The 2017-18 Sharks are a team that confounds the punditocracy

The 2017-18 Sharks are a team that confounds the punditocracy

The National Hockey League has stealthily crept up upon us and has finally landed, beginning its new season with four games, including a historically monumental matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks.

And yes, that is sarcasm.

But it is also an apt opener because San Jose is a difficult team to figure under any circumstances. They are 15 months removed from their only Stanley Cup Final appearance but three months removed from a tepid first round chase-out by the Edmonton Oilers. They went from being a difficult counterpuncher to a good example of old-school hockey, skated into puddles by a younger, faster team just learning how good it can be.

Put another way, Edmonton hosts Calgary Wednesday in a game most hockey fans will find far more compelling.

The difference is that Edmonton has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and an army of other younger and more intrepid players, while the Sharks are making a more concerted but still difficult transition from a largely veteran team to a younger faster one. And that is trying to be created despite the fact that their most important players are north of 30.

Toward that end, the Sharks need bounce-back years from most of their forwards, given that they finished a dull 19th in offense and a disastrous 25th on the power play. Their defense has never been deeper or better based on its 2017 performance, but things have a way of bouncing up and down year to year in all hockey areas, so the Sharks need as much from Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl and Kevin Labanc as from Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton and Logan Couture.

They also need a better season from goalie Martin Jones. Better, as in centerpiece – if San Jose’s offense does not improve, his reputation as a solid goalie will have to inch closer to Carey Price/Sergei Bobrovsky/Braden Holtby levels. Jones was fine enough last year, and clearly was the best player the Sharks had in their Edmonton series, but his save percentages (.918 and .912 as a Shark) need to improve above .920 if he is to become a more bonafide game-stealer.

Finally, the Sharks need to rekindle a fan base that has found more ways to skip games than attend them. The home-ice advantage they have always boasted improved last year after a few years of aggressive meh-itude (though they were 26th the year they got to the Final), and they got the typical Cup-Final bump, but the year before they dipped below 17,000 in attendance and the impression is that the fan base needs more stimulation than just opening the doors.

San Jose is a team that confounds the punditocracy – some think they have too much pride to fade from relevance, while others see the game changing without them. But after years of being the team everyone loved to pump up and then be disappointed by, they are now a blank slate for all involved, capable of much and yet little depending on how you choose to examine them.

Maybe they confuse even themselves.

Reports: John Tavares will meet with Sharks, four other teams


Reports: John Tavares will meet with Sharks, four other teams

New York Islanders captain John Tavares isn't officially a free agent yet, but he will listen to what a handful of teams have to say, Tavares' agent Pat Brisson told reporters in Dallas. That list reportedly includes the Sharks. 

San Jose will reportedly meet with Tavares in Los Angeles on Monday, according to multiple reports. The Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs are also "assured of meetings," according to The Athletic's Arthur Staple, while the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights may also meet with the 27-year-old. But, meetings may be as far as any of those teams get, Staple noted. 

The Islanders' No. 1 pick in 2009, Tavares would be the best free agent available should he opt to leave New York, and arguably the best forward to hit unrestricted free agency in years. Since entering the league, Tavares ranks fifth in goals (272), and ninth in points (621), higher than any current Shark in either category. He's won gold with Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and made the All-Star Game five times, including in each of the last four seasons. 

This week, the Sharks positioned themselves to acquire Tavares, or another player via trade or free agency by clearing about $7 million in salary cap space. San Jose traded winger Mikkel Boedker ($4 million salary cap hit) to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, and placed veteran defenseman Paul Martin on unconditional waivers with the intention of buying out his contract on Friday. Martin cleared waivers on Saturday, freeing about $2.83 million this season, according to CapFriendly, or around $3.2 million, which the Sharks cited to reporters at the draft on Friday.

Either way, that gives San Jose right around $19 million in salary cap space this summer. Dylan DeMelo, Tomas Hertl, and Chris Tierney remain unsigned as restricted free agents, while pending unrestricted free agent Joe Thornton has expressed a desire to return to the Sharks. 

San Jose reportedly met with a former No. 1 pick ahead of free agency two summers ago, only to see him return to his club. The Sharks were believed to be one of four teams to meet with Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos in 2016, according to SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman.

Sharks Day 2 2018 NHL Draft Tracker


Sharks Day 2 2018 NHL Draft Tracker

First round (No. 21 overall): D Ryan Merkley, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Third round (No. 87 overall): C Linus Karlsson, Karlskrona HK / Karlskrona Allsvenskan (SHL/SuperElit)​

Fourth round (No. 102 overall): C Jasper Weatherby, Wentachee Wild (BCHL)
Sixth round (No. 176 overall): G Zachary Emond, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Sixth round (No. 182 overall): LW John Leonard, University of Massachusetts-Amherst (NCAA)

* * *

After the Sharks made one of the biggest splashes of the first round on Friday, San Jose entered the second day of the 2018 NHL Draft with six picks, two each in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. 

Here all of the Sharks' pick from Saturday.

Position: Center
2017-18 Team: Karlskrona HK / Karlskrona Allsvenskan (U-20)
Height: 6-1
Weight: 179 lbs
Age: 18
Shoots: Right
Selection: Third round (No. 87 overall; Acquired from Arizona in exchange for No. 114 and No. 145 picks)
Scouting report: The Sharks traded a pair of picks, a fourth rounder and a fifth rounder, to select the second-leading scorer from Sweden's under-20 league last season. Karlsson tied for the league-lead in goals (27), and even played 13 games with Karlskrona's pro team as an 18-year-old. He was one of the biggest risers in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, finishing the season as the service's No. 39 European skater, after being unranked at midseason. 

2017-18 Team: Wentachee Wild (BCHL)
Height: 6-4
Weight: 216 lbs
Age: 20
Shoots: Left
Scouting report: Weatherby led the BCHL with 74 points (37 goals, 37 assists) in the regular season, and in postseason scoring with another 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in just 20 playoff games. He was a man amongst boys in more ways than one, as he's the oldest draft-eligible BCHL player and the biggest, according to EliteProspects. He's committed to play at the University of North Dakota this fall.

Position: Goalie
2017-18 Team: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Height: 6-3
Weight: 165 lbs
Age: 18
Catches: Left
Scouting report: The 18th-ranked North American goaltender by Central Scouting, Emond posted an .897 save percentage in 24 games with Rouyn-Noranda in his first full season in the QMJHL. Emond backed up Samuel Harvey last season, but could become the primary starter this season if Harvey doesn't return as an overage player. Harvey, interestingly enough, was ranked one spot ahead of Emond in Central Scouting's final ranking. 

Left Wing
2017-18 Team: University of Massachusetts-Amherst (NCAA)
Height: 5-11
Weight: 185 lbs
Age: 19
Shoots: Left
Scouting report: Leonard led the Minutemen in scoring as a freshman this past season (28 points). Among under-20 players in the NCAA, Leonard was ninth in points per game (0.85), and tied-for-sixth in goals (13) without shooting at an unsustainable clip (11.5 percent shooting percentage). He's got some big skates to fill, at least as far as drafted Minutemen freshmen go.