Sharks

Shark Week: Why San Jose's 2008-09 team is best in franchise history

Shark Week: Why San Jose's 2008-09 team is best 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 2008-09 Sharks.

The best team in Sharks history didn't win a playoff series. 

The Sharks won more games (53) and accrued more points (117) than any other San Jose team before or since, and posted a better goal differential (plus-53) than all but one. They won the first -- and only -- President's Trophy in franchise history, out-pacing the reigning Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings (112 points) and a Boston Bruins team that picked up more points (116) than all but two in their storied history to that point. 

San Jose also matched its quickest elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs, losing in six games to the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round. It was just the fourth time since the President's Trophy was first given in 1985-86 that the NHL's top seed had lost in the first round, and the first since the Sharks upset the St. Louis Blues in the 1999-00 season.

Both of these things can be true without invalidating the other. With that in mind, here's a look back at the best team in franchise history: the 2008-09 Sharks. 

Why they're the best

After losing in the second round of the playoffs for the third straight season in 2007-08, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson had a splashy summer. He hired former Red Wings assistant Todd McLellan as the team's head coach, and acquired veteran defensemen Rob Blake and Dan Boyle in a two-day span.

Those acquisitions, a bounce-back season from Patrick Marleau (then-career-high 38 goals), Joe Thornton at the peak of his powers and career years from homegrown players like Marc-Edouard Vlasic (36 points), Christian Ehrhoff (42), Ryane Clowe (52), Milan Michalek (57), Joe Pavelski (59) and Devin Setoguchi (65) gave San Jose a deep complement of skaters. That season's blue line could give the 2018-19 squad's defense a run for its money, too, as a franchise-record four defensemen scored at least 35 points. Evgeni Nabokov was solid as the team's starter, while Brian Boucher (.917 save percentage) was steady behind him.

The result of all that talent and McLellan's system was the Sharks' best puck-possession team since the NHL began sharing shot-attempt data in 2007. Among the Sharks teams that have taken the ice since 2007-08 and across the regular season and playoffs, the 2008-09 iteration ranks first or second in controlling 5-on-5 shot attempts, unblocked attempts, shots and expected goals, according to Corsica Hockey. San Jose steamrolled teams that season, and its 53 wins in 2008-09 have only been surpassed 10 times since the post-lockout 2005-06 season. 

Why they're not

Poor finishing -- the Sharks' 5-on-5 shooting percentage (6.74) in 2008-09 is worse than all but one of their 82-game regular seasons since 2007 -- doomed San Jose against Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller (.957 save percentage in the first round) in the postseason. The Ducks had more than enough talent to take advantage, with three future Hall of Famers (Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer) plus a formidable top line of Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in a career year in order to spring the first-round upset. 

As dominant as the Sharks were, there were cracks in the armor during the record-setting regular season. The team's forward depth was a concern all season, as Jonathan Cheechoo -- diminished by injuries -- and Mike Grier were the only forwards outside of the top six to score more than 20 points. San Jose acquired third-line stalwart Travis Moen from Anaheim at the trade deadline, but he didn't give the Sharks' bottom six much of a boost. McLellan cycled in veterans (Claude Lemieux and Jeremy Roenick), enforcers (Brad Staubitz and Jody Shelley) and young players (Tom Cavanagh, Lukas Kaspar, Jamie McGinn, Tomas Plihal and Ryan Vesce) into the lineup throughout the regular season, but didn't find much of a mix. When the top six went cold in the playoffs, San Jose's depth couldn't make up for it.

Much like their lineup, the Sharks' record-setting season was also top-heavy. Twenty-five of the team's 53 wins came in the first 30 games. Over the last 52, San Jose went 25-15-9. Boucher regressed in his final 12 starts, posting a .906 save percentage over his final 12 starts. Nabokov, meanwhile, couldn't match Hiller in the first round, and his .890 save percentage that postseason is sixth-worst in Sharks history among goalies who played in at least four games in a playoff run. 

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

Verdict

The 2008-09 Sharks had flaws, and their season ended in embarrassment manner that no other in franchise history has really matched. There is no bigger letdown than losing in the first round after winning the President's Trophy, but it's worth noting that San Jose's win and subsequent first-round loss haven't been an uncommon occurrence in this era. 

Of the 22 President's Trophy winners that preceded the Sharks, three lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Of the 10 that have followed, three lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since 2008-09, only two President's Trophy winners have even made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Parity is at an all-time high in the NHL, and the gaps between a top seed and an eighth seed are still thin enough to be exploited in the Small Sample Size Theater that is the league's postseason. Four-to-seven games is enough room for variance, and the Tampa Bay Lightning learned that the hard way just this past spring. 

