Over the span of six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, it’s the San Jose Sharks…
The San Jose Sharks are coming off the most successful season in franchise history, though they fell just short of their ultimate goal. Now they face the task of avoiding the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover, just months after navigating all the way through the Western Conference.
A lot went right for the Sharks last spring, as they managed to knock off their rivals from LA, then worked their way through an upstart Predators club and the surging Blues. But they simply couldn’t keep up with the speedy Penguins in that final series.
Working in their favor now is the fact that they’re able to return most of the same lineup that made that run possible. And they were even able to add some quickness by picking up the smooth-skating Mikkel Boedker during free agency. The path through the West is always tough — particularly after a short offseason. But this group should still be dangerous.
Will this be the final year in San Jose for Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau?
San Jose has the benefit of keeping the band together and making one more run at the Cup this season. And then things get interesting. Key pieces like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Martin Jones are locked up for awhile, but both Thornton and Marleau — and Brent Burns, for that matter — are set to become unrestricted free agents next summer.
Obviously, inking an extension with Burns is the top priority. But what then? Can the Sharks afford to bring Thornton and Marleau back as well? Do they want to?
Thornton is coming off an 82-point season, so he clearly still has plenty left in the tank. But if he performs like that again this year, he’s going to command a pretty big salary. Meanwhile, Marleau has played his entire career in San Jose, dating all the way back to 1997. And he just tallied 25 goals during the 2015-16 campaign. It wouldn’t be easy to part ways with him either.
NOTABLE SUMMER ACQUISITION
Mikkel Boedker (from COL)
Boedker’s entire game is predicated on speed, which makes him a potentially great addition for a club like the Sharks. Especially given the relatively cheap price tag he carried. At 26 years of age, he still has room to grow his game and, considering the caliber of players he’ll skate alongside in a top-six role with the Sharks, he’s in a pretty good spot to take that next step.
Timo Meier (drafted: No. 9 overall in 2015)
San Jose may not have a pressing need for more point producers at the moment, but it never hurts to have a few developing below the NHL level. And Meier is essentially the headliner of that bunch.
Taken in the top ten after a rare playoff absence by the Sharks, the Swiss winger brings a nice mix of power and finesse to the ice every day. He produced 78 goals in 113 games over the last two seasons in the QMJHL, so he’s somebody that will be expected to put the puck in the net whenever he gets the call.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
Joe Thornton ($6.75 million)
All things considered, that $6.75 million hit isn’t that bad. Thornton is one of the faces of the franchise, after all. Oh, and he just finished fourth in the NHL scoring race.
He’s not the captain anymore, but he clearly still has plenty of value. And he obviously still has that hunger for his first Stanley Cup ring — even moreso now, after getting so close in June. At 37 years old, he’s going to have to slow down at some point. But that doesn’t have to be this season.
2017 UFA TO KEEP AN EYE ON
This is where things could get really complicated for the Sharks. Burns has proven to be incredibly valuable, and there just aren’t many other defensemen like him. They’re going to have to pay him a handsome sum because everyone knows they need him to get where they want to go.
There’s only so much money to go around though. So getting an extension done with Burns could feasibly hamper the chances of bringing both Thornton and Marleau back, depending on how much everybody wants. Which could lead to some very difficult questions around the trade deadline, depending how the season is going.
Hockey fans everywhere remember the highlight-reel goal Hertl scored against Martin Biron as a rookie. And he showed other flashes of brilliance in his first two NHL seasons as well. But he never really produced at a consistent level until this past year.
Which is certainly understandable, give his age. There’s no guarantee he’s a lock for 20-plus goals every year going forward either, but the 2015-16 campaign was promising. And if he can become a reliable scorer, that’s yet another offensive weapon for an already loaded San Jose lineup.