5 Bold Predictions for the San Jose Sharks in the New Year
As the new year gets under way, each NHL team has hopes and expectations for the second half of the season. The San Jose Sharks are no exception. Here are five bold predictions for the San Jose Sharks for the rest of the campaign.
These predictions are based on the needs of the Sharks and the direction the team is heading thus far this season.
Feel free to comment on any of these predictions or make one of your own. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.
5. Tomas Hertl Will Have a Strong Finish
We are halfway through the 2014-15 season, but it is already evident that forward Tomas Hertl is enduring a sophomore slump.
Last season, the Prague native scored 15 goals and 25 points in 37 games. This season, Hertl has already played in 41 games, but has only seven goals and 15 points.
It's not that Hertl hasn't has his chances. He has spent substantial time on the top line with Joe Thornton, one of the best passers in the NHL. Still, his shots per game (1.75) are down from his rookie year (2.64), per NHL.com, and Hertl just seems to lack the confidence or even cockiness that he demonstrated last season.
Look for Hertl to finish this season strong. He will not match his scoring pace of a year ago, but don't be surprised if the Czech Republic native finishes this season with about 20 goals.
4. The Sharks Will Reach the Playoffs for the 11th Straight Season
The San Jose Sharks have not missed the playoffs since 2002-03. That's 10 consecutive seasons that hockey fans in San Jose have been able to see their team compete for the Stanley Cup.
The Sharks are in the midst of a tough fight for playoff position in the Pacific Division and possibly one of the wild-card spots in the Western Conference.
While it won't be easy, look for Team Teal to reach the playoffs for the 11th straight season. This team is inconsistent, but it is too talented to go into a prolonged slump that would cause it to miss the playoffs altogether. That assumes that San Jose's best players do not miss significant time due to injury.
The goaltending duo of Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock is also good enough to help this team reach the playoffs again this season.
The race for the last playoff spot will likely go down to the final game or two of the season, but expect the Sharks to make it again.
Don't expect them to make a long run this season, though. The Western Conference is very competitive, and San Jose will be hard-pressed to win more than one round in the postseason.
3. Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic Will Emerge the Leaders of the Team
The Sharks remain without a permanent captain right now, but there is little doubt that Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have assumed an increasing leadership role on the team.
Pavelski is still performing well on the ice. He has 21 goals in 41 games, just barely ahead of last year's career-best 41-goal pace.
At 30, he has also assumed a leadership role in the locker room. "I think he does feel more responsibility as a catalyst," head coach Todd McLellan told David Pollak of The San Jose Mercury News. "He's become a very strong spokesman for the group, which is a real good thing."
Meanwhile, Vlasic was one of the first players the Sharks named as an alternate captain this season. Vlasic has accepted a leadership role. "After nine years everybody looks up to you. The young guys do," Vlasic told Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea.com. "I’ve been there the longest so it just comes with it. I take it on myself to be a leader on the back end and get those guys going.”
As the season progresses, expect Vlasic and Pavelski to continue their emergence as leaders on this team while past captains like Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton take more of a back seat in the leadership department.
2. Todd McLellan Will Not Be Back Next Season
Although I predict the Sharks will reach the playoffs this season, that alone will not be enough to save Todd McLellan's job.
While Team Teal has never missed the playoffs during McLellan's tenure behind the bench, it has not realized its potential and won a championship despite being one of the favorites to win it all nearly every season. In fact, the Sharks have yet to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Last season ended on a humiliating note. The San Jose became just the fourth team in NHL history to lose a playoff series after winning the first three games.
McLellan kept his job, but whenever the Sharks have lost a few games in a row this season, rumors have popped up that general manager Doug Wilson may make a coaching change, per Kurz.
Another early playoff exit would probably be the end for McLellan in San Jose. It would be a mistake to let him go, but that's what will happen if the Sharks fail to make the playoffs or fail to make a long playoff run this spring.
1. The Sharks Will Acquire a Defenseman at the Trade Deadline
Since the Sharks are in the midst of a close playoff battle, they will likely took to add a player or two at the trade deadline. The biggest need the team has right now is on defense.
The Sharks moved Brent Burns back to the blue line before the start of this season more out of desperation than design. After they lost Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart over the summer, they needed to add another defenseman. Burns was already on the roster.
Look for him to add another defenseman at the trade deadline.
If the player is good enough, the possibility exists that the Sharks could move Burns back to wing where his size and skill make him more dangerous to opponents and his inconsistent defensive play would hurt the Sharks less frequently.
Whether they move Burns back to wing or not, the Sharks need more depth and consistency on defense, and that is the area Wilson will look at address first at the trade deadline.