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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

Why these four Sharks have high chance of cracking NHL roster in camp

Why these four Sharks have high chance of cracking NHL roster in camp

SAN JOSE -- Since hosting their prospect development camp in July, the Sharks have boasted about the players who will challenge for a roster spot at training camp. 

Now that San Jose's preseason officially gets underway Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center, we have a better idea of who has the best shot of making the NHL lineup. Here are four players with a good chance of breaking camp with the Sharks. 

Mario Ferraro, D

The 21-year-old defenseman has skated alongside fellow prospect Ryan Merkley in training camp, but don't be surprised if he gets a look alongside one of San Jose's veterans soon -- or in a few regular-season games. 

Ferraro has been putting on a show since development camp in July. Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. went so far as to call him "one of the most high-energy guys you've ever seen. He does not have a bad day." 

Through both development camp and the start of the preseason, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst product -- who played college hockey alongside Colorado Avalanche blue liner Cale Makar -- has demonstrated a high level of physicality that could make his game very effective on the NHL mainstage. 

Plus, with Radim Simek still rehabbing, there's a chance Ferraro -- as well as familiar faces like Jacob Middleton and Nick DeSimone -- gets a look on the big club's blue line.

Antoine Bibeau, G

Some fans wondered if the San Jose Barracuda netminder would get a look with the Sharks last season when Aaron Dell had some hiccups backing up Martin Jones. After a promising 2018-19 campaign in the AHL, his chances of getting an NHL shot this season appear more likely.

Bibeau started two games with the Toronto Maple Leafs three seasons ago, going 1-1-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. While that isn't exactly a deep body of work, his AHL numbers in San Jose (.912 save percentage in two seasons) are enough to get the Sharks excited about his future with the organization.

Alex True, F

Like Bibeau, True was a player last season some thought would get a crack at the Sharks' roster. In his second campaign with the Barracuda, the 6-foot-5 Dane tallied 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) and was a plus-16 in 68 regular-season games. 

While True has most recently been lumped into a group of young roster hopefuls including Ivan Chekhovich, Sasha Chmelevski and Joachim Blichfeld, the 22-year-old appears to be the readiest to make the leap to the NHL. Those other three still have very promising futures with the Sharks, but our guess is they'll see more playing time with the Barracuda first.

The Sharks have spots to fill at forward and could greatly benefit from adding a big-bodied scorer to their bottom six. If True continues to have a good camp, he could get an NHL look in his third season with the organization. 

[RELATED: Why Sharks confident they can make up for lost firepower]

Jonny Brodzinski, F

Although not as recognizable of a name as some of the names coming out of the Barracuda, Brodzinksi likely will get a crack at the Sharks' roster ahead of some of the organization's top prospects. He's only on a one-year contract, and he has previous NHL experience,

Through three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, the 26-year-old Minnesota native scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) and a plus-6 rating over the course of 54 NHL games. He also tallied 108 total points in 156 games with the AHL's Ontario Reign. 

Given the aforementioned holes up front, playing a consistent AHL scorer like Brodzinski could make the most sense -- at least to start the season off. 

Tuesday night's preseason opener should prove instructive. Brodzinski has skated on Joe Thornton's wing in practice, and playing well there in an actual game setting should lift Brodzinski's chances of cracking the Sharks' opening-night lineup. 

Sharks counting on certain familiar faces to step up in coming season

Sharks counting on certain familiar faces to step up in coming season

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks know there are new opportunities on the table ahead of the 2019-20 season, and not just for the new crop of fresh faces that have entered training camp. Some more familiar faces have the chance to step up and take on bigger roles for San Jose.

The question now is: Are they up to that challenge?

Here are just a few players who have the opportunity to step it up big time ahead of the new campaign:

Tim Heed

The Swedish defenseman was one of two players last season who were tasked with filling in when Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek both came out of the lineup with injuries. Now, after inking a one-year deal with the Sharks over the summer, Heed has the opportunity to really make an impact.

Heed spent some time playing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic last year, a pairing that could be revisited now that Vlasic's former de facto partner, Justin Braun, was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. With Karlsson likely remaining linked up with Brenden Dillon and Radim Simek being paired back up with Brent Burns when he returns to action, Heed could find himself back on Vlasic's right side. 

But Heed isn't a shoo-in for the job. San Jose acquired right-handed blueliner Dalton Prout over the summer and has a couple promising young defensemen coming up the pipeline. How Heed skates over the next couple of weeks could say a lot about where he'll be in the lineup at the start of the new season.

Melker Karlsson

Speaking of Justin Braun, San Jose will miss his presence on the penalty kill. His absence affords players like Karlsson the chance to step up and help make the Sharks' kill as dominant as it was at the very beginning of last season. (Remember, even when the team wasn't playing particularly well, their penalty kill was still pretty darn good.)

But despite being a guy coach Peter DeBoer loves having as an option to move throughout the lineup, Karlsson still has to be better. His numbers have taken a bit of a dip over the last couple of seasons, and there is going to be competition within the bottom-six for a starting spot. 

Any kind of boost in Karlsson's game will help the team out.

Antti Suomela

After a couple of good games at the start of last season, the Finnish forward was reassigned to the AHL and had trouble getting things going with the Barracuda. When NBC Sports California caught up with Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer midway through last season, he said Suomela was still figuring things out.

“With him, the work ethic is there, and he has a big compete to his game,” Sommer complimented back in January. “I think he just has to figure out the North American game. Things happen a lot quicker here than where he was at. But he’s picking it up.”

With roster spots up for grabs this preseason, this is the opportune time for Suomela to put what he's learned on tape.

[RELATED: Why Sharks confident they can make up for lost firepower]

Aaron Dell

Not to sound like a broken record, but neither Martin Jones nor Aaron Dell played particularly well last season and that has to change if the Sharks are going to remain a threat in the West. Dell, in particular, has a prime chance this preseason to right the ship. 

As Dell told NBC Sports California on the first day of training camp, the previous season is in the past regardless of how good or bad it was. 

"You're only as good as your last game, that's kind of how it is," he explained. "They want to see how you are now and how it was then doesn't really matter. You always have to perform."

DeBoer told the press he wants to give both goalies the chance to get a couple of tune-up games in before the regular season starts. That being said, the team's netminding prospects will get a look at some point as well.