Editor's Note: For having only existed as an NHL franchise for 27 seasons, the Sharks sure have been involved in a seemingly inordinate number of headline-stealing trades. Some of the greatest players in San Jose franchise history have been acquired via trade, and each has inevitably played a major role in the successful evolution from expansion team to perennial cup contender. This week, NBC Sports California will look back at the five most important trades in Sharks franchise history, beginning with the trade for Owen Nolan.
Like most expansion franchises, the Sharks weren't very good their first handful of seasons in the NHL. After debuting in 1991-92, San Jose reeled off back-to-back last-place finishes in the conference in its first two years of existence. The next two years, the Sharks qualified for the postseason, but lacked the kind of high-end talent to pose a significant threat (don't tell that to the 1993-94 Red Wings).
San Jose went winless over the first 11 games of the 1995-96 season, in what would lay the groundwork for Kevin Constantine's dismissal as head coach. But after the seventh consecutive non-victory to begin the season, the Sharks made one of the most important trades in franchise history that would eventually help establish the perennial playoff team we've come to know today.
On Oct. 26, 1995, San Jose traded defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for winger Owen Nolan, and the Sharks franchise was changed forever.
The trade didn't reap immediate benefits, mind you, at least not for San Jose. The Sharks would go on to a last-place finish that season, over which Nolan tallied a team-leading 29 goals in 72 games. The Avalanche, meanwhile, went on to win their first-ever Stanley Cup, with Ozolinsh contributing 50 points from the blue line.
It wasn't a trade for the now, though. It was about the future.
The next season, San Jose improved by seven victories, and Nolan led the Sharks with 31 goals and 63 points over 72 games, not including his called-shot against Dominik Hasek in the 1997 All-Star Game, for which San Jose was the host. Since that season, the Sharks have missed the playoffs a grand total of two times.
Owen Nolan calls his shot against Hasek 1997 All Star Game pic.twitter.com/5XxcJdJgPl— Classic NHL Clips (@90sNHL) February 8, 2019
While Nolan's numbers weren't as prolific in 1997-98, he ranked second on the team in scoring and led San Jose to a postseason berth. Heading into the next season, Nolan was named the seventh captain in franchise history. Then, during the 1999-00 season, everything clicked.
Playing on a line with recently-acquired center Vincent Damphousse and speedster Jeff Friesen, Nolan experienced the best season of his career, tallying a career-high 44 goals, 40 assists and 84 points in leading the Sharks to an eighth-place regular-season finish in the Western Conference. That pitted them against the President's Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues in the first round, a series most pundits expected to be a sweep at San Jose's expense.
The pundits, of course, were wrong, and Nolan had plenty to do with it.
After dropping the first game in St. Louis, the Sharks won the next three games of the series to put the top seed on the brink, but the Blues battled back to force a Game 7 back at their home barn. Fourth-line winger Ron Stern -- he of four regular-season goals that year -- scored less than three minutes into the game to give San Jose an early lead, one the Sharks would maintain throughout the entire first period. But just before that period came to an end, Nolan scored one of the most memorable goals in franchise history while simultaneously dealing a crushing blow to St. Louis' hopes.
With just over 10 seconds remaining in the opening period, Nolan launched a blistering slap shot from just across center ice. The high, driving shot snuck through Blues netminder Roman Turek, sending the San Jose bench into pandemonium. Friesen made it 3-0 less than six minutes into the second, and St. Louis was officially done for.
Nolan totaled 115 points in 132 games over the next two regular seasons, the first two 40-win seasons in franchise history. San Jose then took a step back in 2002-03, and Nolan was traded to Toronto late in the season. Despite the lackluster conclusion to his Sharks' career, Nolan is celebrated as one of the greatest players in franchise history, still ranking in the top six in goals (206), assists (245), points (451) and penalty minutes (934).