Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2016-17, where LastWordonHockey.com 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, our 2016-17 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue the series with the San Jose Sharks.
Puck Drop Preview: 2016-17 San Jose Sharks
There were a number of question marks surrounding the team coming into the 2015-16 campaign. The San Jose Sharks were two wins away from the hockey’s ultimate goal after rebounding from a disastrous 2014-15 season.
The previous year had seen a team in turmoil, failing to make the playoffs for just the fifth time in franchise history. A very public feud between superstar Joe Thornton and General Manager Doug Wilson played out in the media, a rarity for the franchise. Long time coach Todd McLellen left the team, and Peter DeBoer brought on board to lead San Jose. The Sharks also added Martin Jones who was traded to the Boston Bruins and days later found himself back in the Pacific Division, now the starting goaltender for the first time after Antti Niemi was allowed to walk away in free agency.
The Sharks also added a pair of veterans to the roster in Joel Ward and Paul Martin, signing three- and four-year deals with the team, respectively. The Sharks also reached back into Europe with the signing of Joonas Donskoi from Karpat in SM-Liiga.
Joe Pavelski was named the team’s captain. Two former captains, Patrick Marleau and Thornton, remained on the team, despite rumors that both were considered expendable after the dismal previous year. Luckily, this was not the case.
The new additions behind the bench and on the ice paid off. Martin was paired with Brent Burns to allow the former winger, who has bounced from forward and defense throughout his career, to become one of the most dangerous blueliners in the NHL. Martin’s experience and defensive posture helped, even if the 34-year-old defender had lost a step.
Ward’s ability to play up and down the line-up was also an upgrade for a team that has struggled with depth in recent years. Donskoi performed above expectations and bumped 2015 first round pick Timo Meier back to the QMJHL. Meier was one of the last cuts from training camp and likely would have made the team if not for Donskoi edging out a spot among the forwards.
During the season, Wilson continued to tinker with the roster. The Sharks sent a slew of draft picks along with Raffi Torres and Alex Stalock to the Toronto Maple Leafs for James Reimer, Roman Polak, and Nick Spaling. All three would help the Sharks down the stretch and into the postseason.
The Sharks played well overall in the tough Pacific Division, even with the loss of Logan Couture, who missed half of the season with a broken leg suffered in practice. San Jose ended up third in the division with 98 points. But the adage rang true as anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks quickly dispatched the Los Angles Kings in five games. The Nashville Predators were next and pushed the series to seven games. The series had its own controversy with the waived off Pavelski goal in Game 4 in Nashville to tie the series and to force another pair of long flights for the Sharks.
The two teams would split the next two games before San Jose thumped Nashville in the deciding Game 7, propelling them to the Western Conference Final.
The Sharks were in the Western Conference Final for the fourth time, the previous trips ending rather quickly and on the losing side. Thier opponent, the St. Louis Blues, had overcome their long-time rivals, beating the Chicago Blackhawks and high-powered Dallas Stars to advance to the conference final. Both teams would be playing for their first chance in the Stanley Cup Final. The Sharks would again get a stellar performance from Pavelski, who would record an impressive four goals and five assists in the series. The Sharks defense also shut down Blues star forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who was held without a point until a pair of goals in the final period of the deciding Game 6.
In the Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks would face the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pittsburgh dominated long stretches of play throughout the series with a noticeable advantage in team speed. The Sharks slower defense struggled to hit what they could not catch, and the bottom-pairing of Polak and Brenden Dillon were rarely able to make controlled zone exits. Jones was able to steal a pair of wins for the Sharks, but ultimately the Penguins third line of Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel, and Carl Hagelin would be too much for the Sharks to contain. They would lose the series 4-2 and be handily outshot in all but one of the games.
The Sharks were in business mode during their long playoff run and busy raiding the Swedish Hockey League. After the success in singing Donskoi and Melker Karlsson, the Sharks inked speedy winger Marcus Sorensen, defenseman Tim Heed, and goaltender Mantas Armalis.
Once free-agency hit on July 1, Doug Wilson inked versatile defender David Schlemko to a four-year, $8.4 million deal to take the place of Polak, who would ultimately re-sign with the Maple Leafs. Mikkel Boedker also signed a four-year pact, for a surprisingly affordable sum of $16 million.
San Jose Sharks have signed Mikkel Boedker to a four-year, $16-million contract
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) July 1, 2016
The signings of Boedker and Sorensen helped increase team speed and skill, and Armalis added depth to the goaltending pool, an area of weakness. Armalis and Sorensen played for Djurgårdens IF and Heed with Skellefteå AIK in the SHL.
