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 2018-19 Sharks.
The Sharks' most recent NHL season began with a bang before any games were played. They traded for superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson on the eve of training camp, adding a two-time Norris Trophy winner to a blue line that already had 2016-17 Norris winner Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic playing leading roles.
Karlsson needed time to adjust, and a series of groin injuries sapped his effectiveness down the stretch in his first season in teal. The Sharks didn't click for the entirety of the season, but the stretches in which they did gave a glimpse of the team's elite potential.
For instance, San Jose rattled off a 16-4-2 record from Dec. 2, 2018, until Jan. 16, 2019 -- the last game Karlsson played before missing 27 of the team's final 33 games -- and dominated the record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-2 win right in the middle of that stretch.
Even though Karlsson and others weren't healthy, the Sharks' season ended just two wins shy of the franchise's second-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. It marked the beginning of a new era, since Karlsson ultimately re-signed on an eight-year contract before free agency began, and the end of another, since it marked captain Joe Pavelski's final season with the team.
Here's a look back at the 2018-19 Sharks, the third-best team in franchise history.
Why they're the best
If there was a deeper team on offense in Sharks history than last season’s squad, you'd have a hard time proving it. San Jose set a franchise record in goals (289), with nine players scoring at least 15. That also set a franchise record, and tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the NHL-lead in 2018-19.
The Sharks also were one of the best 5-on-5 puck-possession teams, finishing no worse than fifth in shot-attempt percentage (first), unblocked shot-attempt percentage (second), shots-for percentage (second), expected goals-for percentage (second), scoring-chance percentage (second) and high-danger chance percentage (fifth). Icing one of Burns -- who finished as a Norris Trophy finalist -- and Karlsson on most shifts helped, but so did the team's forward depth.
San Jose was deep down the middle with Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton centering their own lines, and perhaps deeper on the wing with Pavelski, Timo Meier, Evander Kane, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen all hitting the aforementioned 15-goal threshold. Joonas Donskoi (14) wasn't far behind, and trade-deadline acquisition Gustav Nyquist gave the team even more skill.
Why they're not
At their best, the Sharks were as good as any team in the league last season. But San Jose couldn't harness that for the entirety of the season, and it struggled to overcome poor performances in net and injuries to Karlsson and defenseman Radim Simek during the regular season.
Although the Sharks scored more goals than every team but the Lightning and Calgary Flames, they allowed the 11th-most. Goaltenders Martin Jones (.896 save percentage) and Aaron Dell (.886) had the worst seasons of their professional careers, and no team had a worse overall save percentage during the regular season than the Sharks (.889).
Jones just about singlehandedly kept the Sharks' playoff hopes alive with a stellar performance in Game 6 of San Jose's Stanley Cup playoff first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights, but he book-ended a .916 in seven second-round games against the Colorado Avalanche with a .904 against in seven against Vegas and an .869 in six against the eventual-Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
Still, the Sharks were good enough to overcome Jones and Dell's struggles during the regular season -- up to a point. San Jose won six in a row after Karlsson aggravated his groin injury in late February, but proceeded to lose nine of its final 12 games after Simek's rookie season ended when he tore his ACL in mid-March.
Up one point in the race for the Western Conference's top seed at the time of Simek's injury, the Sharks finished the regular season six points shy of the Flames. San Jose's long list of playoff injuries didn't help matters, either, and another Sharks season ended without a Stanley Cup.
The 2018-19 Sharks surely would top a list of the most talented teams in franchise history, even with the goaltenders' struggles and Karlsson's injury limiting him. That San Jose advanced further than it had in all but two seasons in franchise history is a testament to the roster Doug Wilson put together, as well as the team's resilience (and good fortune), but the Sharks' 27th season showed that talent can only overcome so much.
As a result, a third-place ranking feels wholly appropriate. Back-to-back seven-game series against the Knights and Avalanche provided plenty of iconic playoff moments, and Sharks fans won't forget either Game 7 any time soon. Yet "what if" likely will be asked in the same breath.
The same question can be asked about every team that preceded them, of course, but it won't carry the same weight.