For the month of June, Last Word On Sports will be covering each team in our 30 in 30 series. Once a day, we take a look at an NHL team’s past season, what their off-season looks like, and what they could hope to achieve before the start of their 2015-16 season. Everybody wants to get better and improve upon last season’s success or downfall and NHL’s 30 in 30 gives you that analysis and preview you need to get you by during another long and grueling summer season. 30 days in June, 30 teams to cover. Starting on June 1st we start from the bottom and make our way to the very top.
Today’s team: The San Jose Sharks. Check out our previous 30 in 30 articles here.
NHL’s 30 in 30: San Jose Sharks
Finishing 22nd overall, the San Jose Sharks posted a record of 40-33-9 to end up with just 89 points. Their home record (19-17-5) was among the ten worst home records in the league, putting the Sharks in some hot water. Their away record (21-16-4) was a complete contrast as the third best home record among non-playoff teams, behind the Dallas Stars (24-15-2) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (23-15-3). The Sharks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003 and head coach Todd McLellan parted ways with the club.
The 2014-15 Regular Season
Always a successful regular season team, the San Jose Sharks went through a bit of a philosophy change in the off-season prior to the 2014-15 season. Get bigger, get badder and get younger. It was a new system that failed to work, as John Scott couldn’t log more minutes than a typical 4th line player, and both Mike Brown and Raffi Torres combined for a total of 12 regular season games due to injuries. Youngsters Melker Karlsson, Chris Tierney, Barclay Goodrow and Mirco Mueller all split time between Worchester and San Jose, getting their first glimpse at the NHL level.
The usual suspects provided all the offense for the Sharks this season, as Logan Couture (70 points), Joe Pavelski (67 points), Joe Thornton (65 points), Brent Burns (60 points) and Patrick Marleau (57 points) completed the top five point-getters for the team, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun provided 23 points each in 70 games. Heading into last year’s off-season, there was rumblings of a trade involving one of Thornton or Marleau, something to shake up the roster after coughing up a three-to-nothing series lead against the Los Angeles Kings, but the two stuck with the Sharks and provided offense once more. With two years left on their contracts and a no movement clause on both, general manager Doug Wilson will probably look to get the most out of his two star forwards in the two years they have left with the team.
At 35 years old, Thornton is like a fine wine. His possession numbers are still ideal without having lost a step. Couture is coming off a career-high 67 points but his advanced statistics weren’t something to write home about. He’ll be an important player for the Sharks’ future, but he’ll need to improve his puck possession numbers if he wants to continue being a player that drives the play. Marleau hit a decline, as he saw a low shooting percentage of 8.2% which led to him scoring just 19 goals in 82 games, his lowest goal-per-game ratio in 15 years. Tommy Wingels contributed well by hitting everything that moved and providing grit and depth in a complimentary role. 21-year-old Tomas Hertl took somewhat of a role change on the team, transitioning from a winger playing with Thornton to playing centre for a period of time.
Brent Burns went from a 6’5” power forward scoring role to a solid blue-liner and while his presence on the wing was missed, Burns didn’t look too out-of-place on the back-end. While a 26 point season doesn’t seem like much on paper, Vlasic’s contribution continues to go underrated by many. Facing the toughest assignments and starting a high percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone, Vlasic continues to excel in the advanced stats department. 18-year-old rookie Mueller took on a role in the Sharks rotation as a teenager and learned on the fly. His potential is definitely there and he’ll get some high-end exposure and experience playing on the bottom-pair next season. Brenden Dillon was a welcome presence as a defensive-defenseman, while Matt Tennyson doesn’t appear to be much more than a seventh defenseman at the age of 25.
In 22 games last season, Alex Stalock posted a .902 save percentage and could have benefited from more starting time as a way to introduce the 27-year-old to the top dog position between the pipes. If Wilson is prepared to let Antti Niemi walk, he’ll need to find a suitable replacement to ensure that goaltending isn’t a problem going forward and a weak free agent pool leaves Wilson with the option of settling or having to trade for a new starter.
Wilson also made a few changes to the team, swapping out contracts for picks and prospects. Centre James Sheppard was dealt to the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2016 4th-round pick. 23-year-old Freddie Hamilton, brother of Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins, was swapped to the Colorado Avalanche for Karl Stollery. Andrew Desjardins was sent to Chicago in exchange for Ben Smith and a conditional 2017 7th-round pick, while Tyler Kennedy was traded to the New York Islanders for a conditional 3rd-round pick in 2016.
The Off-Season and Free Agents
Heading into the off-season, the San Jose Sharks have a total of seven free agents to decide on. Of the seven free agents, three are restricted to the team; Forwards Melker Karlsson and Daniil Tarasov, and defenseman Dillon. Forward Scott, defensemen Matt Irwin and Scott Hannan, and goaltender Niemi are the upcoming unrestricted free agents.
First things first, the Sharks need to add some reinforcements to their defensive depth chart. With only four defensemen signed for next season, they’ll need to look out to free agency to find a top-pairing defenseman. Dillon is restricted, so Wilson should and likely will tender an offer to keep him with the team, as his value to the team is rather underrated. If UFA Hannan and Irwin test the market and leave San Jose, viable options could be Christian Ehrhoff, Johnny Oduya or Francois Beauchemin.
With just over $55 million tied to 19 players and slightly over $14 million to spend, the Sharks likely won’t have to spend any on forwards, as they have 12 already signed. They can however make room for prospect Nikolay Goldobin, should they choose to utilize his services. His contract is cheap and Goldobin can be a serviceable player.
As mentioned earlier, there is a chance that Niemi walks and the free agent pool for goaltenders is rather dry. If Wilson wants to go the trade route, someone like Ryan Miller out of Vancouver or Robin Lehner out of Ottawa could be their solution. Other names include Brian Elliott, Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier.
The Draft Table
With the 9th overall pick in this year’s draft, the Sharks are assured a promising prospect from a group of highly-talented kids. At that spot, top candidates for the Sharks are likely Travis Konecny, Mikko Rantanen or Ivan Provorov. As a prospect that falls in and out of the top-10, depending on which prospect expert you ask, Lawson Crouse is an intriguing choice to ponder.
With the 39th pick, there are several candidates that would feel right for the Sharks. Eric Cernak, Noah Juulsen, Nicolas Meloche and Denis Guryanov are all excellent prospects and could go anywhere between 35-45.
Following their two picks in the top 50, the Sharks don’t draft again until pick #106. Following that selection, the Sharks have the 130th, 142nd, 160th, 190th and one of either the 202nd or 208th. An option for Wilson to explore is trading some 2016 picks for 2015 picks, as this year’s draft promises to be one of the best in many years.
Peter DeBoer – The New Bench Boss
What does Peter DeBoer bring to the table as the club’s new head coach? Six-and-a-half years of coaching experience in the NHL, for both the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils.
With a record of 217-200-77, DeBoer has only taken a team to the playoffs once (the New Jersey Devils of 2011-12). That year, DeBoer and the Devils made the Stanley Cup finals, losing out against the Los Angeles Kings in six games. He won’t have to worry too much about a team to coach, as the Sharks are primed and ready to make a full recovery from their 2014-15 season and push towards making the playoffs again.
With the exception of the 2011-12 season, when DeBoer had both Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk running gun, the Devils were consistently among the lowest scoring teams in the league, however defense was their strongest suit, backed by Martin Brodeur. In San Jose, DeBoer will have a nice combination of skill and scoring finesse up front, mixed with youth and experience on the back-end.