The Sharks also re-signed goaltender Aaron Dell to a two-year deal. Dell, who was the San Jose Barracuda starting goalie down the stretch as they qualified for the last spot in the AHL playoffs, has succeeded at every level of hockey. The former University of North Dakota standout was tied for fourth in save percentage in the AHL last year with a .922 in 40 contests.
At the draft, the Sharks went off the board in the selection of Dylan Gambrell from the University of Denver. Gambrell had passed through the draft twice before, but San Jose took him with the 60th overall pick. Noah Gregor would be yet another center to enter the fold. Gregor had enjoyed success in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors. He skated on a Warriors top line with Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point. Center Manuel Wiederer, defenseman Mark Shoemaker, and winger Joachim Blichfeld rounded out the draft class.
The Sharks also added a lot of experience from a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Just like a new defenseman or a new wrinkle on the power play, the lessons learned from playing hockey is June needs to be fully utilized.
“We’ve got to use our advantage,” said Marleau of how the Sharks could use their playoff run to help this year’s squad. “We’ve been there, we didn’t get what we wanted, but we have a better understanding about what it takes there. How much more you’re going to have to give to get the ultimate goal. It’s important to have a lot of the guys come back, stay hungry and get off to a good start.”
2016-17 Opening Day Lineup
The top line is more than likely set. The trio enjoyed substantial success until the injury to Hertl late in the playoffs, and his loss of speed on the top line impacted the entire line-up. Boedker skating with Couture will help spread the offense and speed around, making the Sharks harder to match-up with next season. Marleau struggled at times but is still a useful winger who can help Chris Tierney prepare as a center of the future for the Sharks.
Sorensen’s professional experience and speed likely get him the final open spot for the Sharks. Tommy Wingels was not a favorite of DeBoer. His salary and diminishing role could see him move on from San Jose sooner rather than later. Meier will also be a factor should injuries give him an opportunity to showcase his talents. Meier plays all three forward positions with a blend of size and skill. He could slot anywhere in this lineup and most likely make a good accounting of himself.
More roster spots could come open if younger players seize them. Wilson pointed previous years when young players forced their way onto the Sharks roster.
“You want players that are coming in here that can compete. That’s one of the reasons why we have our AHL and NHL play the exact same systems so a player can go up or down and integrate quickly,” Wilson said about the possibility of multiple young players making the team. “In the past, wether it’s a Melker Karlsson or a Joonas Donskoi, they weren’t high first round picks, they came in here and made this team. That’s our history. We don’t have any players in here on PTO’s. We’ve always said we’ll give our players the first opportunity. They know that because really that’s been our actions.”
DeBoer kept the defensive pairings intact, for good or for ill, throughout the season. Burns and Martin were an excellent pairing, despite the occasional defensive gaffe. The offensive production Burns brought from the blueline and Martin’s blue-collar work in his zone more than made up for it.
The shutdown “second” pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are among the top in the NHL and would be getting much more attention if the Sharks didn’t start their home games at 10 p.m. back east. Vlasic posted a career-high 39 points in 67 games last season while facing the opposing team’s top lines every night. Vlasic is the very definition of underrated defenseman and his $4.25 million salary through the 2017-18 season is a massive underpayment for a defender of his caliber.
Schlemko’s deal makes him a regular, despite his likely partner Dillion also being a left-handed shot. Schlemko can play both sides, and it will make sense for him to man the right side. San Jose’s reputation in the locker room and chance to contend for another run at the Stanley Cup contributed to Schlemko’s decision to come back to the Pacific Division.
“It’s exciting, it was a big reason why I came here,” Schlemko said. “It’s a Stanley Cup contender, and I’ve heard it’s a great group of guys.”
Dylan DeMelo, who looked to have solid chemistry with Dillon in 45 appearances last season, will likely be the Sharks extra defender. The right-handed sixth round pick in 2011 was deserving of the opportunity to play full-time, but will have to wait at least a year more.
When the Sharks traded their 2016 first round pick with no lottery protection, along with prospect Sean Kuraly to the Boston Bruins for Jones, there was more than a little consternation among the fan base. The Sharks had just come out of a turbulent year; the Sharks were without a captain, were seen as a team in transition, and added a new coach. The move now looks like the second best trade in Wilson’s tenure as general manager.
Jones consistently above-average goaltending was a marked improvement over the Niemi years. In his first year as a starter, was top notch ranking in the top of the league across categories for goalies with 41 or more games played.
