Join TSN in a 30 teams in 30 days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Teams will be unveiled in reverse order of the pre-season TSN.ca Power Rankings, and the San Jose Sharks are up next. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. Use the Your Call feature to give us your take on the Sharks!
San Jose Sharks
2009-10: 51-20-11 (1st in West, Eliminated in Conference Final by Blackhawks)
General Manager: Doug Wilson (8th Season)
Head Coach: Todd McLellan (3rd Season)
What they did in the off-season:
The anticipated dismantling of the Sharks after another playoff ouster never really materialized, however this will be a significantly different team than the one that bowed out in the Conference finals to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.
The two biggest changes came in the form of departures. Tired of being blamed for the Sharks struggles, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov headed home to sign a lucrative deal with SKA St. Petersburgh of the KHL. In addition Rob Blake decided to call it a career after 20 seasons, leaving behind a highly decorated legacy that included a Stanley Cup title and an Olympic Gold medal.
While it appeared that Patrick Marleau's days in the Silicon Valley might be coming to an end, the former Sharks' captain re-signed with San Jose for four more years. The Sharks also locked up several key players including Joe Pavelski, Jason Demers, Devin Setoguchi, Niclas Wallin and Scot Nichol. Brad Staubitz was shipped to the Wild for a draft pick while Manny Malhotra signed with the Canucks.
The Sharks made several interesting moves in free agency, first signing netminder Antero Niittymaki to a two-year deal then adding Jamal Mayers on a one-year pact. San Jose then took aim at the Blackhawks, first signing defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a four-year offer sheet that Chicago ultimately matched, then scooping in and signing goalie Anti Niemi after the Hawks walked away from the contract that was awarded to him by an independent arbitrator. In a bit of a shrewd move, Stanley Cup winning defenceman Andreas Lilja earned an invitation to camp on a tryout basis to give the Sharks a little more big game experience on the blue line. Finally long time Sharks president and CEO Greg Jamison stepped aside, perhaps signaling a new direction for the franchise.
Biggest issue facing the team:
Until the Sharks finally breakthrough when it matters, they will be tagged as a group of underachievers. While most teams would be happy to reach the Conference Finals, for San Jose it seemed like another disappointing finish when you consider just how much talent they have at their disposal. Their group of forwards is as deep as any team in the NHL and Dan Boyle anchors a very solid defence corps that has a nice balance of skill and grit. While the goaltending of Evgeni Nabokov was not the lone reason that the Sharks continually failed in the post-season, he did have a tendency to give up back-breaking goals at the wrong time that often shattered the confidence of a mentally fragile team. The addition of a Stanley Cup winning goaltender in Anti Niemi should greatly improve the Sharks intestinal fortitude and could well be the missing piece that finally pushes San Jose over the top.
Player to watch:
While Nabokov and Marleau have caught their fare share of blame, Joe Thornton remains the lightning rod for the frustrations of Sharks fans. 'Jumbo Joe' is still one of the greatest playmakers in the game and a virtual certainty to score between 85-95 points per season. A fantastic physical specimen, Thornton has all the attributes you need to succeed in hockey and has achieved a great deal of personal success, having captured the Hart and Art Ross trophies in 2006. That being said he always leaves you wanting more. Thornton has a history of coming up small in the biggest of situations. He was virtually invisible in the Sharks first round victory over Colorado and after a decent series against the Wings, disappeared again in the Conference finals. Thornton is entering the final year of his contract that will see him earn just over $7 million this season. Contract talks between the Sharks and Thornton are reportedly underway, but you have to wonder if staying in San Jose is the right choice for either Thornton or the Sharks. The possibility certainly exists that history will repeat itself and Thornton's stay in San Jose could end on a low note similar to his departure from Boston.