Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 San Jose Sharks.
The 2012-2013 San Jose Sharks season ended up being an exciting one. Near the trade deadline, they shipped out forward Ryane Clowe to New York and defenceman Douglas Murray to Pittsburgh. These trades netted them a number of draft picks (including two second rounders in 2013), which would help them out in future trades on the draft day floor. In order to replace their contributions the Sharks would move later round picks for Raffi Torres and Scott Hannan. The Sharks went on to sweep the favored Vancouver Canucks in a shocking four game series and go head first into a battle against the Los Angeles Kings in the second round. Although San Jose fell to L.A. in seven games, it was a great series and one Sharks fans won’t forget. Although San Jose fell short one game of the Western Conference Finals, there is much hope going into this season.
This off-season didn’t have too many major story lines. The team re-signed stud centerman Logan Couture on a five year, $30 million contract. Logan is only 24 and having him in their plans for the long term is obviously ideal. The team also re-signed forward Joe Pavelski on an identical contract to Logan’s. These re-signings show how committed the team is to these two players, and the money will be well spent. Couture is becoming the face of San Jose hockey and now will be for many years to come. Logan is one of the best young players in hockey, and last year really proved that.
Right before the draft begun, San Jose sent a second round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for forward Tyler Kennedy. Although Kennedy statically had a poor season, in a third line role, he could thrive on this team. Adding forward depth is never a bad thing, and with his $2.3mil cap hit these next two seasons, its close to a safe bet. Don’t expect 60 points from the guy, but just hope that he can consistently contribute grit, defensive play, and in a penalty killing role on the bottom lines.
A move the Sharks made that I praised was keeping forward Raffi Torres on a three year deal. Raffi was brought in at the trade deadline and performed well. Although he does have the history of being a dirty player (and has a long suspension history), he brings strength to a lineup and does surprisingly produce points on a regular basis. He’s a player who other teams have to be aware of, or they will pay the price.
Oh yeah, and the Fins got news jerseys.
Story Lines to watch
Will the Sharks make it back to the postseason and go far once they get there?
I do have the Sharks in the postseason. The team has a strong enough all around roster to make it back to the dance, although they do play in arguably the toughest division in hockey. Sticking around with the likes of Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Anaheim every year will be no walk in the park.
The Last few years the Sharks have played better in the playoffs than their long-time choker reputation would suggest. They have knocked off the Red Wings a couple of times, and gave the defending champion Kings all they could handle in a seven game series last year. The overall result hasn’t been what they want, but San Jose could be well on their way to finally figuring out how to succeed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the season goes south, will they trade impending UFA’s?
Although it’s highly unlikely that this upcoming Sharks season will be bad, the team does have some UFA’s that they could move. Guys like Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau, and captain Joe Thornton. Even though this is a very unlikely scenario, the team will be faced with having to sign them either way next summer.
Can Antti Niemi be a Vezina Trophy finalist again this season?
Niemi is coming off of arguably one of his best season yet. His performance got him in the final voting for best goalie, and rightfully so. It will be hard for him to have a repeat performance, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was a top goaltender again this season. Also, his cap hit for the next two seasons is only at $3.8 mil. His acquisition is looking like one of Doug Wilson’s best moves as general manager.
What happens with Brent Burns?
Last season the Sharks converted the long time defenceman back to a forward, the position he played in Junior Hockey. The effect was immediate, and though Burns was raw as a forward, his presence as a strong power forward type really improved the team’s overall game. Early indications is that he’ll be back on the wing this season. With more experience in the position does Burns get even better? If he struggles does he go back to the blueline where he has been an all-star before? The development of this story will have many intrigued.
Player to watch
An obvious player to watch this season is Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe is entering the final year of his contract, but in all likelyhood will be sticking around in San Jose, as we predict he will sign a contract extension with the team eventually. Last year was another great year for Thornton. He put up 40 points in his 48 games, nothing short of what he usually does. I have him as a player to watch not to break down his upcoming season, but simply because he is one of the most fun players to watch, and one of the best playmakers in hockey. Over the last several season Thornton has added a two-way dimension to his game, and really improved defensively. He’s not always appreciated for it, but its become an important reason why San Jose has been more dangerous in recent playoffs.
This Sharks team is sporting one of the best forward cores out there with the likes of Burns, Pavelski, Couture, Marleau, Havlat, and Thornton. With some good defense from guys like Dan Boyle, Marc Vlasic, and Brad Stuart helping out stud goaltender Antti Niemi, this team really should make the playoffs. Sharks fans should have optimism going into this season, because from top to bottom they have a strong team. The only thing is, how far can they go in the playoffs?
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Main photo credit: pointnshoot via photopin cc