The Sharks enter the 2021 NHL season with a lot more mystery than sure things. What exactly will this team look like after winning just 29 games, tied for the lowest in the Western Conference, and failing to make the playoffs last season?
NBC Sports' Pierre McGuire is wondering the exact same thing.
If these new-look Sharks struggle out of the gate, it might be time for a rebuild in San Jose. In fact, McGuire believes general manager Doug Wilson already has started on one.
"I think they've already started on a rebuild, if you want to know the truth," McGuire said to reporters during a conference call on Monday. "They're counting on some young guys to step in there and perform. Whether it's a Mario Ferraro on defense ... how much tread is on the tires of Marc-Edouard Vlasic? How much tread is on the tires of Brent Burns? Will Erik Karlsson be 100 percent?
"I think there's tons of questions they have to answer."
Kevin Labanc also was mentioned by McGuire as a player who must be better this season.
Last season was the first the Sharks didn't qualify for the playoffs since 2014-15. Truth be told, this is a much different looking team than the squad that reached the Western Conference finals just two years ago. And it all starts with leadership.
Bob Boughner no longer has the interim tag. He now is the leading voice as the Sharks' head coach. Patrick Marleau is back, but in a diminished role at 41 years old. Joe Pavelski is gone, having signed with the Dallas Stars in July 2019. The biggest change, of course, is Joe Thornton not wearing teal anymore. Thornton signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple in October after 15 seasons in San Jose.
"Not bringing Joe Thornton back, I think that opens up a lot of leadership potential for Tomas Hertl or Timo Meier," McGuire said. "I think Doug Wilson's very well aware of what he's got on his roster, and it's not one of the better rosters in the league. I think he knows that.
"You don't have Joe Pavelski there, you don't have Joe Thornton there. Things have changed internally significantly. They've had to make some tough decisions."
The Sharks are in the stacked West Division for the upcoming 56-game schedule. If they get off to a slow start, perhaps more change is in store.