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Sharks jersey retirements: Why Owen Nolan should be honored first

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AP

Sharks jersey retirements: Why Owen Nolan should be honored first

Editor’s Note: The Sharks are the only team in the Pacific Division -- other than the nascent Vegas Golden Knights -- who have not raised the jersey of a former player to the rafters. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the cases of the five likeliest candidates to have the Sharks’ first retired number. We continue with former captain Owen Nolan. 

Owen Nolan owns a couple of “firsts” in Sharks history, but none are as cool as being on the cover of a video game. 

Nolan became the first Shark to score 80-plus points and 40-plus goals in a single season when he scored 84 and 44, respectively, during the 1999-00 season. He ranked sixth and second in the NHL in those categories that season, leading San Jose to a first-round upset of the President’s Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

That season landed the power forward on the cover of EA Sports’ “NHL 2001” the following fall, making him the first San Jose player to earn a spot on the box of either EA Sports’ annual game or 2K Sports’ now-defunct “NHL 2K” series. Joe Thornton followed in Nolan’s footsteps -- landing on the “NHL 2K7” cover -- but Nolan was, in many ways, the Sharks’ first real star. 

Let’s examine the case for, and against, retiring Nolan’s No. 11 jersey first. 

The case for

Nolan became the first Sharks player to appear in multiple All-Star Games while playing for San Jose, and he still ranks second in franchise history -- behind defenseman Brent Burns -- with four All-Star appearances. He also captained the team for parts of five seasons, and only Patrick Marleau can say the same. 

From Nolan’s first game with the Sharks (Oct. 28, 1995) until his last (March 1, 2003), he scored more goals (206) than all but 26 NHL players and more points (451) than all but 38. That might not seem gaudy, but Pat Falloon, San Jose’s leading scorer in the four seasons prior to Nolan’s midseason arrival during the 1995-96 season, tied for 126th in the NHL in points (159) in the aforementioned pre-Nolan era.

He led the Sharks as they transitioned from annual also-ran into perennial playoff contender, captaining the first team in franchise history to win a division title in 2001-02 and just the third to even win a playoff series in 1999-2000. San Jose would not advance to the Western Conference Final until 2003-04 -- a year after Nolan was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs -- but the Sharks’ success with Nolan wearing the “C” helped lay the foundation. 

By the time Nolan left the Sharks, he had 101 more points and 57 more goals than any other player in franchise history. He was the most impactful player in San Jose’s first decade and change, and that’s worth honoring. 

The case against

It’s not Nolan’s fault, but he has since been surpassed on the Sharks’ all-time lists. He now ranks fifth in goals -- behind Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Thornton and Logan Couture -- and sixth in points. He understandably has fallen down the games-played chart, too, and Tomas Hertl needs to play 164 games over his remaining three years under contract to push Nolan out of the top 10. 

Nolan is right around there on the Sharks’ playoff points list, tying for ninth in goals (15) and ranking 13th in points (27) in San Jose’s postseason history. His tenure marked a turning point for the franchise, but he was never able to advance out of the second round in five playoff appearances in teal. One player does not make a team, but other Sharks have come closer to ending the franchise’s Stanley Cup drought. 

Jersey retirements do not, and should not, have a higher standard than Hockey Hall of Fame induction, but some of Nolan’s successors accomplished more and over a longer period of time than he did in San Jose. Although he seems like a lock for a jersey retirement at some point, it’s fair to wonder if he should be first in line. 

[RELATED: Sharks fans vote original teal as franchise's best-ever jersey]

Verdict

For a certain generation of Sharks fans, Nolan is why they fell in love with the team. The called shot in the 1997 All-Star Game, the center-ice slap shot in Game 7 against the Blues in 2000 and Nolan’s presence on the “NHL 2001” cover all contribute to a largely unmatched legacy in San Jose. 

But a few players have exceeded his accomplishments as a Shark, and are better candidates to get their number retired first. That discrepancy can largely be chalked up to timing, as Nolan just happened to precede an era in which San Jose joined the NHL’s elite. 

Nolan’s Sharks tenure is an important milestone on the journey, however, and one that ultimately should be honored with his No. 11 jersey hanging in SAP Center’s rafters. It just won’t be the first one.

Which Sharks should have their jersey retired first?

The case for -- and against -- Evgeni Nabokov's jersey retirement

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

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USATSI

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.