On paper, it might have been the best Sharks team ever assembled. But it all came to an end on Tuesday night, as San Jose lost the Western Conference final four-games-to-two to the St. Louis Blues.
Here’s a look back -- and forward -- on where this franchise stands.
What we just witnessed had to be among the most stressful playoff runs in Stanley Cup history. San Jose got to their fifth ever conference finals by winning a pair of Game 7s, but never had a two-game lead in any of the three rounds. There was never an opportunity to breathe or enjoy the view.
San Jose was one of four remaining teams this postseason, but the journey leaves more disappointment than accomplishment. It’s an important perspective to remember how incredibly high the standards are for this team.
I don’t believe for one second that Joe Thornton has played his last game with the Sharks. The bigger concern is how many more playoff opportunities he will get, after turning 40 years old as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Western Conference final appearances don’t happen every season, as we know.
It was an important season to have for Thornton. He transitioned to a third line center role, playing about five fewer minutes per contest, but still being effective. In addition, he racked up more milestones than I can summarize here, and most importantly: was generally healthy.
Joe Pavelski had a tremendous rebound season, coming off a hand injury to lead the team in goals at 38, which was up from 22. He also is an upcoming free agent this summer, and will be 35 next season, but proved that his exceptional net-front play of tips and redirects may not have any correlation to age.
Vegas Game 7
The “Pavelski Payback” in Game 7 of the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights might have been the best overall moment and win in San Jose’s franchise history. Or at least in the history of SAP Center. Elimination was on the line, and scoring four goals in a four-minute span was an unprecedented tribute to the fallen Captain.
Logan Couture had another monster postseason and is only two playoff goals behind the leader Alexander Ovechkin (50) since 2010. He continues rising to the occasion on the biggest of stages. And despite losing two teeth in the postseason, “Clutch-ure” showcased among the biggest of hearts.
Timo Meier continues to take huge steps in his career. Last season he reached 21 goals, and this campaign he eclipsed the 30-goal mark in 78 games. Meier also has developed the reputation of a hard-nosed player who can make power scoring moves and add a physical element of the game. The restricted free agent is well deserving of a raise from his $1.65M salary from this season.
Will Erik Karlsson be a Shark next season? From my view, it’s a 50-50 proposition. Sure, both side had months to work something out. But at the same time, free agency is a huge opportunity for any big name, and I don’t blame Karlsson for exploring the options.
Should Sharks retain EK65?
Regarding Karlsson, it’s also a huge financial commitment by San Jose if they are to retain him. He would likely become the team's highest-paid player and would become a big piece under the salary cap. It’s a large decision for the Sharks in the coming weeks, who made a huge personnel commitment to even acquire Karlsson from Ottawa.
Karlsson's up-and-down year
Karlsson’s regular season shouldn’t be held against him, but it was no doubt frustrating for San Jose. His first third was mostly acclimating to the new surroundings, his second third was dominant and impressive, and the final third was spent with an injured groin. In total, he tallied three goals and 42 points in 53 games. His playoffs were much better with 16 points in 19 games, especially impressive considering the injury he played through.
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Hertl's career season
Another career season goes to Tomas Hertl. He scored 35 goals, but most importantly made the critical move from winger to center back in December. By the playoffs, he was taking almost 30 draws per contest, and often winning around 20 of them.
(Mostly) steady Jones
Let’s be frank, there were questions surrounding Martin Jones in the regular season, and for the first four playoff games. It’s hard to argue with the body of work he showcased in all the playoff games since then.
San Jose enjoyed the national hockey spotlight more than ever in 2018-19. The Sharks might have made the biggest trade of the season, acquiring Erik Karlsson in September. SAP Center hosted the NHL’s All-Star Weekend in January. And here in May, the Sharks got to play all of their third-round games on exclusive nights.