Sharks

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.

Sharks' Aaron Dell reveals extra motivation ahead of 2019 NHL season

Sharks' Aaron Dell reveals extra motivation ahead of 2019 NHL season

SAN JOSE - Nothing can motivate a team at the start of training camp quite like missing out on making the Stanley Cup Final the previous season. 

As Sharks netminder Aaron Dell told NBC Sports California on the first day of training camp, coming that close can even make it difficult to get your summer vacation started.

"I think you're a little bitter for a little bit longer than normal when you get that close," he said. "I think it gives you a little bit more motivation to get started, actually. I think you get that little bit of an edge."

But the carryover from last season stops there. It's a brand new season, and Dell knows he has to put his previous campaign in the rearview mirror and get back to work -- which includes solidifying his job as Team Teal's defacto backup netminder.

"Every year when you come in, the last year is kind of a wash, regardless of how it went," Dell said of proving himself yet again at the start of the season. "It's kind of a 'what have you done for me lately?' kind of thing." 

Both Dell and starter Martin Jones experienced a downturn in performance during the 2018-19 season. Part of the problem came from defensive breakdowns in front of the crease -- a problem the rest of the team has acknowledged on more than one occasion.

"The foundation of our game since I got here has always been about defending well," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said. "We did score last year, we did give up too much in that area. And I thought we started to find a little bit of a happy medium down the stretch and through the playoffs."

Nevertheless, both netminders ultimately gave up more than they had in past years, ending the regular season with save percentages under .900. Dell himself went from registering a 2.64 goals-against average through 22 starts in the 2017-18 season to a 3.17 through 20 starts during the 2018-19 campaign. There's understandable motivation to get those numbers down with a new season about to start.

The 30-year-old Airdrie, Alberta native may be feeling a little more heat to up his game up given he's heading into the final season of his current two-year contract with the Sharks. Not to mention the team is particularly excited about the crop of young players they have coming into this year's camp and might feel inclined to give one of the up-and-coming goalies a look. San Jose Barracuda starter Antoine Bibeau has two NHL games on his resume from when he was part of the Toronto Maple Leafs' organization, having gone 1-1-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average.

But Dell's doing the same thing to get ready for this season as every other one -- even with that "bit of an edge" from his team narrowly missing a Stanley Cup Final bid last spring.

"You try not to let it (affect you)," Dell said. "You try to do the same things every year, do what works for you. But I think when you get in that situation, you find extra things you could've been better at."

[RELATED: Sharks preparing for Oct. 2 clash with Vegas]

"I'm just excited to get going," Dell summarized with a smile. "Just excited to get some games going and get back into it again."

Sharks preparing for all-out brawl with Vegas in 2019-20 season opener

Sharks preparing for all-out brawl with Vegas in 2019-20 season opener

SAN JOSE - Nevermind that opening night is still over two weeks away. The Sharks are already expecting it to be quite contentious.

San Jose is set to open up their 2019-20 campaign on Oct. 2 at T-Mobile Arena against the Vegas Golden Knights. It will be the first time the two teams will officially see each other since Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals when the Sharks overcame a three-goal deficit in Game 7 to ultimately defeat Vegas 5-4 in overtime.

Sure, San Jose and Vegas have a couple of tune-up games slotted during preseason play. But given that most of the veterans from last year's rosters probably won't see each other until that opening game, the real test will be when they face off in the season-opener.

Long story short: There could be an all-out brawl in Sin City on opening night.

"It'll be exciting, hopefully we don't kill each other before the season," Tomas Hertl said with a chuckle when he addressed the media on the first day of training camp. 

Although the Golden Knights have only been in the league for two seasons, their rivalry with the Sharks has become as bitter as that of a long-standing Original Six stand-off. Even before these squads squared off in the first round of last season's Stanley Cup playoffs, their contests had become combative and physical -- if not also a breeding ground for off-ice smack talk, as demonstrated between Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves, and between coaches Peter DeBoer and Gerard Gallant

"We've built a rivalry, it started right away," Hertl said. "The first few games (this preseason) will prove if we're ready because we play against Vegas in the week three times."

Despite the big Game 7 win last April, the Sharks know their upcoming matchups with the Golden Knights won't be walks in the park. San Jose and Vegas split last year's regular-season series 2-2-0, but both of the Sharks' wins were by a one-goal margin. Vegas defeated the Sharks handily on two occasions, shutting San Jose out 6-0 on Nov. 24 and 7-3 on March 30. 

The matchup on Oct. 2 will also be the first time the Sharks will face the Golden Knights with their newly-tooled roster. San Jose will be without some of last season's offensive firepower, mainly former captain Joe Pavelski, who's late-game head injury fueled the Sharks' insane come-from-behind victory.

[RELATED: Injury updates on Karlsson, Simek]

Regardless of who the Sharks have in their starting lineup come opening night, they know they have to be ready to grind it out yet again.

"I think we still have to prove we can beat them, not just in the playoffs but in the regular season," Hertl admitted. "We just have to be ready because Vegas will be coming for us."