Sharks

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2018-19 team ranks in franchise history

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2018-19 team ranks in franchise history

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.

[RELATED: Projecting Sharks' protected list for 2021 expansion draft]

Verdict

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. 

Best teams in Sharks history

No. 5: 2001-02 
No. 4: 2005-06

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

The Sharks aren’t used to losing. Say what you want about the team’s inability to complete a NHL playoff run and hoist a Stanley Cup, but there’s no doubt this team has been an excellent regular-season unit and a perennial contender for more than two decades.

The Sharks last finished the regular season below .500 during 2002-03 season, going on a 15-season run of winning hockey snapped this year. The Sharks were terrible despite plenty of star power, unable to improve on an awful start that got Peter DeBoer fired and left the team languishing in the Pacific Division cellar.

The Sharks didn’t handle it well.

Goalie Martin Jones was honest about that fact in an interview with SportsNet’s Elliott Friedman.

“When it started to spiral, we went our own ways instead of coming together,” Jones said in a column published May 14. “It’s something that will be addressed moving forward.”

Airing dirty laundry, even with a constructive spin, isn’t always welcome in the aftermath of a season gone awry. Jones’ teammates, however, had no issue confirming the fact the Sharks frayed a bit as losses started to mount.

“When you’re losing and things aren't going your way, frustrating builds and it builds quickly,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said. “With us, a lot of guys in our room have never gone through a season like that. Some may have years ago, but not recently. From top to bottom I don’t think anyone handled it the best possible way. I’m obviously in that group. There’s a lot that I think I can learn from.”

[RELATED: What Couture learned from first season as Sharks captain]

The Sharks were tested during a difficult campaign and they didn’t always pass, but the veteran leaders are determined to use it as a teachable moment to handle adversity better in the future.

“It’s easy for guys to be good guys if everything’s going well, but you don’t really grow from that,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “You know what this feels like now. A lot of guys hadn’t been through a lot of that before. It’s not easy. Guys here know it’s hard. They have grown through a culture that has been very successful through a lot of work and a mental edge. It’s important not to lose that mental edge. It was not fun. There aren’t a lot of positives you can take from [season], other than not wanting to go back there. It’s frustrating. There’s nothing great about it.”

[RELATED: Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search]

Defenseman Erik Karlsson wasn’t happy about the team’s response to adversity, but he didn’t consider it out of the ordinary or something that frayed relationships that could linger into future seasons. The Sharks’ goal is to contain a bad campaign and make it the outlier their history suggests it could be.

“When things don’t go your way individually and as a team, it’s nothing more than natural that you start thinking in different directions and looking for solutions that might not be there,” Karlsson said. “Overthinking is one of the biggest mistakes you can make but something we all do in tough situations. That’s especially true when you don’t feel like you are doing enough or playing up to your own standards.

“Anything that happened this year was a normal reaction you would’ve gotten on any team in any sport. … I didn’t see anything alarming, and I don’t really judge the things that happened this year. You get to see a lot of different sides of people you hadn’t seen before, and you learn a lot about yourself. This year is something for each individual to learn from when looking at the situation and what they could do differently if a situation like this creeps up again.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

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Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

Sharks captain Logan Couture thanked Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu for speaking out against racism in hockey, tweeting a note Saturday that said the sport and society "are only scraping the surface in what desperately needs fixing."

"Racism exists in society, it also exists in hockey," Couture wrote. "That's a fact. Growing up in this game is a privilege. [At times,] I think most of us have been at fault for turning a blind eye when it comes to racism. It cannot continue."

Kane later tweeted his appreciation of Couture's message.

Kane, who is black, has become increasingly vocal speaking out against racism within -- and beyond -- the sport in the past year. In September, Kane told TSN 1040 in Vancouver that hockey lagged behind other professional sports in diversity and addressing racism after fan told him to "stick to basketball" in an Instagram comment. Kane called a story in "The Players Tribune" earlier this month authored by Aliu, whose revelation that Bill Peters directed racial slurs towards him in the AHL led to the Calgary Flames firing their now-former coach late last year, a must-read for everyone involved in hockey.

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody Monday outraged Kane, tweeting that video of the incident made his "[f---ing] blood boil." Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, could be heard on video saying "I can't breathe" as former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck while three other officers at the scene looked on. Chauvin and the three officers were fired Tuesday, and Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

[RELATED: Kerr says he, white people have to do more to fight racism]

Kane said Friday in an interview on ESPN's "First Take" that white athletes couldn't leave speaking up against systematic racism to their black peers. While Kane felt supported by his teammates, he told "Writers Bloc" on CJCL in Toronto later that day that hockey's team-first culture often encourages silence on a wide range of issues in the sport and outside of it.

“Is it going to change? I hope," Kane said (H/T Sportsnet's Sonny Sachdeva). "I’m going to try to be a part of the solution and process in creating that change. But … when it comes to social injustices and racism in hockey, it requires change at the top. Because, you know, that’s the only way true change is going to take place. At the top. Because it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.

“And until things change at the top ... until they make the necessary change to condemn these sort of acts and mindsets … and really weed out that type of thought process, we’re going to be stuck in the same position we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often publicly comment, said in a rare statement Friday that the Sharks applauded Kane's "rational and thoughtful response to the terrible tragedy" of Floyd's death. Defenseman Mario Ferraro retweeted the statement, and Couture's note is the first tweeted by one of Kane's San Jose teammates in support.