In many ways, the San Jose Sharks showed a lot more bite and grittiness in 2013 than they had in previous years.
They took the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings to seven games and fell one goal short despite having a boatload of excellent scoring opportunities in the third period of the final game at the Staples Center.
While the Sharks had a superb goalie in Antti Niemi, the Kings had perhaps the best in Jonathan Quick.
In many ways, the 2013 season looked like it would be the Sharks' last as presently constituted. However, the reality is that the Sharks have several veterans with no-trade/no-movement contracts.
Getting out from under them will be difficult.
Here's what the Sharks must do to have a successful offseason.
(All contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.)
While Joe Thornton still holds the title of captain for the Sharks, Logan Couture is the team's leader for the foreseeable future.
Couture is joined by Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Antti Niemi as the team's core players for the future.
Those five players are under contract, so general manager Doug Wilson knows that he should once again have a competitive team.
The Sharks slumped in the middle of the season in 2013, but they were explosive at the beginning of the year, strong at the end and much tougher in the playoffs than they have been in the past.
Joe Thornton has one more year to go on a contract that pays him $7 million per season. Patrick Marleau has one more year at $6.9 million.
Both of those players have no-movement, no-trade deals. However, general manager Doug Wilson could choose to buy out one of his veterans if he was truly contemplating what would make his team better for the future.
Thornton is a player with Hall of Fame credentials. He is one of the finest passers in the game and he can chip in with occasional goals.
However, when it comes to clutch play and coming through in the playoffs, Thornton has a record of disappointment.
In Game 7 against the Kings, Thornton was just a passenger. He was held off the scoresheet and he did not even have a shot on goal.
If Wilson projects out to next year's playoffs, he has to ask himself if Thornton would help or hurt the Sharks' efforts.
His history of playoff disappointments is quite consistent. A compliance buyout would be controversial, but it might be in order.
Todd McLellan has been an excellent coach for the San Jose Sharks.
He has been a consistent winner for five years. While the Sharks have regularly disappointed in the playoffs, they always bounce back the next season.
The Sharks have twice won over 50 games with McLellan behind the bench.
The Sharks brought in Hall of Famer Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson to give the team an infusion of new blood and new ideas this season.
Getting Robinson's assessments of the talent on hand after working with the players during this truncated season would help Wilson make the correct personnel decisions for the future.
The Sharks don't have a lot of unrestricted free-agent issues, but they do have a few to address.
Raffi Torres, Scott Gomez, Tim Kennedy and defenseman Scott Hannan are all free agents. Torres was a solid addition when he was traded to the Sharks from the Phoenix Coyotes. He gave the Sharks an edge that added to their persona.
Of course, the Sharks paid a price for that edge when Torres was suspended in the conference semifinals after a hit on Jarret Stoll of the Los Angeles Kings.
Gomez has scored 11 goals since the start of the 2010-11 season. He is a non-factor and should be allowed to walk. Kennedy brings little to the table.
Hannan is a decent defenseman who can hold down a spot on the the third pair, but he is not a difference-maker.
The Sharks' biggest need became apparent in their seven-game conference semifinal series against the Kings.
They simply don't score enough goals. The Sharks scored 10 goals in seven games against the Kings, and that's not enough.
Much of that was due to Jonathan Quick's superb performance in goal for the Kings, but a legitimate Stanley Cup contender would have found a way to score more goals.
The Sharks are more than $8 million under the 2013-14 cap number of $64.3 million, so they should be able to sign at least one free agent who can put the puck in the net.
Ribeiro is coming off an excellent season in which he scored 13 goals and 36 assists. Ribeiro is an instinctive player who usually has an idea of where the puck will be a split-second before the defender. That allows him to create offensive opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Ryder is a proven sniper in the NHL. He surged after he was traded to the Canadiens by the Dallas Stars. He scored 16 goals in 2013, including 10 with Montreal. Ryder scored 35 goals with the Stars a year ago and has reached the 30-goal threshold three times in his career.
Dupuis has proven to be an opportunistic scorer with the Penguins this year. He scored 20 goals in the regular season and has added seven more in the postseason. While Dupuis benefits from playing with the Penguins because opposing defenses must concentrate on star players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Dupuis will take the hit and sacrifice his body if he sees a scoring opportunity is within reach.
The Sharks need offensive creativity to take their game to another level.
They should look at super-quick Max Domi of the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights in the upcoming draft.
Domi, 5'10" and 190 pounds, is not a big man who is going to try to throw his weight around, but he has the kind of explosive qualities that could make a difference at the next level.
Domi is the son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi. However, he is not a brawler like his father. Domi has elite skill, and he scored 39 goals this season, according to The Hockey Writers. He sees the ice well, has excellent acceleration and he is not afraid to drive to the net despite his lack of size.