Sharks

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

Editor's Note: Now that the Blues and Capitals have gotten off the Stanley Cup schneid, there's arguably no NHL franchise more "due" to win a cup than the Sharks. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the five biggest threats to San Jose's championship aspirations in the relatively near future. We begin with the 2021 Expansion Draft.

In less than a month, the Sharks will convene for training camp, marking the beginning of another pursuit of the elusive Stanley Cup.

San Jose has seen each of the last two champions bring an end to lengthy title droughts, an accomplishment for which it hopes to follow suit. The Sharks have been a frequent contender over the last two decades -- having qualified for the playoffs in all but two seasons since 1998 -- including each of the last four under Pete DeBoer.

Given the construct of San Jose's current roster, there's no reason to believe they'll fall precipitously from contention anytime soon. They've got an enviable collection of star players, most of which are locked up long-term. Those players have formed the core of a Cup finalist before, and after pushing the Blues to six games in the conference finals last year, clearly can do so again.

But what if one of those key players that the Sharks have depended on so often -- and will continue to moving forward -- suddenly is no longer around?

That is a legitimate possibility afforded by the upcoming 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, through which the Seattle franchise will join the league as its 32nd team. Which forwards, defensemen and goalies the Sharks might protect have been covered in great detail, as have which players might be exposed.

If someone like Brent Burns or Evander Kane departs San Jose via the expansion draft, that obviously could have a drastic impact on the Sharks' ability to contend.

[RELATED: Why Sharks' defense has Hahn excited for 2019-20 season]

There is another angle to consider, as well. The last time the NHL had an expansion draft, it produced the Sharks' newest and most formidable rival in the Vegas Golden Knights. If the unnamed Seattle franchise -- who will join the Pacific Division -- can capitalize on the expansion draft like Vegas did, that could be yet another daunting intradivision competitor for San Jose, which could make the path to a cup all the more challenging.

The Sharks will lose just one player in the expansion draft, and it won't necessarily be one of the more high-profile players on their roster. Additionally, teams learned from the Vegas expansion draft, and have begun their preparation much further in advance than the last time around, meaning some of the mistakes the Golden Knights capitalized on might not be available to Seattle.

As such, who San Jose loses in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and how good Seattle becomes as a result isn't the biggest threat to the Sharks' championship hopes in the near future -- but as recent history has proven -- it can't be entirely discounted.

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

SAN JOSE - Saturday night's Sharks-Sabres matchup ended up being an entertaining one for sure, with a lot of the action taking place in the final 20 minutes of the game.

And even though San Jose lost 4-3 and had their three-game winning-streak snapped, they still believe that their overall game is headed in the right direction. 

"When I look at seven or eight games that we've played, that's probably one of the better 60-minute efforts we've got," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said afterward. "I think we're getting better. I can tell you, I like where our game's at now a lot better than I did two weeks ago."

Captain Logan Couture agreed, although he wanted to see a different result in Saturday's contest.

"I thought we played well, we could've done some things better," Couture said, giving the opposition the credit they deserve. "They're a very good team. It's no fluke over there that they have their record. They're playing very good hockey. We had an opportunity to beat them, just one more mistake on our end tonight."

One of the biggest problems San Jose ran into was penalty trouble in the second period. Sure, the penalty kill remains dominant and was able to keep Buffalo's potent power play from finding the back of the net. In fact, San Jose's special teams overall played a huge factor in them keeping the game close. But as Couture explained, being down a skater for too long can have a negative effect on a team's even-strength game -- even one with as good of a PK as San Jose has right now.

"It's tough to get in a rhythm," Couture explained. "There were so many penalties. For our line, especially, I think we only had two even-strength shifts in the second."

But the Sharks are happy with how they pushed back late in the game to keep things close. After the Sabres jumped out to a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, the Sharks began creating more chances in their own end to keep the visitors from running away with the game. They traded tallies with Buffalo thanks to two big goals from Tomas Hertl and Marcus Sorensen. Even after Zemgus Girgensons buried the Sabres' fourth goal on the evening, San Jose continued to press and get looks in front of the net as the final few minutes of play expired.

"I liked our resiliency," DeBoer said. "I thought we battled all night."

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The Sharks will get another crack at the Sabres this upcoming Tuesday as they kick off an East Coast swing in Buffalo. San Jose might not be very happy with the mistakes they made on Saturday night, but they can at least see that their overall game his trending in the right direction.

"We still had a couple of bad mistakes, but we have to learn from it and be better," Hertl said. "It's kind of a tough loss but we have to bounce back. We (play) against them in the next game so we have to be ready for them."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE - The Sharks' first standoff of the season against the Sabres was a fast-paced and tight-checking fete that saved most of its drama for the last 20 minutes of play.

But even with a couple of third-period goals to keep things interesting, Team Teal couldn't quite pull this one off against the visiting Buffalo squad and dropped the final game of their homestand 4-3.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's game:

Going to the net

The Sharks might have been better on the defensive side of their game, particularly in their own end. But they struggled throughout Saturday's contest with getting in front of Buffalo's net and generating good shots. In fact, San Jose only tallied one shot on goal through nearly 13 minutes in the second period.

You do have to give San Jose's offense credit for turning it up in the latter part of the game, though. After Casey Mittelstadt's bizarre goal gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead, the Sharks turned things up and notch. They not only got more o-zone time but had a much better net-front presence. It's no wonder they were able to knot the score back up twice in the third period -- even if they weren't able to score the tie-breaking goal and get the win.

Going in for the kill

One of the biggest tests for the Sharks in Saturday's game was to stay out of the penalty box, given they were going up against one of the best power plays in the league. So, naturally, it was a bit of a nail-biter when San Jose got into a little penalty trouble in the second period.

San Jose did succeed in silencing Buffalo's power play, even if it wasn't very pretty. While Martin Jones wasn't quite as sharp on Saturday as he has been as of late, the team in front of him did a good job of halting the Sabres on the man advantage.

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The kid was all right

Noah Gregor didn't score a goal on Saturday night -- even though his new teammates tried to set him up for one. The 21-year-old forward did, however, have a good showing in his NHL debut, displaying a ton of speed as if he was already completely accustomed to the pace of a big-league game.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said on Saturday morning that he would prefer it if one of San Jose's young players would seize the opportunity to be a regular on the team's fourth line with Dylan Gambrell and Melker Karlsson. Gregor only has one game under his belt, but he is already making a good case to stick around for a while.