The San Jose Sharks, at the moment, are a mystery in terms of the upcoming 2013-14 NHL season. After a rather surprising 2013 lockout-shortened season, the Sharks now face lofty expectations under a new, quick and more physical system on the ice.
The mystery comes from of an externally unimpressive offseason where they lost the energetic supporting cast of T.J. Galiardi and Scott Gomez. Galiardi seemed to find new life in the more up-tempo style of play, especially when placed on the first line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. Gomez was a facilitator, something the Sharks will surely miss on the bottom two lines.
The Sharks did pick up forward Tyler Kennedy, though, a player in desperate need of a fresh start and now in a position with San Jose that will fit his game nearly to a tee. His fast, energetic style of play will be a welcome addition to the new up-tempo Sharks.
So have the Sharks gotten better or worse this offseason?
Only time will tell.
Martin Havlat is arguably the biggest wild card in 2013-14, and there is a very good chance he has already played his last game in teal. If so, the Sharks will need an entirely new cast of characters to step up.
Here are a few that should pick up the slack.
Raffi Torres’ play for the Sharks turned him from severely hated to a fan favorite in a matter of mere games. His style is the epitome of what general manager Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan had in mind when choosing players to complement the Sharks’ fixtures on the ice.
He had two goals and four assists in 11 games during the regular season for the Sharks, as well as one goal in five games during the playoffs before being suspended for the remainder of the Sharks’ playoff run due to a controversial hit.
With 82 games on the docket this season, Torres is sure to pick up where he left off in teal. San Jose gave him a three-year deal during the offseason, and he should be able to give the Sharks exactly what they expect from him in return.
Brent Burns has had big seasons in the past, but this will be his first as a forward, which the Sharks announced would be the plan in 2013-14. His play on the first line with Thornton and Galiardi last season was easily the brightest spot of the year and a clear turning point for the team.
While Galiardi has departed San Jose, Thornton and his playmaking abilities remain a mainstay on the first line. We can expect Burns to remain there with him, racking up points with his gritty play and determined offense.
Much like Torres, Kennedy fits perfectly in the direction the Sharks want to go. He is just 27 years old and plays a quick and physical game on the ice while getting a bunch of shots to the net—the style of play San Jose plans on continuing in the upcoming season.
Kennedy is likely to pick up where Galiardi left off on the line with Thornton and Burns. While Kennedy is no major goal-scorer—though he did have 21 goals in 2010-11 for the Pittsburgh Penguins—he will be getting his fair share of opportunities on net, which should make for a pleasant surprise from the offseason pickup.
Age aside, the expectation is that Tomas Hertl will make the opening day roster for the Sharks—a huge leap in the career of the 19-year-old.
It should be no surprise, though. Hertl has met every expectation placed in front of him since the Sharks selected him 17th overall in 2012, and he is arguably the only NHL-ready forward San Jose has yet to see at the Shark Tank.
With the departures of Galiardi and Gomez, room on the roster has opened up. Hertl is likely ready to step in on either the third or fourth line and become part of the Sharks' future before reaching his 20th birthday.
Alex Stalock is the presumptive future in net for the Sharks, but the future may be fast approaching for the 26-year-old. With Thomas Greiss gone as backup for San Jose, it is Stalock’s turn to learn at the NHL level.
However, after Antti Niemi’s Vezina Trophy push last season, there may be no risk to rush Stalock into the rotation or even think about the next man in the Sharks’ net just yet.
One thing to consider is that Niemi will be a free agent after the 2014-15 season, in which case Stalock will likely assume the role of starting goalie. 2013-14 would presumably become the year in which he will start getting some playing time.
While it will be hard for Stalock to have a “big year” with only around 20 expected starts in 2013-14, it will be a pivotal point in his growth and possibly a turning point for the Sharks’ future in net.
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