Puck Drop Preview: 2021-22 San Jose Sharks

2021-22 San Jose Sharks
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Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2021-22 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us, as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2021-22 San Jose Sharks. 

2021-22 San Jose Sharks

2020-21 Season

The 2020-21 season was anything but pretty for the lowly San Jose Sharks. A once perennial contender for the Cup, the Sharks now find themselves in the midst of a major rebuild. The Sharks finished the 2019 campaign in last place in the west and picked up where they left off in the 2020-21 season. San Jose finished last season, second-last in the West, just six points ahead of the rebuilding Anaheim Ducks.

There weren’t a whole lot of positives to take away from this recent season. In fact, the rebuild seemed to take a step backward. Veteran defencemen Karlsson, Vlasic, and Burns regressed and saw their points per game average dip, and all three struggled to keep the puck out of their own net. Nothing like having 26.5 million dollars locked up in three defencemen and finishing last in the league for goals against. For a fan base that has grown accustomed to icing a competitive team, they are about to see what it’s like to cheer for a team that will be getting cozy in the basement of the western conference standings for the next few years. 

2021 Offseason

Have you ever wondered what the aftermath for an organization is like when they go all in, in their championship window? It’s akin to watching a superhero movie. There’s always a big final fight scene where the superhero has prepared all movie to go fight the villain. In the midst of battle, they destroy an entire downtown but it doesn’t matter because the hero stands victorious in the end. We celebrate the victory but turn a blind eye to the fact the city is in shambles and will take years to rebuild. Well, that is like the San Jose Sharks. Except they didn’t come out victorious. And they very much have a city (roster) that is destroyed. 

Additions and Subtractions

The management team for the Sharks may refuse to admit they are in a full rebuild (they prefer the word ‘reset’) but their moves this offseason shouldn’t give their fans any hopes of a playoff run. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and their actions sing “draft lottery!” Their biggest offseason signings are an ageing Andrew Cogliano and Nick Bonino, which should tell you all you need to know about how serious the Sharks are about getting out of last place. 

Aside from those two additions, the Sharks brought in Nick Merely, who has already been waived, and Lane Pederson. Notable players on the way out are goaltender Martin Jones, via buy-out, and forwards Ryan Donato and Marcus Sorensen.

There’s not a whole lot to discuss about their offseason, but that’s what happens when you are getting ready to tank your season. Why not though, the 2022 NHL draft is expected to be deep. And getting a good draft pick this year will lessen the sting of giving up their 2020 first-rounder to Ottawa in the Karlsson trade. That pick, for anyone who forgot, turned out to be the third overall selection, Tim Stutzle. Oof. Tough break for the Sharks.

Karlsson

Speaking of Karlsson, he turned out to be the biggest story of the Sharks offseason. Erik Karlsson has been outspoken about NOT wanting to rebuild with the Sharks. When Karlsson came over to San Jose on the trade with Ottawa he said “I’m excited to continue the chase for the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup”, but that has since changed to him exclaiming “Obviously, I did not sign here (San Jose) to go through a rebuild or go through what I did for 10 years in Ottawa”

That’s putting pressure on Doug Wilson to make something happen this year but it seems that Wilson is ready to stick to his guns and go about the reset. It’s a tough task for Wilson to work around this roster. The Sharks have gotten rid of a cluster of draft picks to acquire rental players in hopes to win a Cup. Those moves have resulted in lacklustre drafts and the consequence is they’ve only had one pick since 2017 play any meaningful games in the NHL. That one player is Josh Norris, whom the Sharks traded to Ottawa. Another oof. 

Here’s the Issue

The Sharks also have 26.5 million locked into three underperforming defencemen (Vlasic, Burns, and Karlsson) for the next four years.  Karlsson’s contract alone carries a cap hit of 11.5 million until the 2026-27 season. That 11.5 million is more than Leon Draisaitl, Nikita Kucherov, Cale Makar, and Victor Hedman. Karlsson used to be an elite defenceman but his value has dropped off greatly. Erik has 62 points in 108 games and is a minus 33. That’s a far cry from his point-per-game pace back in 2016. At that cap hit, with that much term left, Wilson will be hard-pressed to find a suitor for him via trade, and surely won’t be able to pull off a trade without retaining some of that salary. 

As the season progresses and the Sharks continue to fall in the standings, it’ll be interesting to see how Wilson handles his disgruntled “star” defenceman. 

Lineup Projections

Forwards

Timo MeierTomas HertlKevin Labanc

Evander KaneLogan CoutureRudolfs Balcers

Jonathon DahlenNick BoninoAlexander Barabanov

Andrew CoglianoDylan GambrellMatt Nieto

Top Six

The first two lines for the Sharks will provide a level of speed and skill that coach Bob Boughner can roll out to compete with teams every night. Unfortunately, the roster is not deep enough to make up for any injuries that may occur during the year. The Sharks also need to deal with the uncertainty of controversial winger, Evander Kane, and whether he will be a regular in the lineup this season. With 22 goals in 56 games last year, his presence will definitely be missed. 

Timo Meier has developed nicely for the Sharks and his skillset seems to be complemented by linemates Hertl and Labanc. However, this group will need to find another gear when it comes to special teams this season. The Sharks’ powerplay operated at a measly 14% last season. That was good (bad) enough for third-worst in the league. 

