The San Jose Sharks have dealt with lofty expectations before, but this September they’re maybe as high as they’ve ever been.
The franchise is in uncharted territory because, for the first time in franchise history, the team enters the season as the defending Western Conference champions. While they’re not reporting to camp as the Stanley Cup champs, it’s still pretty big considering the team will have high expectations to contend with.
But while every team reports to camp with question marks and certain expectations, there’s also a few “safe bets” you can make about the Sharks heading into the season.
What you see early on is what you’ll be getting this season
As San Jose hits the ice for the first time in the 2016-17 season, they’re doing so with very little roster flexibility.
The Sharks’ fins are right up against the salary cap limit. According to capfriendly.com, they currently have a cap hit of $72.6 million with just under $379,000 in available cap space.
Unlike some teams that are still negotiating with their restricted free agents, they don’t have any, but the budget belt is fitting pretty tight around the waist right now.
So, what does this all mean? Essentially, the Sharks have almost no roster flexibility now or if they need it later. What you see in October is likely what you’re going to get from them over the course of the long season.
Unless they somehow move a large contract off the books or put a player on long-term injured reserve, they won’t really be able to take on any more salary and any move they make will essentially have be a dollar-for-dollar move.
Brent Burns will remain a top defenseman
Brent Burns has been known as a solid defenseman now for quite a while, but as he’s entered his 30’s he seems to have taken his game to another level.
Coming off a season where he notched 60 points (17-43—60) in all 82 regular season games in 2014-15, he finished last regular season with a career-high 75 points (27-48—75) in 82 games. He also posted a plus-minus rating of minus-5, a career-high average ice time of 25:52 and a defensive zone start percentage of 48.8.
Over the last couple seasons he’s established himself as a household name not only among Sharks fans, but among NHL fans in general, as he’s becoming known as one of the better two-way defensemen in the game.
The Ontario native, who is currently on Team Canada’s roster for the World Cup of Hockey, turned 31 in March but it seems like he’s only getting better with age. It’s a safe bet to say he’ll be a benefit to the Sharks on both sides of the puck this upcoming season.
This season the Sharks become Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture’s team
Forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have almost become synonymous with the San Jose Sharks over the years.
Thronton has been in teal for over a decade now and enters the new season just 13 points shy of 900 points in a Sharks sweater, while Marleau was drafted by San Jose with the second overall selection in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft and has played all 1,411 regular season games of his career for San Jose, where he’s scored 1,036 points (481-555—1036).
But despite the impressive track record over the years, especially Thornton’s strong play last season, age is catching up to both players.
Thornton turned 37 over the offseason, while Marleau just turned 37 earlier this month. In other words, there isn’t a lot of miles left on either player. To add even more intrigue about their futures, this season is the final year of both Thornton and Marleau’s contracts.
There’s no telling what will happen to the duo, and because the Sharks are in “win now” mode it’s likely something they won’t address until after the season ends, but the passing of the torch to forwards Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture that has been going on for a while now will likely be completed this season.
Both these players have been stars for the Sharks now for a while, but they’ve always shared the marquee with Thornton and Marleau. It’s a safe bet to say that Pavelski and Couture will take over the marquee this season.