“It was great, everything worked out pretty well for me obviously getting a chance to play here,” said Jones about his first year with the Sharks. “[We] had a great team and it was a great run, obviously not the result we wanted at the end, but it was a great season.”
Jones played even better in the postseason, registering a .923 save percentage and a 2.13 goals against average to go with three shutouts while finishing first in minutes played. Jones is young with low mileage on him with no significant injury history. He a lock for 60 or more starts and the long 2015-16 season was a good preview of what fans can expect.
Dell has the inside track for the backup job and has proven himself over the years. The 6′, 201-pound goaltender has taken a hard road to the NHL with stops in the Central Hockey League, ECHL, and AHL. The expectation was for the Sharks to bring a fourth, free agent goalie to camp to compete with Troy Grosenick, Armalis, and Dell, but look to start the season with one of these three backing up Jones. Expect Dell to win the back-up role.
Players to Watch
Thornton is one of the best playmakers of his generation and at 36 shows no signs of slowing down. Thornton was never the fastest skater, but his on-ice vision and elite puck distribution skills have carried him to what will end up being a Hall of Fame career and the best San Jose Shark ever. Barring injury, he should also end the 2016-17 season in the top three of points by a first overall pick.
Most points by NHL 1st overall picks: M. Lemieux 1723, D. Hawerchuk 1409, M. Modano 1374, G. Lafleur 1353, M. Sundin 1349, J. Thornton 1341
— Darin Stephens (@SharksStats) September 19, 2016
With players playing longer and maintaining a very high level, there is no reason to suspect that Thornton’s play will fall off much in the 2016-17 campaign. However, father time comes for all players and despite a career free of major injuries, the fact is he will turn 37 this season. The Sharks will need him playing to the best of his ability for a chance to make noise again in the Spring of 2017.
The 205th player taken in the fabled 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Pavelski continues to blossom as a player and a leader. Pavelski has played in 725 games and recorded 563 points, good for eighth in his draft class. Pavelski’s success has come despite playing the fewest games of the seven players ahead of him and 160 picks later than the next lowest on that list as well.
|2||Carolina Hurricanes||Eric Staal||CA||C||18||2016||Peterborough (OHL)||929||325||456||781|
|19||Anaheim Ducks||Ryan Getzlaf||CA||C||18||2016||Calgary (WHL)||787||221||520||741|
|28||Anaheim Ducks||Corey Perry||CA||RW||18||2016||London (OHL)||804||330||334||664|
|5||Buffalo Sabres||Thomas Vanek||AT||LW||19||2016||U. of Minnesota (WCHA)||817||316||333||649|
|17||New Jersey Devils||Zach Parise||US||LW||19||2016||North Dakota (WCHA)||761||299||320||619|
|45||Boston Bruins||Patrice Bergeron||CA||C||18||2016||Acadie-Bathurst||820||238||380||618|
|11||Philadelphia Flyers||Jeff Carter||CA||C||18||2016||Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)||795||307||277||584|
|205||San Jose Sharks||Joe Pavelski||US||C||19||2016||Waterloo (USHL)||725||266||297||563|
|33||Dallas Stars||Loui Eriksson||SE||LW||18||2016||Vastra Frolunda Jr. (Sweden-Jr.)||725||212||292||504|
|23||Vancouver Canucks||Ryan Kesler||US||C||19||2016||Ohio State (CCHA)||815||223||270||493|
Table Provided by Hockey-Reference.com
Pavelski has matured into one of the most dangerous scorers in the NHL and with a set-up man like Thornton feeding him the puck, he’s a near lock for another season well above 30 goals. He is now over 32 and will slow down at some point, but he is still a year or two away from that eventuality.
Lack of team speed was exposed against the Penguins, and Wilson did his best to address that with the addition of the speedy Boedker. The native of Brondby, Denmark started last year with the Arizona Coyotes before a late season trade to the Colorado Avalanche. Arizona did well to showcase Boedker with heaps of time on the power play. While he produced on the man advantage, he has never had a positive Corsi-for percentage in a full campaign, coming in at 47.7 percent over his 543 NHL game career.
Boedker also was last in the league in plus/minus with a woeful minus-33. While not the most telling statistic, it is never good to be last in the league in anything. The Sharks have a stout defense that can help cover some of those mistakes. Playing with Couture, who has become a legitimate two-way center in the upper echelons of the NHL, could see Boedker make strides in this area. Now with San Jose, Boedker will be surrounded by talent he has not seen outside of his 18 game layover in Colorado.
