Analysis: Are Sharks better or worse since the season ended?


Analysis: Are Sharks better or worse since the season ended?

SAN JOSE – As we wrote last week, in his effort to set up the Sharks for long-term success, Doug Wilson has made some admirable moves recently. Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, defensive stalwart Marc-Edouard Vlasic and franchise goalie Martin Jones will all be in San Jose for the foreseeable future with their respective contract extensions, and represent three pieces that a team can build around. 

The general manager also avoided the mistake of offering Patrick Marleau a third season, leaving the club valuable salary cap space that could be better utilized than for a declining forward that would have been 40 years old in 2019-20.

The more immediate concern, though, is this: Are the Sharks a better team now than they were when they shook hands with the Edmonton Oilers following a first round defeat in April?

Right now, there’s not much reason to believe that they are.

Even with Marleau’s departure, the Sharks will rely on some aging veterans. Joe Thornton, returning on a one-year, $8 million contract, just turned 38, while Joe Pavelski turned 33 on Tuesday. 

We’ve written here before that there’s reason to believe Thornton can be better than his seven-goal, 50-point season in 2016-17. The future Hall of Famer recently said that he’s been focusing on his legs this offseason, which surely means that he identified that as a problem area last season through what was a difficult schedule. As long as his knee is fully repaired – and he, his agent and Wilson have all emphatically stated he’ll be ready for the start of camp – Thornton could rebound from his lowest statistical output since 1998-99.

And, a better Thornton would mean a better Pavelski, too, as the captain saw his goal output drop from 38 in 2015-16 to 29 last season. Assuming those two stay on the same line, the Sharks will need more from both. The guess here is they'll get it.

The defense isn’t getting any younger, either, as each of the Sharks’ top four defenders is now over the age of 30 including Paul Martin (36), Burns (32), Vlasic (30) and Justin Braun (30). But Vlasic, Braun and Burns are each in the prime of their career, while Martin -- maybe the most underrated Sharks player last season -- was arguably better in 2016-17 than he was in his first year with the Sharks.

The defensive corps is one of the best in the NHL top to bottom, even with the departure of David Schlemko, who could best be described as a serviceable third pairing defenseman. He should be easy to replace, most likely with Dylan DeMelo. That group, along with the steady Jones, could be enough to keep the Sharks in the postseason.

Whether they are anything more than just a playoff bubble team, though, will depend on if they have the horses to generate enough offense, even if Thornton and Pavelski rebound. And that’s where the tremendous uncertainty lies with the current roster.

The left wing spot on the top line is a good place to start. After trying virtually everyone there last season, and even adding Jannik Hansen at the trade deadline with the thought of putting him there, coach Pete DeBoer never seemed to find the right kind of player to complement Thornton and Pavelski. Who is penciled in there now? That’s anyone’s guess.

A group of forwards that didn’t produce as expected last season, as has been well documented, remains. Mikkel Boedker was a bust culminating in his getting scratched in the playoffs, Joel Ward scored 11 fewer goals than the previous season, Joonas Donskoi disappointed with just 17 points in 61 games, Chris Tierney has yet to show he can score more than 20-or-so points in a full season, and the jury remains out as to whether Tomas Hertl should be a full-time center or is better off on the wing.

Marleau’s departure leaves a 27-goal void that won’t likely be filled by a single player. They’ll need more from most of the players mentioned above.

But the Sharks also need at least one, and probably several of their young players to step up and show they are NHL-caliber. Unlike this time last offseason there seems to be a real opportunity for guys like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen to jump in and prove they can play at a consistent level in the best league in the world. Perhaps other prospects with lower ceilings like Barclay Goodrow, Danny O’Regan or Rourke Chartier will surprise in camp.

Now is the time, though, the Sharks need to get more from their younger players than they've gotten in recent years thanks to some unfruitful drafts. There were some flashes last season, such as Labanc’s midseason success and Meier and Sorensen playing well in the playoffs against Edmonton, but none of the players in the system look like a sure thing. There's still a huge leap that has to be made from putting up points in the AHL, as all of those players can, and becoming an NHL regular.

If Wilson is betting on some of these prospects to emerge as legitimate scoring forwards for the Sharks, it’s a tremendous risk, especially in a division that’s getting younger, faster and better. Right now, it looks like that is a risk he’s willing to take.

Sharks vs. Sabres live stream: Watch NHL game online on MyTeams

NBC Sports Bay Area

Sharks vs. Sabres live stream: Watch NHL game online on MyTeams

After a five-game road trip, the Sharks (2-3-1) are finally back home to host the Buffalo Sabres (3-3) Thursday night at The Tank. This will be just their second home game of the season.

It's a special night for a couple reasons.

It's Stealth Mode night in San Jose, so the Sharks will be busting out their brand new black sweaters and 3D decals on their helmets.

Also, forward Evander Kane takes on his former team for the first time since being traded by Buffalo to San Jose in February. While Kane played 61 games with the Sabres last season, he will be facing a revamped squad. As Chelena Goldman writes, Buffalo has gone through more than a few changes since last season.

Fans wanting to see Team Teal can do so by downloading the MyTeams by NBC Sports app, where they can watch the game live and read the latest insights from Marcus White and Chelena Goldman.

Here's how you can watch the Sharks-Sabres game, as well as NBC Sports California's pregame and postgame shows, live online.

When: 7:30 p.m. PT on Thursday, Oct. 18 (pregame show starts at 7 p.m.)
Live Stream: MyTeams by NBC Sports app

Desktop users can stream the game by clicking this link.

Sharks debuting new 3D helmet decal on Stealth Night

NBC Sports Bay Area

Sharks debuting new 3D helmet decal on Stealth Night

The San Jose Sharks will be rocking a new look on Thursday night, and it features more than just the yet-to-be-worn Stealth jerseys.

In addition to the black sweaters San Jose will sport against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night, there will also be a special three-dimensional "SJ" decal on the sides of the players' helmets.

This isn't the first time an NHL team has added 3D flair to a specialty game day look. The decals started popping up on helmets earlier this year, with teams like the LA Kings adding to their headgear. The Sharks Thursday night opponent, the Sabres, added the decals to the helmets they wore in the 2018 NHL Winter Classic against the New York Rangers. 

The newly-stickered headwear completes the look the Sharks plan to sport on Stealth Nights, which will take place on Thursday and Friday home games, plus the Sharks Saturday night tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 3. 

Newly-acquired defenseman Erik Karlsson debuted the new Stealth jersey for the first time during the Sharks preseason, but the sweaters have not seen any game action yet. According to San Jose's schedule, the team should be wearing the specialty look thirteen times during the 2018-19 regular season.