Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey 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. Make 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 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the San Jose Sharks.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks finished third in their Pacific Division in 2017-18, behind the expansion Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks. This went for their third consecutive playoff season, and they’ve only missed the postseason once since 2002-03. The team consistently qualifies for the postseason, always representing a strong threat in the Western Conference, but unfortunately possess no championships to show for it. One of the team’s biggest criticisms lately has been their age; in 2017-18, San Jose ranked as the 5th oldest in the league with an average age of 27.9 years old. That’s after losing 39-year-old Patrick Marleau.
San Jose swept the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs, but bowed out in the second round. They had a couple thrilling overtime games, but ultimately the eventual-Conference-Champion Knights won the series in six games.
Defenseman Brent Burns led the team with 67 points, and Logan Couture set new career highs with a team-high 34 goals. Three others crossed the 20-goal mark (Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Joe Pavelski). Acquired in February, Evander Kane also scored 29 goals over the full season, and had 14 points in 17 games with the Sharks. On the other side of the spectrum, longtime Shark Joe Thornton, 39, went down with ACL and MCL injuries in January. This forced him to miss the remainder of the season after surgery.
Despite his injury and age, Thornton re-signed with the club on July 2nd, on another one-year contract. He put up 36 points in 47 games last year, and has 1,030 assists and 1,427 career NHL points.
There seemed to be a major affiliation between the San Jose Sharks and the Ottawa Senators this off-season too. It started on June 19th, when General Manager Doug Wilson sent a package to Ottawa including Mikkel Boedker, a prospect, and a 6th round pick in 2020 in exchange for top six forward Mike Hoffman, a prospect, and a 5th round pick in 2020. He immediately flipped Hoffman (plus a 7th round pick) to the Florida Panthers not an hour later, in exchange for a 2nd, 4th and 5th round pick. Overall, San Jose lost Boedker, a prospect, and a 6th and 7th round pick. In exchange, they received a different prospect, plus a 2nd, 4th, and two 5th round picks.
The Big Fish
Why’d they do all that? Well, they also dumped a lot of salary in the deal. Boedker’s contract leaving the books freed up $4 million in space, and flipping Hoffman meant they took no salary on either.
Many people assumed the team set their sights on John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk with that cap space. They failed to land either of those two, and for months it seemed the team simply shed salary for the purpose of saving money. Then on September 13th, Wilson went back to Ottawa for another blockbuster.
The Sharks traded six pieces to Ottawa that morning in exchange for superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson. The pieces included a 1st and a 2nd round draft pick, plus two prospects, and mid-20’s players Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo. For the San Jose Sharks, this seems an extremely reasonable price to pay for an elite defenseman. In fact, it was probably extremely cheap…
San Jose Sharks Projected Lineup
Evander Kane – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Tomas Hertl – Logan Couture – Timo Meier
Jonas Donskoi – Antti Suomela – Kevin Labanc
Marc-Eduard Vlasic – Erik Karlsson
Joakim Ryan – Brent Burns
Players to Watch
The San Jose Sharks are absolutely stacked on defense. There’s no question about it. The fact that one of either Vlasic, Karlsson, or Burns will have to play on the second pair is absurd. Not only is this group one of the strongest defensively in the league, Karlsson and Burns both led their respective teams in points last year too (the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks, respectively). Both of them can put up north of 70 points, meaning the Sharks might pick up 140+ points from defensemen alone next season.
Besides their elite defense, goaltender Martin Jones is worth keeping an eye on. Entering his 4th season as the Sharks go-to-guy, he’ll look to break the 30 win mark for a 4th straight time as well. Consistency has been key to his reign in San Jose; he maintained a goals-against-average between 2.27 and 2.55 and a save percentage between .912 and .918 every season.
Offensively, there’s some fun dynamics to watch too. The biggest question is whether or not Thornton can still perform as a top-line playmaker at 40 years old, coming off ACL and MCL injuries. A full season for Kane in San Jose should have fans excited, as he produced at a 65-point pace in the 17 games he spent with the team prior to playoffs. Couture is a budding star too, and he’ll fight to prove last year’s 34 goal output was the start of a new norm, not a fluke.
If you’d asked me two weeks ago where I thought the Sharks would wind up this year, it would’ve been a very different answer. Adding a generational talent on defense will do that though. Erik Karlsson transforms this roster in the blink of an eye.
The scary thing, too, is I already would’ve picked them for a decent playoff run. How much better can they get?
Ultimately, the only real thing to worry about is Thornton. He’s been their number one center for a decade, but at 40 and coming off major surgery to his ACL might not bode well for him. Couture seems ready to take over though, and scoring 30+ goals again would make the transition easier.
Either way, the team got to the second round without Thornton last season. Having him healthy will only help this team. San Jose is built to win, and win now. Anything short of the Stanley Cup Finals will be a failure to this franchise, and there’s no doubt Thornton wants to win it all this season in case its his last.
As a final prediction, prepare for the San Jose Sharks to win the Pacific Division in 2018-19. Unfortunately, the ultra-deep Winnipeg Jets will still be too much for them in the playoffs. San Jose will have a great year, but fall short of the ultimate goal with a Conference Finals defeat.
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