Complete 2013-14 Season Preview for the San Jose Sharks

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IOctober 1, 2013

Complete 2013-14 Season Preview for the San Jose Sharks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The San Jose Sharks are set to begin the 2013-14 NHL season this week. The team should continue to be a contender as the Sharks continue their quest to win the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup.

    The core of the team is the same, although there is a bigger emphasis on youth as a younger generation of players slowly becomes the face of the franchise.

    As the season gets under way, here is the complete preview for the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks' first game will be Thursday when they host Vancouver.

    There's a lot to discuss and analyze here, so let's get started.

Key Roster Changes

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    Tyler Kennedy is the Sharks' biggest offseason addition.
    Tyler Kennedy is the Sharks' biggest offseason addition.Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    Arrivals: Tomas Hertl, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Nieto, Freddie Hamilton, Alex Stalock

    The biggest addition from outside the organization was Tyler Kennedy, who was acquired in a trade with the Penguins over the summer in exchange for a second-round draft pick. Kennedy can play on the second on third line and adds speed and grit to the lineup.

    Hertl is the Sharks' top-rated prospect. He may need a little time to adjust to playing in North America, but he has the skills to score and to set up teammates. A little bulk and a little experience are needed, but he has the potential to become a regular top-six forward.

    Nieto and Hamilton are filling in due to injuries to to Raffi Torres and Adam Burish. They will add some grit and hustle as well as rookie enthusiasm. The Sharks have to hope they don't make too many rookie mistakes.

    Stalock is the new backup goalie behind Antti Niemi. Don't be surprised if he and Harri Sateri end up splitting time between the NHL and AHL over the course of the season to keep them both sharp.

    Departures: T.J. Galiardi, Tim Kennedy, Thomas Greiss

    Galiardi is now with the Flames, where he hopes to have more offensive opportunities. Kennedy and Greiss are in the Coyotes organization. Kennedy may start the year in the minors, while Greiss will serve as Mike Smith's backup.

Projected 2013-14 Depth Chart

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    Logan Couture is a key forward for the Sharks.
    Logan Couture is a key forward for the Sharks.Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images


    Left Wing:                                      Center:                           Right Wing:

    Tomas Hertl                                    Joe Thornton                  Brent Burns

    Patrick Marleau                              Logan Couture               Tyler Kennedy

    Matt Nieto                                       Joe Pavelski                    Tommy Wingels

    Andrew Desjardins                        Freddie Hamilton           James Sheppard

    Injuries to Raffi Torres, Martin Havlat and Adam Burish opened up spots for young players like Hamilton, Nieto and Hertl. Hertl probably would have stuck anyway. Look for the other two to go back to Worcester when the players they are replacing return to health.

    Hertl will start the season on the top line, which can only help his confidence. The Sharks will miss the aggressiveness and grit Torres adds.

    If the converted defenseman Burns uses his size well, the Sharks would add one heck of a scoring weapon.


    Left Defense:                                Right Defense:

    Matt Irwin                                       Dan Boyle

    Marc-Edouard Vlasic                         Justin Braun

    Scott Hannan                                  Brad Stuart

    Jason Demers

    San Jose has a deep and talented defense. Boyle remains a talented puck-moving defenseman who excels on the power play.

    Vlasic is rapidly becoming a very good shutdown defenseman, while Hannan and Stuart add experience and can move up to the top four without much drop-off in performance.


    Starter: Antti Niemi

    Backup: Alex Stalock

    Niemi is in his prime, and the Sharks need him to replicate last year's excellent performance when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist. Expect him to play 65-70 games this year.

    Stalock beat out Harri Sateri for the backup spot in training camp. Don't be surprised if the two rotate between being NHL backups and AHL starters so they both get a little playing time.

    If something happens to Niemi, the Sharks go from contenders to pretenders in a hurry.

Biggest X Factor

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    The Sharks will rely heavily on Niemi this year.
    The Sharks will rely heavily on Niemi this year.Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Without a strong season from Niemi, the Sharks are in big trouble. Yes, the team in front of him is big and plays good team defense, but Stalock has played in all of three NHL games in his career, and Sateri has yet to make his NHL debut.

    Niemi has already won a Stanley Cup and nearly matched Jonathan Quick of the Kings save-for-save in the playoffs last season.

    San Jose needs Niemi to do it again and for the team to get a little more goal scoring at even strength for the Sharks to make a deeper playoff run.

Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios

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    Postseason disappointment is getting old for the Sharks.
    Postseason disappointment is getting old for the Sharks.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Best-Case Scenario:

    The Sharks get excellent goaltending from a healthy Niemi.

    The young players are able to replace some of the grit lost when Torres and Burish went down, and Burns scores 30 goals and 65 points and becomes a disruptive force up front.

    Logan Couture continues to develop into one of the league's best young forwards and Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle all play inspired hockey in their contract years.

    First Place, Pacific Division

    Worst-Case Scenario:

    Niemi misses significant time or has a down year and the Sharks get only average goaltending.

    The young forwards aren't ready for the NHL and the Sharks don't have enough sandpaper in their lineup to make things tough on quality opponents.

    If Stuart, Boyle and Hannan show their age, the defense may struggle.

    If Marleau, Boyle and Thornton struggle in their contract years, it will hurt both their next contract terms and the Sharks' playoff chances.

    Fifth Place, Pacific Division

Final Prediction

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    The Sharks will be contenders again this year.
    The Sharks will be contenders again this year.Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Second Place in Pacific Division:

    The Sharks are a team in transition that is pulling off the difficult feat of remaining in contention while they change the core of the roster.

    In recent years, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were the cornerstones of the franchise. Now, players like Couture, Burns and Pavelski are assuming leadership roles.

    San Jose has the benefit of having one of the league's best-prepared coaches in Todd McLellan. His ability to get the most out of both the very young and the more experienced players on the roster will be key. 

    Expect Niemi to play well and the Sharks to get just enough out of their key players to contend in the tough Pacific Division until the very end of the season.

    The Sharks have the potential to be elite, but they are more realistically a second-tier team that will finish somewhere between sixth and ninth in the league standings.

    Fans in the Shark Tank care more about how the team does in the playoffs than where they finish in the regular season. Team Teal has an outside chance to make this a special year.