On the Rise
The Sharks second line center has continued to develop into an excellent two-way center capable of hurting the opposition with stout defensive play as well as his offensive capabilities.
The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs were a coming out party for Couture. His 10 goals and 20 assists would lead all players in postseason scoring. A broken right fibula followed by a small arterial bleed in his right leg in just his second game back derailed his regular season, but everyone noticed his production when it mattered most. At just 27, Couture is part of the Sharks younger core and will continue to come into NHL stardom. He was also named as an injury replacement for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.
The Sharks All-Star defenseman continues his impressive offensive production from the blueline. Since his arrival to San Jose at the start of the 2011-12 season, Burns has improved upon his points-per-game average and led the team in four of his five years with the Sharks. Burns’ first year, the only time he did not lead the team, produced a solid .46 points per game and increased steadily to a staggering .91 last year. Factor in his unlucky PDO rating of 986 last year and, amazingly, we might not have seen the best that Burns has to offer yet.
Meier was the one bright spot to emerge from the Sharks 2014-15 season. San Jose selected the power forward with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft, and he has continued to improve. Meier nearly made the team last year but ultimately was sent back to the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL. A mid-season trade to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies would see Meier take his game to another level. He would lead the Huskies to a QMJHL championship and a birth in the Memorial Cup, where the Huskies would fall to the powerhouse London Knights in the championship game.
Meier is a combination of skill, size, skating, and desire. He was impressive again at the Sharks Development Camp. In the Sharks Rookie Showcase, Meier appeared in only one of the two games but along with Rourke Chartier and Adam Helewka buzzed around the ice and had numerous scoring chances.
He will compete for a spot again in training camp, but will be readily available to head coach DeBoer down with the Barracuda. If Meier makes an appearance at the NHL level next year, the odds of him returning to the AHL are remote at best.
On the Decline
The second overall pick in the 1997 draft has played his entire career in San Jose. Marleau finishes second in assists to Joe Thornton but leads the Sharks in nearly every offensive statistical category worth mentioning.
Despite his impressive career, the last few years have been a mixed bag for Marleau. His point production the last three years has slid from 70 points in 2013-14 to 48 last year. Time looks to be catching up to him. His power-play production has been steady and he is still a useful winger, but the trend has to be concerning. He is still a positive possession player, and has been for the nine years, which is the furthest back Hockey-Reference.com has tracked the statistic. He likely is a third-liner on the Sharks but one that still adds a dimension on the second unit with the man advantage.
2016-17 Season Predictions
The Sharks bounced back after a historically disappointing 2014-15 playoff collapse. Making the longest playoff run in franchise history also lead to the shortest offseason. Compounding the short summer, is the entire top two lines are off (or were invited) to the World Cup of Hockey. Hertl turned down the invite to make sure he was ready for the upcoming season, but seven more Sharks did go. The short offseason coupled with the World Cup and a core that’s a year older is a lot to ask.
Patrick Marleau was asked how big of a help it would be for the 2016-17 Sharks
“It’s invaluable. I think to see all the hard work, the things that have to go your way in order to go that far. And we still didn’t get it. In order give ourselves a fifty-fifty chance, a lot of hard work, a lot of good luck and bounces here and there. I think everyone knows what it’ll take to get back there. You’re still mad you lost in the final, but you know you get another chance at it next year. That’s the motivation for the offseason training.”
And there are examples of teams that had to lose in order to win.
Years later, several Oilers stars saw the defeat as a necessary learning experience. In fact, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier both admitted they were impacted by walking past the Islanders dressing room after Game 4 to see the four-time defending champs sitting with ice bags, rather than engaging in a wild championship celebration. In their minds, they were made aware that more sacrifice would be needed to climb the final rungs to a title.
-EJ Hradek – NHL.com
In fact, the Penguins lost 4-2 in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final before returninb the next year to beat the Detroit Red Wings in a seven-game series for the first Stanley Cup in the Penguins
Luckily for a team that was two wins away from the Stanley Cup, the Sharks roster is nearly set. With a hard lesson learned, and three superstars looking for contracts next summer playing both for term and dollars, there are positives. The front office added reinforcements in Boedker and Schlemko. There are able bodies ready in the AHL in Meier, Sorensen, and Nikolay Goldobin. The pieces are all there for another big springtime run. It is very possible the Stanley Cup is coming back to the West Coast and making its first stop in Northern California.