SAN JOSE SHARKS
2008-09: 53-18-11 (1st in the West – Eliminated in Conference QF by Ducks)
TSN Pre-Season Power Ranking: 4th
General Manager: Doug Wilson (7th Season)
Head Coach: Todd McLlellan (2nd Season)
What They Did In The Off-season:
Compared to his league counterparts, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson arrived late for the off-season party. But he certainly made up for lost time.
The Sharks made their two big statements of intent as the summer was winding down. First, they stripped Patrick Marleau of his captaincy and took away the ‘A' (at least temporarily) from Joe Thornton. Just prior to the opening of training camp, Wilson pulled off the biggest deal of the summer by acquiring disgruntled sniper Dany Heatley from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek.
Earlier in the summer, Tomas Pilhal, Marcel Goc and Lukas Kaspar were not tendered qualifying offers, while Travis Moen, Kyle McLaren, Mike Grier and Brian Boucher followed them out the door as they were allowed to walk via free agency. Claude Lemieux's brief comeback ended with his second retirement, while Jeremy Roenick will next be seen in a broadcast booth after the loquacious sniper called it a career.
Rob Blake agreed to return for one more year, while Ryane Clowe re-upped for four more seasons. Jed Ortmeyer and Scott Nichol were added for forward depth, while blueliners Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich were shipped to Vancouver in exchange for prospects and salary cap relief.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
When the smoke cleared this summer, the Sharks had a re-vamped roster with many of the same questions lingering. This is still by and large the same team that was ousted by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round after racking up a league high 117 points.
The Ducks were able to expose what appeared to be a lack of passion and desire in the Sharks. San Jose was unquestionably more talented than Anaheim, but appeared unable, and in some cases, unwilling to do what it took to win in the post-season. While it's exciting to add an offensive weapon like Heatley, the team already has a wealth of scoring with Thornton, Marleau, Clowe, Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski. Scoring was not the team's primary need. The addition of Heatley seems a tad superfluous and curious when you take into account Heatley's spotty playoff history and (depending who you talk to) selfish motivation for a move.
While the decision to go without a captain for the time being can be seen as an opportunity to motivate both Marleau and Thornton, it also could be just as easily backfire. Due to salary cap concerns, the team is also short of NHL-proven talent on the blueline. Losing a promising youngster like Ehrhoff and a playoff-hardened veteran like Lukowich for no NHL-ready talent in return is a gamble at best. Former Canadien Mathieu Dandenault received an invitation to camp and will likely make the team.
Fortunately for the Sharks, they can depend on workhorse Evgeni Nabokov to bail them out of any jams they can't score their way out of. He remains one of the top goaltenders in the game, but it would be wise to lighten his workload and keep him fresh for the playoffs. That seems unlikely however, as rookie Thomas Greiss is the only other goaltender invited to camp with any NHL experience (with a grand total of three NHL games under his belt).
While the chances of failure far outnumber the chances of success, (after all, only one team takes home the Cup) the Sharks remain one of the top teams in the league - so a complete fall from grace is unfathomable. To use a poker metaphor, this is Doug Wilson's ‘All In' moment. His cards are all on the table; it is now up to the luck of the draw.
Player to watch:
Talk about a career-defining season - Dany Heatley will be scrutinized from the first time he steps on the ice with his Sharks teammates to his final shift of the season. That being said, Heatley has no one to blame but himself for that fact.
By demanding to be traded for the second time in his career, it's easy to see at first glance that he has put his own desires ahead of his teams. His Ottawa exodus - and refusal to allow a trade to the Edmonton Oilers - left a bad taste in the mouth of many. Heatley - one of the few 50-goal threats in the league - complained last season when he was asked to sacrifice his own numbers and ice-time for the sake of his team. That's not exactly the trait you are looking for in a franchise saviour.
If nothing else, Heatley should be motivated to prove his detractors wrong. He has the added incentive of a roster spot on Canada's Olympic team, something that was undoubtedly a given prior to his trade demands. Working in his favour is the fact that he could potentially skate on a line with one of the top set-up men in all of hockey in Thornton. A return to 50-goal form is certainly a possibility, but he wasn't exactly skating with pluggers last season when he managed 39 goals on a line with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson.
In short, Heatley is in what he believes to be an ideal situation with the Sharks. He'll be thrust into an offensive role on a legitimate Cup contender, without having to face the harsh media glare that he would have had in Ottawa or Edmonton. Under these circumstances it seems quite likely that he is destined for a successful season.
While personal stats look good on a hockey card, the Sharks' ultimate goal remains the Stanley Cup. The team has placed all their eggs in the Heatley basket. Should those eggs shatter, it will be an enormous mess to clean up.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
While annual playoff disappointments leave the San Jose Sharks as a team facing a lot of pressure, consistent regular season success makes Sharks players a top fantasy option once again and the addition of Dany Heatley brings additional excitement to the top line and the power play.
Following a down season in Ottawa, Heatley could use a fresh start in San Jose and he'll be in a prime position, skating with elite setup man Joe Thornton. Even in a down year, Heatley finished with 39 goals, so if he's rejuvenated by this move, he could very well challenge 50 goals -- a mark he's hit twice in his NHL career.