Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Aging core of roster

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Aging core of roster

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 continue with the aging roster.

Father Time comes for us all. Sooner or later, it's going to come for the Sharks.

It's not as if the concept of aging only applies to San Jose. Obviously, that's not the case. But one could make the case the Sharks are running out of time much quicker than most other NHL teams.

Simply put, San Jose's best players, on average, are older than their counterparts. Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture are already in their thirties. Martin Jones and Erik Karlsson will join them next January and May, respectively. Evander Kane just turned 28, currently in the thick of his prime.

Then there's the matter of Joe Thornton. He's not technically under contract, but his pending return to the Sharks is the worst-kept secret in hockey. He's 40, with a couple of fairly recent serious knee injuries.

Other than Thornton, all of the aforementioned players are signed for at least the next five seasons. At that point, one can assume they'll all be on the downside of their careers, at best.

Once that core departs, who are the Sharks? What is their identity? Right now, it's too soon to know.

Now, it's not like all of San Jose's top players are dinosaurs. Tomas Hertl is 25. Kevin Labanc is 23. Timo Meier has the look of a prototypical power forward at the ripe age of 22. One would imagine those three will form a considerable portion of the Sharks' core for years to come. And, there are several promising young prospects like Mario Ferraro and Ryan Merkley blossoming in the lower levels.

Still, it's worth noting that Labanc is due to become a restricted free agent at the end of the coming season. Given San Jose's salary constraints, the Sharks run the risk of losing him if he plays well and is rewarded with a considerable offer. The point being: We know who the Sharks are now, but the future -- even just a handful of years down the line -- is a big mystery.

As such, San Jose's aging roster is one of the greatest threats to its ability to win a Stanley Cup in the near future.

[RELATED: Why 2021 expansion draft is threat to Sharks' Cup hopes]

Look around the Western Conference. Teams like the Oilers, Coyotes, Blackhawks and Avalanche haven't made much noise in recent years, but they should all be on the upswing with rosters littered with recent high draft picks. Across the league, young players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have taken over the reins, and you can fully expect their teams to be contending for many years to come.

The Sharks don't have that future certainty. The present is what they can bank on, and if they don't win a Cup with this core, there's no telling how long they might have to wait.

Bob Boughner urges Sharks to 'man up' after shutout loss to Avalanche


Bob Boughner urges Sharks to 'man up' after shutout loss to Avalanche

Just when you think the Sharks have figured things out, they drop a couple games in a row and look really bad in the process.

After beating the Blue Jackets and Stars at home last week, San Jose headed to Arizona and lost 6-3 on Tuesday night. Two days later, it got even worse for Bob Boughner's club as the Avalanche shut out the Sharks 4-0 on Thursday night.

San Jose heads to Vancouver to face the Canucks on Saturday before getting eight days off due to the NHL All-Star break.

For Boughner, it's time for his club to put up or shut up.

"I think it's crucial for us," Boughner told reporters in Colorado. "I think Vancouver, a team that's in the division and ahead of us, before we get into this break and end it off on the right note, we felt really good about ourselves and the way we were playing before this trip and things haven't gone our way for the first two games.

"I think it's time to man up. We've got too many guys that are not on the same page right now in the last two games and we're not a good enough team to do that. We proved that we can play with the best teams if we play the right way and we've got all 20 guys going and stick to the plan. But when we don't, we're average at best."

The Sharks are in danger of missing the playoffs for just the second time since the 2003-04 season, and Brenden Dillon understands every game the rest of the way is vitally important.

"Yeah, it's a division game, it's a team we're chasing and I think all these games we've got to have that playoff mindset of do-or-die mentality going in and show some desperation," Dillon told reporters. "A lot of these teams are battling, whether that's for playoff spots or home-ice or whatever it is in the divisions. But esepcially against Vancouver, a good team that's going well, so we've got to finish on a high."

[RELATED: Boughner reacts to Vegas hiring DeBoer]

After the loss to the Avs, the Sharks sit at 21-24-4 with 33 games remaining. They are nine points out of a wild-card spot, but every loss chips away at their margain for error.

If they don't turn things around in a hurry, it will be a long summer in San Jose.

Peter DeBoer will use lessons learned with Sharks to help Golden Knights

Peter DeBoer will use lessons learned with Sharks to help Golden Knights

Peter DeBoer spent four-plus seasons leading the Sharks. He coached them to Stanley Cup Final and another Western Conference Final berth.

But messages get stale and general manager Doug Wilson made the decision to relieve DeBoer of his duties in December with the Sharks sitting at 15-16-2. A month later, DeBoer now finds himself at the helm of the Sharks' archrival -- the Vegas Golden Knights. 

DeBoer was hired Wednesday, replacing Gerrard Gallant who was fired after the Golden Knights fell out of the playoff picture. 

In his first comments since being announced as head coach, DeBoer said he thinks he can take some lessons he learned in San Jose and apply them to his new club.

"The one thing I learned in San Jose is if you can walk into a locker room with good character and good people that you can find your way through the turbulent waters," DeBoer said after the Golden Knights' morning skate. "I think that's probably the case here. You got a real good group of men that care, and we'll find our way through it."

In the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Golden Knights find themselves at 24-19-6, just behind the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Vegas entered the season with Stanley Cup aspirations. While they have underachieved to this point, DeBoer led the Sharks to a similar turnaround a few years back. 

"This is a team that the goal is to win the Stanley Cup," DeBoer said. "They are one of those teams. I feel like we've been one of those teams in San Jose the last four or five years. That's the goal. I can tell you that the year we went to the Final with San Jose, December or January we were right around .500, you know, spinning our tires a little bit. We found a way to get it going in the right direction. The list is endless of teams that are in this situation at some point or another. It's one of the things I'll talk to the players about.

"A little bit of adversity, I think is always a good thing. it's just how you deal with it." 

[RELATED: Why Sharks should go after Gallant]

DeBoer was well-liked in the Sharks' locker room and his firing left the players stunned and shocked.

Eight months ago, Gallant called DeBoer a "clown" before the Sharks and Golden Knights played a memorable Game 7 in their first-round playoff series.

Now, DeBoer will be tasked with helping Vegas do what he couldn't in San Jose. Win it all.