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Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Emerging competitors

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Emerging competitors

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 conclude with the emerging competition around the league.

Since the start of the 1997-98 season, the Sharks have missed the playoffs a whopping total of two times. 

That's a lot of postseason games. And yet, San Jose has never ended up on top. Moving forward, the greatest threat to the Sharks' ability to win their first Stanley Cup in the not-too-distant future will be the same one that has gotten in the way in all previous seasons in franchise history: the rest of the NHL.

There are currently 31 teams in the league. A 32nd -- the unnamed Seattle expansion franchise -- will join in 2021-22. The Sharks won't have to go through each and every one of them to raise the Cup, but there's more than enough to ruin their dreams.

Let's start small and look solely at the Pacific Division. San Jose has yet to win a division title under the new conference format, with last season's second-place finish in the Pacific being their best yet. The Flames improved by 23 points over the previous season to win the division title, and they're not going to fall off anytime soon.

Neither is the Sharks' newest major rival -- the Vegas Golden Knights. In two seasons in the league, they've given San Jose fits. The two sides are now at one postseason series apiece, but it wouldn't shock anyone if there were several more in the coming years.

Those three were the only Pacific teams to qualify for the playoffs last season, but the ones that didn't won't be down for long. The Coyotes are loaded with promising young players, the Canucks and Ducks are in the process of retooling, the Kings have nowhere to go but up and the Oilers have the best player in the NHL.

When Seattle joins the Pacific in 2020, San Jose better pray it doesn't hit the ground running like Vegas did in its expansion season.

Now let's move to the other division in the Western Conference. The Blues just defeated the Sharks on their way to winning the Cup, and they finished third in the Central Division. The Predators and Jets have some of the deepest rosters in the NHL, the Stars just added Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry, and the Avalanche have an abundance of young talent and cap space to continue their ascension. The Blackhawks just added another top-three draft pick, and while the Wild might not be headed in the right direction, a turnaround isn't out of the question.

That's just the West.

In the East, there's the record-setting Lightning, the always-formidable Bruins, Auston Matthews' Maple Leafs, Sidney Crosby's Penguins, the threatening Capitals and a bunch of teams poised to take a major leap in the coming years.

There's been formidable competition for the Sharks every season they've been in the NHL. It's not anything new, and is the main reason why they are one of 11 franchises yet to win a Stanley Cup. Of those 11, only the Canucks and Sabres have appeared in more playoff games than the Sharks in their respective franchise histories, and both Vancouver and Buffalo entered the league 21 seasons before San Jose did.

The Sharks can prepare for the upcoming expansion draft. They can hold out hope there won't be another lockout, use financial creativity to create more salary cap space and balance the roster with younger players to offset the aging core. All of that is within their control. 

[RELATED: Why salary cap issues are threat to Sharks' Cup hopes]

The 30 other NHL teams -- soon to be 31 -- most definitely are not.

The greatest threat to the Sharks' ability to win a Stanley Cup in the relatively near future is the same one they've yet to prove they can overcome.

Sharks center Logan Couture finishes as NHL playoffs' top goal-scorer

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AP

Sharks center Logan Couture finishes as NHL playoffs' top goal-scorer

While the Stanley Cup Final between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins ended with St. Louis' Game 7 win on Wednesday, the San Jose Sharks haven't played a game in over three weeks.

Yet, after the conclusion of the postseason, Sharks center Logan Couture still led all players with 14 Stanley Cup playoff goals.

No one on St. Louis or Boston caught up to Couture over the first six games of the series, and nobody came close in Game 7.

The Blues had two players close to Couture. Jaden Schwartz had 12 goals in St. Louis' Cup-winning run, and Vladimir Tarasenko had 11. Neither needed to score for the Blues to raise Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Boston's top two goal-scorers this postseason were Patrice Bergeron, Charlie Coyle, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak who had nine goals apiece. Each played three more playoff games than Couture, but still finished behind him.  

Couture's teammate, Tomas Hertl, wasn't too far behind him and finished fourth in the Stanley Cup playoffs with 10 goals. 

[RELATED: Sharks can improve on already impressive depth chart of wingers]

It's still kind of remarkable that the Sharks aren't alive based on how well they played on offense. As expected, the Bruins and Blues have scored the most goals this postseason, with 73 and 70, respectively. But the Sharks lit the lamp 58 times in 20 games. The next closest after that? The Carolina Hurricanes, who scored 39 times in 15 games. The problem for the Sharks? They allowed an NHL playoff-high 66 goals.

For the second time in the last four years, San Jose was eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion. That won't offer much solace headed into a pivotal offseason.

Bruins vs. Blues live stream: How to watch Stanley Cup Final Game 7 online

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USATSI

Bruins vs. Blues live stream: How to watch Stanley Cup Final Game 7 online

It all comes down to this. Game 7. The two best words in sports.

Will the Blues claim their first-ever Stanley Cup? Or will the Bruins maintain Boston's regional dominance of the major sports?

After alternating wins over the first four games of the Stanley Cup Final, the Blues and Bruins each prevailed on the road in Games 5 and 6, respectively. It sets up a winner-take-all Game 7 at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

All eyes will be on the goaltenders, as Boston's Tuukka Rask looks to put the final stamp on his Conn Smythe Trophy campaign, while St. Louis rookie Jordan Binnington tries to rebound from an ugly 5-1 loss in Game 6.

Here's how to watch Game 7 between the Bruins and Blues on TV and streaming live online.

When: 5 p.m. PT on Wednesday, June 12, on NBC 
Live Stream: NBC Sports appfuboTV -- Try a free trial