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Risk Factors: San Jose Sharks edition

Mike Brown, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton

San Jose Sharks right wing Mike Brown, from left, defenseman Brent Burns, and center Joe Thornton sit on the bench during the third period of Game 7 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, April 30, 2014. The Kings won 5-1. (AP Photo)


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

San Jose Sharks

1. They might’ve had a nervous breakdown this summer. From Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami, who in June said the Sharks were “having a bit of a nervous breakdown right now, under financial and competitive pressure.”

The revamping of the roster has to happen because the Sharks can’t hold back all re-tooling just for that one Cup run when they’ve finally concluded that their most famous guys aren’t destined to lead anybody to a Cup.

Also, behind the scenes, it has been presumed for a few years now that the Sharks will be seeking a new arena very soon to replace SAP Center, which is almost always sold out and is a fine place to see a game but just doesn’t have the mega-revenue-generating features of the new wave of buildings.

I’ve heard for a while now that there is room in Santa Clara near Levi’s Stadium for a hockey arena and that there might have already been some informal conversations about the Sharks’ situation.

In the months following, San Jose made a series of bold, sometimes puzzling decisions: Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were stripped of the “C” and “A”, respectively; noted pugilist John Scott was signed in free agency to provide an “element of security” and GM Doug Wilson kept referring to the Sharks as a “tomorrow team,” a classification Thornton took issue with.

2. They didn’t address the goaltending problem. Or, refused to acknowledge they had one. Lost in last year’s playoff collapse to the Kings was the fact that, throughout the seven-game series, San Jose’s goalies weren’t very good; Antti Niemi finished with a 3.74 GAA and .884 save percentage while Alex Stalock -- who was summoned to replace Niemi as the starter in Game 6 -- allowed four goals on 30 shots (an .867 save percentage) and was promptly returned to the bench in Game 7.

The response? San Jose gave Stalock a two-year contract extension this summer, then announced the starting gig would be up for grabs heading into the season... except there might not actually be a clear-cut No. 1 now, because the team is toying with a two-man platoon.

“I think we have 1-A and 1-B, and we want to play both of them,” head coach Todd McLellan said, per the Mercury News. “We play 16 of our first 21 on the road, I think, so both goaltenders are going to need to play and play a lot, and that’s a perfect scenario for our team -- we’re going to need both of them.”

Looking ahead, there has to be some concern about Niemi. Now 31, he posted the lowest save percentage of his time as a Shark last season (.913) and his overall stats were somewhat padded by an absolutely ridiculous October, in which he went 9-1-3 with a .924 save percentage and recorded two of his four shutouts on the year.

But rather than go out and get a goalie to challenge Niemi -- like, say, Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller -- San Jose stuck with Stalock, who posted excellent numbers in the regular season (12-5-2, .932 save percentage, 1.87 GAA) but is still fairly untested. The Minnesota native has just 27 games of NHL experience under his belt and, at age 27, is something of an unknown entity.

3. They’re still the Sharks. Some will argue, quite legitimately, that San Jose didn’t undergo enough change in the wake of the most painful playoff collapse in franchise history (and given the Sharks’ history of playoff collapses, this is no small feat.) Instead of sweeping changes in the front office and behind the bench, jobs weren’t just retained -- in certain cases, guys were rewarded with extensions. Assistant GM Joe Will was given a new deal, as was assistant coach Larry Robinson.

Even the leadership group change wasn’t a full-scale upheaval. McLellan hasn’t ruled out giving the “C” and “A” back to Thornton and Marleau, saying player performance will decide who makes up the new leadership group. (“Thornton could end up being the captain. I don’t know, none of us know,” McLellan told the Merc in August. “If it’s real evident he’s the guy, he’ll be the captain.”)

Yes, Martin Havlat was bought out and yes, Dan Boyle was shipped out. But those veteran departures didn’t come as a surprise to many -- almost expected, really -- and San Jose was a virtual non-player in free agency, opting to focus on retaining the players it already had.

As the old saying goes: The more things change...