The once-dominant penalty kill of the Sharks was also an area of concern last year. The PK finished 14th in the league, at 80%. 

Bottom Six

There will be lots of opportunities for some younger guys to get into the lineup full time. The Swedish star, Jonathon Dahlen, tore up the Hockey Allsvenskan League and looks poised to make his NHL debut this year. Coach Boughner will look to line him up beside veteran Bonino and fellow newcomer, Alex Barabanov, to inject some life and scoring into that third line. 

Dylan Gambrell looks to remain a regular with the Sharks and hold down the full-time centre position on the fourth line this year. Cogliano brings a veteran presence on the line and will use his speed to help push the play up the ice. Matt Nieto returned to San Jose after a four-year stint in Colorado. His history with the club gives him an inside track on making the team out of camp but it won’t come as a surprise to see the Sharks cycle him out with the younger players to get some looks at their prospects.  

Defence

Mario FerraroErik Karlsson

Nikolai KnyzhovBrent Burns

Marc-Edouard VlasicRadim Simek

Top Four

As mentioned before, the defence is a big issue for the Sharks. On paper, names like Burns, Vlasic, and Karlsson should give you all the confidence you need. Unfortunately, this trio has struggled to live up to expectations the last couple of years and hasn’t been anything close to their cap value. Karlsson and Burns need to regroup and lead this defensive core. Their plus-minus has been atrocious and coach Boughner will want his veteran d-men to clean up that aspect of their game. 

Mario Ferraro and Nikolai Knyzhov will get time to log some big minutes next to Burns and Karlsson. Both Ferraro and Knyzhov are RFA’s next season and will be motivated to contribute with big seasons while they look to get contract extensions from Doug Wilson.

Bottom Pair

Marc-Eduard Vlasic finds himself holding down the final pairing of this defensive core. Not quite where you want your 34-year-old d-man playing, especially when he costs you seven million dollars a year. Radim Simek will line up beside Vlasic and has the opportunity to continue learning from the seasoned veteran. Hopefully, Vlasic’s game rebounds and will give the Sharks a strong final pairing on their backend that can alleviate the pressure from the first two pairings.

Goalies

Adin HillJames Reimer

The Sharks bought out the remaining three years of Martin Jones’s contract. They now turn to former Coyotes prospect, Adin Hill, after signing him to a two-year deal. Hill has had average numbers in his NHL career. He finished with a 2.74 GAA and .913 SV% in 19 started for the ‘Yotes last season.

San Jose has gone back to the well and brought back veteran James Reimer. Like Hill, Reimer comes in on a two-year deal after failing to get a contract extension with the Hurricanes. Reimer put up a 2.66 GAA and .906 SV% over 22 starts with Carolina last year. The numbers aren’t bad but he played with a superior defensive group in front of him than what he’ll have here in San Jose. 

The battle for the crease should be, at least, entertaining to watch. Adin will be trying to prove he is starter material in the league and Reimer will look to re-establish himself as a goalie which teams can lean on. Expect them to split starts early in the season but for Boughner to ride the hot hand as the season progresses.  

Players to Watch

Evander Kane

All eyes are on the troubled winger this year. Kane’s off-ice issues have caused quite a concern for his future with the club. Kane is currently under investigation into his gambling habits and allegations of betting on games. There are also allegations of domestic abuse with his ex-wife. This is obviously very concerning and has certainly caused a distraction for the club as it tries to prepare for the season. As a result, Kane is not participating in training camp. And should punishment from the courts and league come down on Kane, the Sharks will be without a major piece of their offence. Kane has six straight seasons of 20 goals or more and there currently isn’t anyone who can slide into that top-six role and supplement that kind of offence. 

Brent Burns

We’ve talked a lot of Karlsson already, and yes, he will definitely be a player to watch, but let us look at longtime Sharks defenceman and assistant captain, Brent Burns. The 2017 Norris Trophy winner is two years removed from an incredibly impressive 83 point campaign. His play has dropped off the last two years but so has the entire team in front of him. At 36 years of age, Burns is definitely entering the twilight stage of his career. Burns can still contribute to a team and Wilson could look to move him to a playoff contender as the trade deadline approaches.

With four years left on a contract that carries an eight million dollar cap hit, it’s not the most attractive contract to pick up. But a new team could revitalize his play and be worth the price as he’d surely be an integral piece to a Cup contender. There aren’t many rumours floating around about a trade of Burns yet but expect those to heat up as we get deeper into the season and Wilson’s rebuild becomes more evident. 

Prediction for the 2021-22 San Jose Sharks

Despite playing in arguably the weakest division in hockey, the San Jose Sharks are still looking at a miserable season. They will have favourable matchups with fellow rebuilders, Ducks and Kings, as well as some games against the expansion Kraken, but the Sharks will find themselves at the bottom of their division by season’s end. 

If Wilson decides to commit fully to this rebuild and start moving veterans out, this Sharks team will finish in the 8th and final spot of the Pacific Division. Now is the time for a lottery pick. They are currently behind the Ducks and Kings in terms of rebuilding and any hesitation in committing to this rebuild will only make the hill they have to climb become steeper. This division is weak right now but it’s going to get more competitive with each passing year. It’s time for the Sharks to grind through some lean years so they can get back to being the apex predator of the West and begin feasting on this division once again.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images