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With a little over a week before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks seem happy with the roster they have built over the past decade, but frustrated with the results at year’s end. No matter how much talent their lineup appears to have on paper, the results on the ice do not seem to match up. With the Los Angeles Kings coming off their second Cup win in three years, and the Anaheim Ducks looking like Cup contenders themselves in this upcoming year, the San Jose Sharks need to find more success with the same roster to keep pace with their state rivals.
Last Season – As far as the Sharks are concerned, the less said about last season, the better. San Jose came out of the offseason unbelievable hot, posting 18 wins and only three regulation losses in the first two months of the season. Goaltender Antti Niemi was especially dominant early in the season, often allowing two or less goals in almost all of his starts.
Even after stumbling in December, the San Jose Sharks finished the regular season second in the Pacific division with over 50 wins and 111 points on the year. What was most impressive for San Jose was their home record. San Jose earned at least a point in 35 of the 41 games at the “Shark Tank.” With that kind of record and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, fans were excited to face off against the Kings.
However, what followed was a historic collapse. After easily taking a 3-0 lead in the series against Los Angeles, the Sharks lost four straight games, including an embarrassing 5-1 loss at the “Shark Tank” to close the series out. San Jose became only the fourth team in NHL history to lose a series after getting 3-0 lead.
The Offseason – With the historic loss, many questions surrounded the San Jose Sharks this offseason. Despite making the playoffs for 10 consecutive years, the Sharks have never made it past the Conference Finals, often bowing out well earlier than expected. Rather than fiddle with the roster they have assembled during that time, San Jose pulled an extreme move and stripped the captaincy and associate captaincy from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
Though the letters were removed from the two players, the players in the lockerroom have said they will still look to Thornton and Marleau to be leaders on the team.
“We support them no matter whether they have a letter or not. To us, they’re still some of the best players, so that’s how it’s going to be.” said defenseman Jason Demers
Head coach Todd McLellan also said that the vacant captaincies would be up for grabs to all players, including Thornton and Marleau. However, a loss like last season’s playoff exit cannot pass by without having some semblance of consequences, which is what the Sharks attempted to portray by stripping the letters.
The biggest loss of the offseason was defenseman Dan Boyle. Boyle was a big part of San Jose’s powerplay, but as he started to reach the twilight of his career, San Jose decided it was best to part ways with the veteran. This would normally have left a large hole in the Shark’s Top 4, but the versatile Brent Burns will move from forward to defense this season to replace Boyle.
What to Watch for This Season – The San Jose Sharks will have a lot of storylines running through this season, many of which may affect their future plans as an organization. The first, and most obvious, one is who will take the role of a leader on the team. There is the feeling that, despite giving Thornton and Marleau the opportunity to win the role back, the organization would prefer a different face of the franchise. Rock-steady defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic or young center Logan Couture seem like solid choices, and both could see their jerseys adorned with a letter by opening night.
In that same vein, if Thornton or Marleau miss out on a captaincy, will the organization keep them around? It is rare that an organization in playoff position (as San Jose is expected to be at the trade deadline) will trade productive players, but if the team wants to cut ties with them completely, one of the players (or possibly both) could be wearing a different uniform come April.
Goaltending will be another question for the Sharks to address. Though Niemi had a stellar regular season, one of the largest reasons for San Jose’s collapse in the playoffs was the performance of their goaltenders. Both Niemi and backup Alex Stalock combined for a putrid .854 save percentage in the final four games of that series. When a team simply needs one win to close out a series, putting forth that performance is simply unacceptable. With a long offseason to mull it over, it will be interesting to see how both goaltenders rebound from that performance.
At one point, the Sharks were the envy of all California teams and most of the Western Conference. However, as the years passed and San Jose seemed to always fall out early, Anaheim and Los Angeles took the center stage as well-built Californian teams. In order to keep pace with their in-state rivals, the San Jose Sharks will have to put last year behind them and hope the change in culture will be enough.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow as 30 in 30 examines the St. Louis Blues. Also check out yesterday’s team, the Pittsburgh Penguins and their attempted return to glory.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner