After missing the playoffs in 2015 the San Jose Sharks made improvements and went to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. Do the Sharks have what it takes to make it back to the Finals in 2017?
The 2015 offseason saw general manager Doug Wilson add goaltender Martin Jones and Joel Ward to the mix and those additions propelled the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. By fine tuning the lineup and making solid additions again in 2016, the Sharks should have just as good of a shot making it back to the Finals this year.
The San Jose Sharks offense was a key reason why they had such a dominating regular season and playoffs. The Sharks finished the season fourth best in goals for with 241 and had five 20 goal scorers in their lineup. Leading the charge was newly appointed captain Joe Pavelski. Pavelski has evolved into one of the best goal scorers in the NHL scoring at least 35 goals in his last three seasons. Last season Pavelski finished the season with 78 points in 82 games consisting of 38 goals and 40 assists. Not only did Pavelski finish first on the team in goal scoring, but also tacked on 23 points in 24 playoff games en route to the team’s first Stanley Cup Finals.
Along with Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau continued to produce at extremely high levels. At age 37 Thornton has continued to remain one of the better centers in the game recording 82 points in 82 games last season consisting of 19 goals and 63 assists. In his 1,367 NHL games played Thornton has stayed at almost a point-per game pace with 1,341 points. Regardless of his age, Jumbo Joe has proved time and time again that age doesn’t have to slow a player down and I think he will continue to put up high numbers in 2017.
Marleau on the other hand not only dealt with age, but also a slew of trade rumors. Throughout most of last season there were rumors that Marleau had asked for a trade or that he would be potentially be dealt. Thankfully for the Sharks that didn’t happen as Marleau panned out to be another crucial piece on the team’s run. Marleau finished fourth in team scoring last season with a total of 48 points in 82 games last season. With one year remaining on both of Marleau and Thornton’s contracts its do or die next season to make another push for the Stanley Cup.
The Sharks offense is so lethal because they have an excellent combination of veteran and younger players. Besides Pavelski, Thornton and Marleau, who are all above 30, San Jose also has Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi who can supply sufficent scoring. Also, Sharks prospect Timo Meier has a significant shot of making the big club out of training camp this year. With Doug Wilson adding Mikkel Boedker to the mix hoping he can have the same effect as Joel Ward, the Sharks offense will continue to be deadly heading into 2017.
The Sharks also have a solid defensive group that hasn’t seen much change since last season. San Jose blueline is led by defenseman Brent Burns. Burns had his best season statistic wise last season and will again be relied on to play big minutes and post big numbers in 2017. Last season Burns accumulated 75 points in 82 games consisting of 27 goals and 48 assists. A defenseman. Burns finished second in defensemen scoring only behind the Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson. Burns reached career bests in goals, points and assists and is due a contract extension at the end of this upcoming season. If he can provide similar numbers he may be looking at something in the $7 million a year range.
Burns will be assisted by the likes of Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Brendan Dillon. Doug Wilson went out this offseason and acquired David Schlemko. Schlemko spent last season with the New Jersey Devils where he amassed 19 points in 67 games. Although his numbers may not jump off the page, he is a reliable bottom pairing defensemen who can also chip in some offense. Along with these players, Dylan DeMelo and Mirco Mueller will also be challenging to make the opening night roster. Both players spent limited games with the Sharks last season and are looking to make more of a mark. DeMelo appeared in 45 games for San Jose where he recorded 4 points. Mueller spent 11 games with the Sharks where he didn’t register a point, but played the majority of the season with the Sharks AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda. In 50 games for the Barracuda Mueller tallied 11 points and went +7. Even if these players don’t make the final roster, there is a very likely chance they make their way into the lineup if the injury bug strikes.
Goaltending was a big question for San Jose heading into last season, but Martin Jones quieted all doubters and had an impressive first season as a starting goaltender. In 2016 Jones collected a record of 37-23-3 with a GAA of 2.27 and save percentage of .918%. Jones’ numbers got even more impressive when the postseason began. In his 24 games played Jones amassed a GAA of 2.13 and save percentage of .923%. At 26 years old and two years remaining on his contract this looks like it could be a steal for San Jose for the coming future. With James Reimer signing a five year extension in Florida over the summer, the Shark’s backup position will likely go to Aaron Dell.
PREDICTION: The San Jose Sharks had a great combination of players last season and with the additional tweaks made I think they can seriously challenge for the Pacific Division title.