest emphasis will be on improving San Jose's five-on-five play, forechecking and defensive zone coverage. Those were all areas where the Sharks struggled last season, leading to their 12th-place finish in the 14-team Western Conference.
''You go through the same things and the same motions, it's going to get stale at times,'' forward Tommy Wingels said. ''A fresh voice helps, but like I said, and Pete had said, he's bringing new ideas to this team as well which should rejuvenate us, re-energize us and get us back to where we want to be.''
The Sharks were one of the league's most successful regular-season teams during a 10-year playoff run that included three trips to the Western Conference finals.
But San Jose won only one playoff series in former coach Todd McLellan's final four seasons. The Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead in the first round in 2014 to lose to Los Angeles and then finished out of the playoffs last season.
Here are some things to watch for the Sharks this season:
OH CAPTAIN: The Sharks stripped Joe Thornton of his captaincy last summer in response to a playoff collapse the previous season. San Jose then had Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic share the captain's duties last season. Pavelski emerged as the public leader last season and was named captain for this season. Thornton and Logan Couture will be the alternates.
''I'm super happy for Pavs,'' Thornton said. ''We all think that Pavs is our leader anyways, now it's official.''
BETWEEN THE PIPES: The Sharks moved on from starting goalie Antti Niemi after five seasons, trading him to Dallas before he became an unrestricted free agent. San Jose then dealt a first-round pick and a prospect to Boston for former Kings backup Martin Jones. San Jose also gave Jones a three-year, $9 million contract as a sign they believe he can be a full-time goalie after starting just 29 games as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles the past two seasons.
HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE: The Shark Tank has traditionally been one of the toughest buildings for visiting teams. That all changed last year when the Sharks lost 17 homes games, their most since 1997-98. Eight straight home losses in February derailed San Jose's season a year ago and DeBoer has talked about re-establishing that home dominance.
STEPPING UP: While players like Pavelski, Thornton, Brent Burns and Couture played at their usual high standards for most of last season, many of the younger players San Jose was counting on failed to take that step forward. Tomas Hertl scored two fewer goals than he did in 2013-14 despite playing 45 more games last season, Matt Nieto failed to build on a 10-goal season as a rookie and Justin Braun regressed after forming a shutdown defensive pair with Vlasic the previous year. Big years from that trio would go a long way in getting San Jose back to the postseason.
RAFFI'S RETURN: The Sharks were counting on a boost from Raffi Torres, who played just 12 games in the regular season and playoffs the past two years because of knee injuries. But an illegal hit to the head of Anaheim's Jakob Silfverberg in the final preseason game led to a 41-game suspension for Torres. With his long history of suspensions, it will be hard for the Sharks to count on Torres even when he does return in January.