Editor's note: In honor of Shark Week, NBC Sports California will look back at the five best teams from Sharks franchise history. Numerous factors have been taken into consideration, including overall team success, roster makeup, historical significance and more. We continue with the 2015-16 Sharks.
The 2015-16 season was one of firsts for the Sharks.
It was their first season with Peter DeBoer behind the bench as head coach, and the first with Martin Jones in net. Joe Pavelski wore the captain's "C," Tomas Hertl scored 20-plus goals and Brent Burns finished as a Norris Trophy, all for the first time in their respective careers.
The biggest first, however, came for the franchise in the postseason. The Sharks advanced to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final in the 2016, after three previous appearances in the Western Conference final ended two wins shy of getting there. While the season didn't end with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau lifting the Cup, San Jose got over a hump that had dogged the franchise for most of its second decade.
Here's a look back at the 2015-16 Sharks, the second-best team in franchise history.
Why they're the best
The Sharks hired DeBoer just over a month after mutually parting ways with Todd McLellan. San Jose struggled in McLellan's final season behind the bench, falling to the middle of the pack in 5-on-5 puck possession a year after finishing in the top five by most metrics. Much of that decline stemmed from a diminished roster after the Sharks declared themselves a "tomorrow team" after blowing a three-games-to-none series in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs the previous season, and San Jose missed the postseason in 2014-15 for the first time in over a decade.
In 2015-16, the Sharks rebounded as a strong puck-possession team. Free-agent signings Joonas Donskoi (11 goals, 25 assists) and Joel Ward (21 goals, 22 assists) gave San Jose some much-needed secondary offense behind the likes of Thornton, Pavelski, Marleau, Hertl and Logan Couture, and chipped in some key goals during the team's playoff run. Defenseman Paul Martin, who also was signed as a free agent in 2015, proved to be a steadying presence on the blue line and developed strong chemistry with Burns in the bearded blue liner's second season back on defense.
San Jose arguably was at its deepest in net, too. Alex Stalock struggled as the team's backup, and was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal that brought James Reimer to the Sharks. Reimer proved to be exactly what the Sharks needed, posting a .938 save percentage and three shutouts in eight starts for San Jose down the stretch. As the unquestioned starter, Jones won more games (37) and had a higher regular-season save percentage (.918) than he has since. He also matched the franchise record for playoff shutouts (three), back-stopping the team to the Cup Final.
Oh yeah, there's that whole "winning the Western Conference" thing, which no Sharks team ever did before or has done since. That run, which included a revenge win over the Kings in the first round, counts for something.
Why they're not
It would be unfair to call the Sharks' 24th season pedestrian, considering it ended with an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. But, there arguably were more impressive San Jose teams which didn't make it that far in the postseason.
Twelve regular seasons in Sharks history ended with more points than the 2015-16 campaign. San Jose had a better goal-differential in seven seasons, scored more goals in 10, allowed fewer in 12 and won more games in six. Those teams ahead of the 2015-16 squad didn't make it to the Final, of course, but they didn't have the same postseason path as these Sharks.
The Kings, like the Sharks, also were coming off a year in which they missed the playoffs, and weren't the same team that reverse-swept San Jose two seasons prior. The Nashville Predators pushed the Sharks in a seven-game Stanley Cup playoff second-round series, but Nashville's first-round upset of the Anaheim Ducks meant the Sharks avoided a team that won the Pacific Division and beat them three out of four times in the regular season. The St. Louis Blues, whom the Sharks eliminated in the Western Conference final, did finish the regular season with the third-most points. Still, facing St. Louis meant San Jose avoided the Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn-led Dallas Stars.
The Pittsburgh Penguins posed a real challenge in the Stanley Cup Final, utilizing superior depth and speed en route to eliminating the Sharks in a six-game series. While Pittsburgh and San Jose were close on the scoreboard, the Penguins controlled 54.7 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts and 62.2 percent of the high-danger chances. Jones kept the Sharks in that series, but the Penguins clearly were the better team.
No team wins a Stanley Cup without any luck, but the circumstances of the Sharks' run to the Final are worth taking into account.
Of course, so is the end result. Being the second-to-last team standing at the end of a playoff run, as the 2015-16 Sharks were, is better than any other team that has worn the uniform to date.
The Cup Final appearance also represented something of a culmination for the much-maligned Thornton and Marleau, who bore the bulk of the criticism over the previous decade as the Sharks failed to make it out of the conference final. No two players have played more games for San Jose, and it was fitting that they were on the team for the franchise's first appearance on the NHL's biggest stage -- even if it came closer to the end of their careers rather than the middle of their prime.
Had Thornton, Marleau and the Sharks lifted the Cup three years ago, the 2015-16 team undoubtedly would top this list -- as they surely do for many San Jose fans. But the 2015-16 season ended without a championship, just as every campaign that preceded it and subsequently has followed.
We firmly are in the highly-subjective nit-picking portion of this series, but that leaves just enough room for another team to take the top spot.