The San Jose Sharks have been one of the most dominant teams in the Western Conference for well over a decade, but how long do they have to contend with their current core?
After losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals the San Jose Sharks had an excellent follow-up year. San Jose finished the 2017 season with a 46-29-7 record and third in the Pacific Division before ultimately being defeated by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite the early playoff exit, the Sharks still have a roster that can do real damage in the Western Conference and help them make the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons.
One of the biggest challenges the San Jose Sharks are going to have in 2018 will be replacing the void of Patrick Marleau. Marleau was drafted by the Sharks in 1998 and had played for the organization for the entirety of his career before signing a three year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although Marleau was 38 years old he was a big contributor in San Jose’s offense and his usual 20-30 goals will need to come from somewhere.
A player who could find themselves on the Sharks’ opening night roster is Timo Meier. Meier, 20, was drafted 9th overall by the Sharks in the 2015 NHL Draft and is making a case that he’s ready to be in the NHL full-time. After having three successful seasons in the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads, Meier translated his game to the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barricuda, scoring 14 goals and 23 points in 33 games played. Meier also got his first chance at the NHL appearing in 34 games for the Sharks netting 3 goals and 6 points. With the departure of Marleau, this opens up a slot for a player like Meier to come in and prove that he can play efficiently in the NHL. He will no doubt have ups and downs should he play the whole year, but he is a skilled enough player who could score anywhere from 10-20 goals.
Aside from losing Marleau, the Sharks still have a lot of options when it comes to their forward core. Joe Pavelski will now be relied upon more than ever to score goals for San Jose. Pavelski, 33, was drafted by the Sharks 205th overall in the 2003 NHL Draft and has easily been one of the biggest draft steals in the 21st century. He has captained the Sharks since the beginning of the 2015 season and Pavelski has been one of the league’s best goal scorers in the past five years. Last year was a low for Pavelski compared to his previous 4 seasons finishing second on the team in scoring netting 29 goals and 68 points in 81 games. Scoring at least 30 goals from 2013 until the end of the 2016 season, Pavelski will need to be able to bring his offense up more if the Sharks want to replace Marleau’s scoring totals.
Another franchise player who will be vital to San Jose’s success this season is Joe Thornton. Traded to the Sharks in the middle of the 2005-06 season, Thornton has been one of the faces of the Sharks’ franchise for the last decade. After finishing his last contract at the end of last season the plan was to bring back both Marleau and Thornton. However, only Thornton returned to the Sharks receiving a one year contract worth $6 million from General Manager Doug Wilson. At 38 years old Thornton can still play exceptionally well, but age will undoubtedly take a toll on him and I’m curious as to whether he signs another contract after next season or chooses to retire. Although he has stated that if his body allows him to play until 44, he’ll continue to do so. This puts a time limit on how many years Thornton has left to win a Stanley Cup with the Sharks. Last season Thornton finished fourth on the team in scoring tallying 7 goals and 50 points and is truly one of the best playmakers in the league. Despite his age I still believe that Thornton can still easily put up 60-70 points as he showed at age 37 in 2016 when he posted 82 points in 82 games.
Compared to other teams in the league, defense is where the Sharks really shined last season. Finishing with the fifth least amount of goals scored against (200) and a mostly intact defense core, the Sharks will likely continue their success on the blueline in 2018. You can’t mention the Sharks’ defense without talking about Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Burns, 32, was drafted 20th overall in the 2003 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild and was traded to the Sharks at the 2011 NHL Draft. Initially drafted as a forward, Burns has transitioned into one of the best defensemen in today’s game. Last year Burns set a career high in goals and points leading all defensemen scoring 29 goals and 76 points in 82 games. Along with this incredible season Burns was awarded an eight year, $64 million contract that will have him playing in San Jose until he’s 40. As a player who has had at least 60 points in the last three seasons, it wouldn’t surprise me if Burns does this feat again in 2018.
Vlasic might not be as offensively skilled as Burns, but he is just as vital to the team’s defense. Vlasic, 30, was drafted 35th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft and has been with the Sharks since the 2006-07 season. Throughout his eleven year NHL career he has consistently recorded 20-30 points with a recorded high of 39 in the 2016 season. Last season Vlasic finished second in scoring for Sharks’ defensemen scoring 6 goals and 28 points in 76 games played. Like Burns, he is vital to San Jose’s blueline and will be a majority of the defense’s cap hit coming in at $7 million starting in the 2019 season.
Aside from these two the Sharks did lose Dave Schlemko in free agency, but still have the likes of Paul Martin, Justin Braun, Brenden Dillion and Dylan DeMelo to round out their defensive core. Barring injuries or under-performance from San Jose’s defensemen, this group looks solid.
As for goaltending, the Sharks got another successful year out of Martin Jones. Jones, 27, was acquired in the summer of 2015 and had an incredible first season with San Jose, leading them all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Last season Jones appeared in 65 games gathering a 35-23-6 record with a 2.40 GAA and .912% save percentage. Granted his numbers did dip a little compared to his 2016 numbers, he is only 27 and just now entering into the prime of his career. With Jones in net, I feel fully confident that the Sharks can endure and succeed in the regular season. As for the backup position that will likely again go to Aaron Dell after he recorded a 11-6-1 season last year with a 2.00 GAA and .931% save percentage. The future of the Sharks’ goaltending is in good hands with these two.
PREDICTION: Despite the improvement of the Pacific Division during the last year, I still think the San Jose Sharks are good enough to not only just make the playoffs, but make a deep run in the postseason as well.