Four reasons Sharks will win/lose 2016-17 Stanley Cup
History on the horizon?
In exactly seven weeks the NHL playoffs begin and the Sharks will be a part of the postseason tournament once again, barring a monumental collapse. There are reasons to believe this team can capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, and reasons to believe they’ll fall short again. Let’s explore…
They know what it takes now
In the first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final for nearly all the players on last year’s roster, the Sharks approached the series with Pittsburgh with too much of a just-happy-to-be-here attitude. The result was a six-game spanking that wasn’t as close as the length of the series would indicate.
Should they make it that far this time, they will have learned their lesson from last year and be in a much better position mentally to complete the task.
Top guys will benefit from rest this week
It’s been a grind for the older, veteran players on the Sharks roster that came off a short summer, with many competing in the World Cup in September, too. They’ve also all endured the NHL’s foolish compressed schedule.
The bye week will give them a chance to recharge their batteries, both mentally and physically, setting them up to surge over the final few weeks of the season and into the playoffs. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin and Joel Ward should all be better after a week off.
If offense wins games but defense wins championships, the Sharks are fortunate in that their defensive structure in front of the steady Martin Jones has been strong all season. San Jose is third in the NHL with just 2.38 goals-against per game, and features one of the best top-to-bottom blue lines in the league.
Jones, too, has shown he can play at a high level when the games are most meaningful, as he did last season in his first playoff run as a starter.
The Sharks’ defenseman is having a season for the ages as the runaway favorite for the Norris Trophy. He could even be a Hart Trophy finalist as NHL MVP, especially if he remains in the top three in the league scoring race.
Burns has the ability to singlehandedly change the course of a game, turning lackluster Sharks performances into wins on several occasions. He is putting together arguably the best single-season individual performance in Sharks history.
Not enough scorers
While the defense has been strong, the Sharks’ offense has been inconsistent. Too many players are either off of their scoring paces from last season, or simply haven’t developed at as a rapid a pace as was anticipated.
Perhaps the Sharks can find a way to add to their offense before the trade deadline, but if they don’t, they could get outgunned in the playoffs.
Martin Jones is on pace to start nearly 70 games, which is far too many according to many outside observers. The Sharks are running the risk of tiring out their starting goalie before the playoffs, which is surprising considering how his added rest late last season seemed to aid his playoff performance.
If anything happens to Jones, the inexperienced Aaron Dell would be the starter. It’s impossible to know if Dell could handle the extra work.
It’s inexplicable that the Sharks’ power play is still stuck in 22nd in the NHL, based on the talent they have on the top unit and the success they’ve had in the past with those same players. Much of its decline can perhaps be traced to Joe Thornton’s hands starting to go, but the coaching staff has resisted making any chances.
If the power play continues to be power-less, and the Sharks don’t perform in the playoffs, the coaching staff will have some questions to answer.
There are better teams
As strong as the Sharks’ season has been so far, they still only have the eight-best odds of winning the Stanley Cup, according to Bovada. The Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks are both ahead of the Sharks in the standings, while the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins remain among the NHL’s elite in the Eastern Conference.
If the Sharks were to face any of those four teams in a playoff series, they will probably be the underdog.