The San Jose Sharks open the 2013-14 season at home October 3.
The NHL announced its 2013-14 season Friday, July 19. The San Jose Sharks begin the season October 3 at the newly crowned SAP Center, but there were more universally significant factors making this announcement more interesting than most.
For one, it officially established that NHL players would take part on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This is a good thing for hockey fans around the world as the game gets more exposure.
With the schedule came news of names for the four divisions. Three are borrowed (just one of the faults in the decisions laid out by the Examiner), but the new Pacific Division contains only teams that have spent several years in it under one or both of its previous incarnations.
Most importantly, it will bring the NHL stars to all fans. Eastern Conference fans now have their chances to see Western Conference teams before turning in for the evening. And it levels the ice somewhat as far as travel is concerned.
Yet the best things about the 2013-14 season are the four every season offers...
The first thing any fan does when the schedule comes out is look for the big games. Rivalries, rematches and former teammates provide most of those interests.
Aside from variables that can influence the importance of games, there are many games that stand out.
Every game in this Pacific Division is important for establishing the kind of supremacy the San Jose Sharks enjoyed in general manager Doug Wilson's first nine years. But most of those will not be the biggest of the big games.
The Vancouver Canucks would like to get revenge on the Sharks in the season opener. However, it does not meet the standard because it is no more important to San Jose than any other season opener, apart for those major players that might not return.
There are three games that meet a different standard. Expect each of them (listed in chronological order) to be the biggest games until events such as bad blood, trades and late-season standings elevate others.
October 30 at Los Angeles Kings: Just as Vancouver wants a shot at San Jose, the Sharks want a shot at the Kings. In last year's playoffs, they were within inches of riding a Joe Pavelski tying goal into overtime in Game 7 in L.A., in what instead became another season in which they were multiple wins short of even a Western Conference victory. You cannot redeem such a loss against a long-time rival, but you can gain a lot of confidence with a strong win.
November 17 at Chicago Blackhawks: Not only is Chicago the Stanley Cup champion, but they rolled to three regulation wins that started when San Jose was the hotter of the two teams. It is also likely that Antti Niemi will be on a two-day rest with a chance to take a game from the team that chose to let him go after the 2009-10 season rather than pay him what the arbitrator awarded.
December 10 vs. New York Islanders: This may very well be Evgeni Nabokov's last trip to San Jose. Even though Antti Niemi has been better in stretches for the Sharks, Nabby is still the best goalie in the history of the franchise for two reasons: Nabby did it for longer and got this team one win deeper (with a lesser team) in 2004 than Nemo did in 2011.
Meet the new division. Same as the old division. (That is a reference to The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again, for the majority of readers under the age of 40.)
Every team in the Pacific Division was in it either from 1993-94 through 1997-98, from 1998-99 until 2013 or both. Three of the teams are Canadian rivals from one division and the other four are American rivals from the one that still bears its name.
Many have already furthered those rivalries in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The San Jose Sharks alone have played every team at least once, the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings twice (with each team winning one) and the Calgary Flames three times (2-1 San Jose).
The division also did not change much in strength. The Dallas Stars were lost (reducing travel) and replaced by the Edmonton Oilers, Flames and Canucks. They were a competitive team with a lot of young talent much like Edmonton, which is better than a rebuilding Calgary and could rise to the level of a falling Vancouver.
Ultimately, the best teams in the division should be the two playing the best when 2013 ended—the Kings and Sharks. But expect the Oilers, Stars, Coyotes and Canucks to be fighting for playoff spots close behind when the NHL trade deadline comes around, and San Jose is at the most risk of being overtaken.
The San Jose Sharks used to vacate their home for two weeks every February for the Bank of the West Classic. A new home has been found for what is now the SAP Open, even though the Shark Tank is now sponsored by the same company that bears that name, and the team is owned by its founder, Hasso Platner.
However, the NHL schedule still puts them on the road for almost an entire month. In fact, they travel more than any other team in the NHL (57,612 miles—more than twice the circumference of the earth) according to CSN Bay Area.
After opening with three home games, the Sharks will travel before their next 11 games. Three of those games are at home, but they are all preceded by road games—and the first two also have another road game follow them. During that stretch, they play eight playoff teams, including five that had a better record in 2013.
The schedule will have the Sharks battle-tested right from the start.
As stated in Breaking Down the New Division, the San Jose Sharks are probably the second-best team in the Pacific Division. That will have them good enough to open at home against what should be a division rival they should be able to beat in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
In addition to being behind the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division, they will likely trail the best Central Division teams (Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues) in the overall Western Conference standings. With so much talent west of the Eastern time zone, it would be a surprise if the Sharks make it past the second round.