Over an 82-game season, those margins matter much more. Raising the Cup each June is every team's ultimate goal, but the Sharks not doing so in 2008-09 shouldn't diminish their sustained dominance that season. They were the NHL's best team for 82 games, and they have never been better over 82 games in their team's history. Yes, San Jose was top-heavy and built a large cushion early on, but only four teams since that season have exceeded the Sharks' 117 points. Winning the President's Trophy is an accomplishment, even though it doesn't offer much consolation in a season that ends without a Stanley Cup. 

Since none in San Jose's history have, the best Sharks team to date would always leave a complicated legacy -- no matter which one was selected. Thus, the 2008-09 team is a fitting choice.

A decade ago, the Sharks iced their best team in franchise history and the season ended in disappointment. It doesn't get more complex than that. 

Best teams in Sharks history

No. 5: 2001-02 
No. 4:
2005-06
No. 3: 2018-19
No. 2: 2015-16

Hurricanes poke fun at Petr Mrazek after fighting Sharks' Joe Thornton

Hurricanes poke fun at Petr Mrazek after fighting Sharks' Joe Thornton

Thursday night’s matchup between the Sharks and the Carolina Hurricanes featured quite a ruckus, which began when Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek slashed Sharks veteran Joe Thornton after a play, prompting Thornton to put Mrazek on his back with a vicious forearm shiver.

During Friday morning’s practice, the Hurricanes decided to have some fun with their goalie by drawing an outline of where their net-minder gracefully hit the ice.

Mrazek remained on his back for several minutes after the blow but remained in the game.

[RELATED: What we learned in Sharks' shootout loss vs. Hurricanes]

The Sharks and Thornton may have won the fight, but the Hurricanes won the game 3-2 in a wild shootout.

Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton

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Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton

There was no shortage of electricity in Thursday night's rumble between the Sharks and Hurricanes, which San Jose got a point out of after falling 3-2 in the shootout

But the game really went on the verge of exploding when Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek went after Joe Thornton -- which unleashed some next-level fury that Sharks fans on social media like to refer to as "Angry Joe."

"Jumbo plays hard, and the goalie went after him," Logan Couture said after Thursday's loss. "So, I don't know if the goalie expected to get pushed like he did, but if you're going to go at someone you're probably going to get pushed."

Thornton went to give the puck a nudge as he skated by Carolina's net, realizing a bit late that Mrazek already had frozen it. But it was enough to irk the Canes' netminder, who then attempted to violently slash Thornton and subsequently stood up out of the crease as if to square off with the future Hall of Famer. 

Thornton responded with a half-push, half-punch to Mrazek's face, sending the goalie toppling over backward to the ice. Mrazek remained there as a scrum ensued behind Carolina's net. 

[RELATED: Watch Jumbo send 'Canes goalie to ice with forearm shiver]

"I think it definitely gets your group emotionally engaged in the game when you have a goalie swinging a stick at a guy like, but, as you saw, Joe can take care of himself," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer chuckled. 

Even after Thornton was ushered over to the penalty box to serve two minor penalties, Mrazek was slow to get up off of the ice. The long delay in play left some wondering if Mrazek had a concussion, but he stayed in the game. 

This, of course, raised a couple of mid-game questions. Should Mrazek have come out of the game and gone straight into the league's concussion protocol? Was it actually the fall and not Thornton's force that caused him to labor on the ice for so long? Or, was Mrazek waiting things out so Thornton would receive more discipline?

Sharks goalie Aaron Dell offered up his two cents after the game. "He either got hit really hard and should have gone into concussion protocol or he flopped a bit, but I guess that's the ref's call," Dell said with a shrug.

Mrazek didn't offer up much to the media after the game, calling it a "cheap shot" by Thornton before saying he has suffered hits "worse than those, so it's not bad." So, perhaps we'll never know the real story.

While there is a lot of attention on his tiff with Mrazek, Thornton also deserves credit for playing an incredible game. He led the third line along with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc to one of its most impactful games so far this season, and set up Sorensen for San Jose's first goal on the evening. With the Sharks' road trip continuing with a back-to-back this weekend against the Floridian teams, getting that kind of bottom-six contribution is vital.

"He's playing well," Couture said of Thornton. "We need [the third line]. Can't win with only the top six scoring. Some nights you need the bottom six to score, and I think that line's looked really good."