Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2014-15, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our collective LWOS 2014-15 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue our way through the Pacific division with a look at the San Jose Sharks.
The San Jose Sharks had an interesting season in 2013-2014. They had a successful regular season, as they made the playoffs for the 10th straight year and finished with a record of 51-22-9, good for 111 points and second place in the Pacific Division. They scored 249 goals (5th in the NHL) and allowed 200 (5th in the NHL).
They will be remembered for their playoff performance, but not in a good way. They started their first round series against the Los Angeles Kings by winning the first three games. They proceeded to lose the next four games.
The San Jose Sharks’ high-octane, yet balanced, offense was led by their core four: Joe Pavelski (who led the Sharks with 79 points), Joe Thornton (who led the team with 65 assists and had 76 points), Patrick Marleau (who added 70 points), and Logan Couture (who had 53 points in 63 games). Rookie Tomas Hertl was also a spark plug for them.
Puck Drop Preview: 2014-15 San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks had two choices after yet another disappointing early exit in the playoffs: Keep the gang together for one more year, or change everything. For the most part, the San Jose Sharks erred on the side of caution, deciding to keep their core players together while letting certain players go. Though Thornton and Marleau faced an off-season of almost daily trade rumors, both remained with the team.
They added forward John Scott and re-signed forward Mike Brown. Both of those players have a reputation for being “enforcers”, which the San Jose Sharks normally do not like to have on their team, so it should be interesting to see how those two moves pan out. They also re-signed forwards Travis Oleksuk and James Sheppard to one-year contracts. On their blue line, they added veteran defenseman Scott Hannan, re-signed Demers to a two year deal, and gave a five year extension to Justin Braun.
They didn’t lose too many players. Their biggest loss was Boyle, who they traded to the New York Islanders for a draft pick. After buying-out Martin Havlat, he was signed by the Devils. Other than that, they didn’t lose anyone else worth mentioning.
2014-15 Lineup Projection:
The San Jose Sharks starting lineup should not be too different from last year’s. Their forward lines should largely remain the same, with the exception of a few possible changes. Hertl might join the first line, as he’d be a terrific complement at left wing to Thornton and Pavelski, though they might keep Marleau on the first line instead.
The second line should feature Couture, Matthew Nieto, and either Marleau or Hertl. Their third line is pretty much set in stone with Tommy Wingels, Sheppard, and either Tyler Kennedy or Freddie Hamilton. Hamilton or Kennedy will likely join Brown and/or Scott on the fourth line. Tye McGinn will see playing time as well, mostly on the fourth line.
On the defensive end, the San Jose Sharks will be seeing some changes. Vlasic should continue to be a top pairing defenseman, and could be primed for a breakout season. He shouldn’t be underrated for much longer. Demers or Brent Burns will have to replace Boyle, which is no easy task. Whichever of the two isn’t paired with Vlasic will likely be paired with Justin Braun. Hannan and Matt Irwin formed a nice third pairing last season and should remain together. Matt Tennyson provides size and is a solid depth option in case anyone gets hurt.
Vlasic – Demers
Braun – Burns
Hannan – Irwin
The San Jose Sharks had a very solid duo between the pipes last season in Niemi and Alex Stalock, and they both will be returning for this season. One has to imagine that Stalock will see a little bit more playing time though.
Players to Watch:
- Logan Couture: Couture will be expected to continue his steady play. Thornton has had his captaincy stripped, and one has to imagine that the front office would love for Couture to be the next guy to wear it. With a huge season, he could cement his future with the San Jose Sharks as their captain.
- Joe Thornton: It’s going to be extremely interesting to see how Thornton does this season. Without the captaincy, he might have a chip on his shoulder a feel the need to prove himself again, or he might let it distract him. This season could be Thornton’s last run as a major piece of the San Jose Sharks.
- Brent Burns: Burns has had a very interesting past few seasons. He was originally a defenseman but because of the San Jose Sharks depth on the blue line, he was moved to right wing, where he had a lot of success. Now he’s apparently being moved back to the blue line. He has had success on the blue line, so the transition back shouldn’t be much of a problem. Still, his situation is definitely one to keep an eye on.
On the Rise:
- Tomas Hertl: If you don’t know his name, you’d better learn it quick. Last season, he was probably best remembered for being the inspiration for an incredible quote by Joe Thornton. That should change this season. Hertl will likely see a top 6 forward role with the Sharks. He is an excellent playmaker who should have success wherever he is used.
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic: Last season, Vlasic was extremely underrated. His strong performance in the Olympics for Canada has certainly made him less underrated because now people know who he is. This season, I think Vlasic will cease to be considered underrated because he’s finally going to be given the respect that he deserves. Vlasic is as important to the Sharks future as Couture and Hertl.
- Alex Stalock: In his first full season as the backup goalie, Stalock had a very solid season. In 24 games, he went 12-5-2, had a 93.2% save percentage, and allowed just 1.87 goals per game. This season, the San Jose Sharks will probably give Stalock a little bit more playing time to see if last season was a fluke, or if Stalock is a diamond in the rough.
On the Decline:
- Mike Brown: One has to question why Brown was given a guaranteed NHL contract by the San Jose Sharks. He has very little skill outside of being an enforcer, which is a role that the Sharks rarely use, and when they have used one in the past, the enforcer could at least do more than just rack up penalty minutes. That’s not the case with Brown, who had just five points last season.
- John Scott: As silly as it was for the San Jose Sharks to sign Brown, I am even more confused as to why they also added someone like Scott, who is basically an even less talented version of Brown.
- Brad Stuart: Stuart is still a very solid stay at home defenseman, but his offense is clearly on the decline. After scoring just six points in 48 games in the 2012-2013, Stuart had just 11 points in 61 games in 2013-014.
2014-15 Season Expectations:
Expectations are, as usual, going to be very high this season for the San Jose Sharks. Considering that they decided to keep their current roster and staff mostly intact after last year’s playoff nightmare, the San Jose Sharks are likely under a ton of pressure to succeed, or at the very least, improve upon last season. If they don’t, changes could be coming for the San Jose Sharks.
The San Jose Sharks should definitely make the playoffs. They aren’t too different from last year’s team that had a 3-0 lead against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. As long as Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, and Couture continue to be steady, and Hertl and Vlasic continue to emerge as elite-level players, they will definitely be Stanley Cup contenders.
Thank you for reading. Please take a moment to follow me on Twitter – @BmoreDaveS.
For the latest in sports injury news, check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert.
Have you tuned into Last Word On Sports Radio? LWOS is pleased to bring you 24/7 sports radio to your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. What are you waiting for? GO!
Interested in writing for us? Find out more by visiting our “Write for Us” page.