Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2015-16, 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 2015-16 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue with the San Jose Sharks.
PUCK DROP PREVIEW: 2015-16 SAN JOSE SHARKS
A playoff staple for many years, the Sharks disappointed last season, missing the playoffs and finishing 5th in their division in what was a relatively weak year for the Pacific, after infamously blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings in the previous playoffs. The fall could be attributed to a few things, most notably aging star forwards and inconsistency between the pipes.
Patrick Marleau, coming off a successful 33-goal, 70-point campaign in 2013-14, fell badly, with just 19 goals and 57 points in 82 games, while Joe Thornton also experienced a mild drop, from 76 to 65 points. Tomas Hertl, who was expected to grow into a bigger role with the club, scored just 31 points, not a horrific total, but perhaps a bit underwhelming. In goal Antti Niemi put up a .914 SV% and a 2.59 GAA, while Alex Stalock put together a SV% of .902 and a GAA of 2.62.
It wasn’t all bad for the Sharks however. Brent Burns continued to establish himself as an offensive force on defense, scoring 60 points, while Logan Couture put up a career high 67 points. Joe Pavelski also put together another fantastic season, with 37 goals in 82 games.
So while missing the post-season was certainly a disappointment, there were some positive signs for the club going forward, and has the Sharks poised to potentially make a rebound in 2015-16.
The Sharks’ marquee move was the acquisition of former Kings goalie Martin Jones, for whom they traded forward prospect Sean Kuraly and a first-round draft pick in 2016. Due to that transaction, 2012-13 Vezina nominee Niemi was let go via free agency, and was then signed by the Dallas Stars to back up Kari Lehtonen. Also acquired was Washington Capitals forward and perennial playoff performer Joel Ward, who will add top six scoring as well mentoring for some of the Sharks up-and-comers up front.
San Jose also made a significant addition to their blueline, signing veteran defender Paul Martin, who had spent the past five campaigns as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization and adds a steady defensive presence to their blue line.
At the draft, the Sharks selected power forward Timo Meier in the 1st round (9th overall, their highest selection since 2007, when Logan Couture was taken 9th overall as well), defenceman Jeremy Roy in the 2nd (31st), goaltender Mike Robinson in round #3 (86th), left winger Adam Helewska and defender Karlis Cukste in the 4th round (106th and 130th), forward Rudolfs Balcers in the 5th (142nd), defenceman Adam Parsells in the 6th (160th) and centre Marcus Vela and goalie Jake Kupsky in the 7th (190th and 193rd respectively).
On the Rise
21-year-old forward Chris Tierney had an immensely successful stint with the Sharks in 2014-15, with six goals and 21 points in just 43 games. While it can’t be guaranteed that Tierney would have kept that pace for a full 82-game schedule, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the Keswick, Ontario native could very well be a 40-50 point producer next season, and could develop into an integral part of the Sharks’ supporting cast. Tierney will be one of a handful of young forwards expected to take on more offensive responsibility as the season progresses.
On the Decline
While Joe Thornton is still putting up seasons in the high 60’s and 70’s, Patrick Marleau hasn’t fared quite as well, with a drop all the way down to 57 points in 2014-15. With Joe Pavelski taking over as the team’s go-to sniper and some younger wingers taking on more responsibility offensively, don’t look for Marleau to be putting together any 30-goal seasons in the near future.
Players to Watch
After putting together a solid couple of seasons as the Kings’ backup goalie, Jones will be given every chance to take over as the Sharks #1 goaltender. In 15 games last season, the North Vancouver native put up a GAA of 2.25, and a save percentage of .906, down significantly from his 2013-14 numbers of 1.81 and .934. While the decline is certainly disappointing, there’s unquestionably still the potential for Jones to develop into a quality #1 goaltender, and this upcoming season will be his first chance to try and live up to that upside.
Hertl tore up the hockey world early in the 2013-14 campaign, emerging as the runaway Calder trophy favorite before suffering an season-finishing injury just 37 games in. Hertl was unable to carry that early momentum into the 2014-15 campaign, scoring just 31 points in 82 contests. With the decline of some of the Sharks’ big-name forwards, the 21-year-old Czech forward will have to step up his game and become a consistent top-six producer for the club. He clearly has the talent, now it’s time to see if he can use it to his advantage over the course of a full season.
2015-16 Opening Night Lineup
Joe Pavelski – Joe Thornton – Tomas Hertl
Joel Ward – Logan Couture – Patrick Marleau
Tommy Wingels – Chris Tierney – Matt Nieto
Barclay Goodrow – Ben Smith – Melker Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Mirco Mueller
Matt Tennyson – Karl Stollery
2015-16 Season Expectations
While the Sharks will almost certainly improve in 2015-16, it’s safe to be nothing more than cautiously optimistic. A second consecutive top-ten draft selection seems highly unlikely for the Sharks, but it’s also safe to say they’re far from a playoff lock. In an immensely competitive Western conference that will likely see the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars rebound, the Calgary Flames improve and the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets remain competitive, the Sharks will still have to fight and claw for every last point to make it into the post-season, but if all goes well, they could find themselves in the top eight come April 2016.
San Jose will almost certainly rely heavily on their big guns – Pavelski, Couture, Thornton, Marleau and Vlasic on the blueline – but we could see some youngsters, such as Tierney, Hertl, Matt Nieto and Brenden Dillon start to emerge as legitimate impact players over the next several months. 2015-16 might be a transitional year for the Sharks, and that may not be a bad thing.
In any case, over the course of the next 82 games, they’ll be one of the more interesting clubs to follow in the National Hockey League.