Owen Nolan

Sharks' most important trades in franchise history: Acquiring Owen Nolan

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AP

Sharks' most important trades in franchise history: Acquiring Owen Nolan

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.

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.

[RELATED: NHL Network ranks two Sharks among top four defensemen]

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).

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

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2001-02 team ranks in franchise history

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2001-02 team ranks in franchise history

Editor's note: In honor of Shark Week, NBC Sports California will look back at the five best teams from Sharks franchise history. Numerous factors have been taken into consideration, including overall team success, roster makeup, historical significance and more. We begin with the 2001-02 Sharks.

It's Shark Week, and you know what that means.

"Jaws" marathons, maybe a rewatch of "Deep Blue Sea", and -- oh yeah -- a ranking of the best teams in San Jose Sharks history.

After all, in a week dedicated to some of the most intimidating underwater creatures, it's only fitting that we do the same to the NHL team named after them.

Some choices are obvious, others not so much. The Sharks have qualified for the playoffs in 19 of the last 21 seasons, so there's plenty of quality teams to choose from, but that can make distinguishing between them that much more challenging.

Still, though, we're talking the best of the best. With that, here's a look back at the fifth-best team in San Jose franchise history -- the 2001-02 Sharks:

Why they're the best

In the first decade of the Sharks' existence, they never won more than 40 games, nor did they claim a Pacific Division title.

In year No. 11, that all changed.

The 2001-02 squad was arguably the first team in franchise history that had the look of a legitimate Stanley Cup champion. San Jose won 44 games and tied with the Avalanche for the second-highest regular-season point total (99) in the conference behind only Detroit.

The 2001-02 team's strength lied in its balance, as it had six different 20-goal scorers, not including Mike Ricci and Adam Graves, who scored 19 and 17 goals, respectively. Owen Nolan led the Sharks with 66 points in 75 games, while Teemu Selanne scored a team-high 29 goals.

The depth wasn't limited to the skaters, though, as San Jose's goaltending was arguably in as good of a spot as it had ever been. Evgeni Nabokov was the unquestioned starter in his second full season, while Miikka Kiprusoff appeared in 20 games, and Vesa Toskala appeared in a single game as a rookie. In total, the Sharks' goalies posted a .915 save percentage (third-best in NHL) and 2.33 goals-against average over the course of the regular season.

Why they're not

The Sharks have had several heartbreaking playoff losses throughout their history, and 2001-02 certainly qualifies.

San Jose breezed through the first round of the postseason, beating the Phoenix Coyotes in only five games. The Sharks then advanced to the Western Conference semifinals to face Colorado in what would turn out to be an epic seven-game series.

Facing the likes of Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay and Peter Forsberg, the Sharks took Games 1, 3 and 5 to put themselves in position to finish the series off at home in Game 6.  After a scoreless first period, Marcus Ragnarssson scored to give the Sharks a very brief lead, as Colorado tied it up 24 seconds later on the last goal scored in regulation. Less than three minutes into the first overtime, Forsberg kept the Avalanche's season alive.

That wasn't the end of the pain, though.

Heading into Game 7, Selanne had scored 408 regular-season and 18 playoff goals in his decorated career. The Sharks could not have asked for a better person to have the puck facing an empty net, which is precisely what happened less than five minutes into the winner-take-all contest. Selanne came behind the Colorado net on a backhand wraparound, but as he tried to tuck it in, the puck slid off his blade and went across the crease, right to Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy.

San Jose went on to lose Game 7, 1-0, missing an opportunity to reach its first-ever Western Conference final, and that appeared to have a carry-over effect into the next year, when the Sharks finished dead last in the Pacific Division and posted their lowest point total in a non-lockout-shortened season since the turn of the century.

[RELATED: Projecting Sharks' protected list for 2021 expansion draft]

Verdict

There was no shame in losing to an uber-talented team like Colorado (who went on to lose in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Red Wings), but it's easy to look back and wonder, what if?

The 2001-02 Sharks had a tremendous opportunity, but get dinged for their inability to capitalize on it, and the ensuing hangover. They may not have been the most star-studded team in the league, but nonetheless, they had one of the best combinations of skill, grit and goaltending in franchise history.