It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: San Jose Sharks
How they did last season: 46-30-6 (98 points) 3rd in the Pacific, 6th in the Western Conference. Lost in the Stanley Cup Finals. Lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Notable acquisitions: LW Mikkel Boedker, D David Schlemko
Notable departures: D Roman Polak, G James Reimer
When they will play the Caps: Nov. 8 in Washington; March 9 in San Jose
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Analysis: There’s no denying the impact Pete DeBoer has had on San Jose. Most believed the Sharks’ time was over, but they surprised everyone with their first conference championship and came within two wins of winning the Stanley Cup.
The Sharks took a chance by trading for Martin Jones, a 25-year-old goalie with only 34 NHL games to his name, and made him the starter. Jones proved he was up to the task with a solid regular season, but he really shined in the playoffs. While everyone was talking about what Matt Murray was doing for the Penguins, Jones outplayed him in the Finals and gave the Sharks a chance.
While Brent Burns is an absolute star on the blue line, Marc-Edouard Vlasic proved to be even more vital to his team’s success. He is a true modern shutdown defenseman, a player who can keep opponents off the scoresheet while driving up his team’s possession numbers.
The real strength of the Sharks last season, however, was its offense. San Jose scored ranked fourth in the regular season with 2.89 goals per game. In the playoffs they were even better with 3.13 goals per game. The problem is that five of their top six scorers in both the regular season and the playoffs are over the age of 30.
The reason we all though San Jose's window was closed was because of how old their top playmakers are. With only minor tweaks to the lineup in the offseason, the Sharks will return largely the same lineup this season. San Jose needs the team’s young stars like Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture to take on more of the load because, while players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau seem ageless, Father Time remains undefeated.
Season prediction: DeBoer is well aware of the age of his playmakers and openly encourages his veterans not to overexert themselves in practice or morning skates. The results were evident as a well-rested Sharks team dominated in the first round of the playoffs, dispatching nemesis Los Angeles in just five games.
San Jose still has plenty of talent, but they’re not getting any younger. The Sharks are going to want to fast forward to the playoffs and DeBoer is not going to push them that hard over the course of the regular season, but he won’t have to. The Pacific Division is pretty lousy and Anaheim is going to take a step back this season. The Sharks should easily finish in the top three of the division, but I don't think they'll win it because I don't think that it matters all much to DeBoer or the players.
When I look at this roster, however, I still see a team that will be dependent on its older veterans. DeBoer handled them to perfection last season, but I have a hard time believing he’ll be able to coach this team back to the Finals again.
The Sharks are a playoff team and perhaps still good enough to win a round or two, but they won’t challenge for the Cup.
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Other team previews:
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)