BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The San Jose Sharks

xx yySenior Writer ISeptember 23, 2008

Preface: It's the last team in the Pacific division! You know what that means?

Ten more teams until I can get my life back, start bumping up those marks, and get my girlfriend back from the pool boy!

Well....two of those things are guaranteed at least. She seems to be very attached to Edmund.


Last year, people thought, "This is it! This is the year the San Jose Sharks go all the way!"

Down in the Shark Tank, they were excited to watch their team, complete with the addition of Brian Campbell, compete in the playoffs.

Well, after a stirring seven-game series against the Flames, San Jose just couldn't keep pace in the second round against the Stars.

But in other news, thanks to TSN I've just been told three things:

A) Def Leppard is hosting a season-opening concert in Detroit on October 9.

B) The NHL thinks it's still 1988 (Thanks for that one Jay Onrait—you're the man).

C) Even the Vancouver Canucks think Kyle Wellwood is out of shape.

As nice as it is to hear that the Canucks are as unimpressed with Wellwood as Toronto was, we have work to do! On to the San Jose Sharks!

Roster Additions: Dan Boyle-D (Trade), Brad Lukowich-D (Trade), Rob Blake-D (F.A.)

Roster Subtractions:
Brian Campbell-D (F.A.), Patrick Rissmiller-F (F.A.), Sandis Ozolinsh-D (F.A.), Curtis Brown-F (F.A.), Craig Rivet-D (Trade), Matt Carle-D (Trade)

How did 2007/08 go?
49-23-10, 108 points, second in Conference, first in Pacific, lost in first round of playoffs 2008 (Western Conference)

2008/09 Goal:
First in Conference, make conference finals


Let's break'er down...

The Sharks had a very busy offseason of movement, reshaping their defense and expelling former head coach Ron Wilson.

You may wonder why I don't often mention coaches in these. Well that's because the NHL is a little different than the NFL. In the NFL, I could probably name a few more coaches because each has quirks about them—unless you're Herm Edwards, in which case he IS a quirk.

But the coaches in the NHL I find harder to keep track of, because they all blend into their suits. Ken Hitchock and Mike Keenan stand out, and it has nothing to do with the fact they did/do have mustaches. Oh, and Barry Melrose is a season-opening streak of 14 losses away from re-growing his mullet.

It's the NHL—where we encourage gratuitous facial hair and the '80s! Feel the magic!!!

Whatever.  Let's do this.


Make sure you put a bra on, it's a bit Nabby out

There's being a starting goalie, and then there's being Roberto Luongo, Martin Bordeur, or Evgeni Nabokov. Last year, Nabby joined the legion of goalies who started more than 75 games last season—a far cry from his previous carry highs of 67.

Nabokov didn't disappoint however, as he posted a sparkling 46-win season, tied together with a 2.14 GAA and a .910 save percentage. His emergence proved that he was past splitting time with a Miikka Kiprusoff or a Vesa Toskala, and San Jose looked to be a contender for the Stanley Cup.

Those dreams of Cup glory came to a screaming halt last season as the Sharks lost 2-1 in a four-overtime game to the Dallas Stars in the Conference Semifinals last season. With a renewed fire for this upcoming season, and the drive to take the Sharks even further, Nabokov is back, looking to be the iron man that he was last season.

If Nabokov ends up on the injured list, the Sharks aren't completely up the creek, with Brian Boucher ready to head between the pipes. In just five games with the Sharks last season, Boucher went 3-1 with a 1.76 GAA and a .932 save percentage.

Aside from that limited backup experience last season, Boucher was also a fairly adequate NHL starter—he had three consecutive seasons of 40 or more games played, and he also set the modern NHL record of five consecutive shutouts with Phoenix in 2003-04.


So Lightning does strike twice?

The defense for the San Jose Sharks will have a distinctly different look entering 2008-09.

Gone is Matt Carle and finished is the abbreviated stay of Brian Campbell. Entering the picture is the veteran presence of Rob Blake.

To be honest, it's very hard to assess Blake—he's played on a weak Los Angeles team for the past two seasons, so one has to wonder if his slip in point production (51 in his last year with Colorado and 34 and 31 in each year with the Kings) is due to the environment of Los Angeles, or Blake just getting older (he'll be 39 this season).

Although I think Blake's numbers suffered more from the growing pains taking place in L.A., I wouldn't expect a resurgence of any kind. I think his offense may slip to the 25-point range, but due to the increase in talent surrounding him, Blake will get a little bit of extra help on the back end.

The other two big imports this offseason came in the form of Brad Lukowich and Dan Boyle from Tampa Bay. After the Lightning's spending spree, there was just no room for the holdovers from the 2004 Championship team.

Due to a horrific wrist injury, Dan Boyle's season was abbreviated, and his numbers reflected it. Boyle had only 25 points last year, and posted a minus-29.

As he works his way into a new system, Boyle's offense will come back, but it's how he performs on the back end that will concern the Sharks the most this season.

As far as Lukowich goes, he's nothing flashy. He'll be a consistent defensive defenseman, and that's about it.

Two of the biggest keys for San Jose going forward though are Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Christian Ehrhoff. Vlasic played well enough the past two seasons to earn himself a four-year extension. He's got the smarts and attitude to be a fan favorite and quality defenseman for the Sharks, but still needs to show some consistency on offense.

Ehrhoff, who also earned himself a new contract this offseason, has really started to develop his puck-moving game, and he's also been working to improve his defensive play with and without the puck. The only real consistency that the Sharks need from Ehrhoff is from his shot.

If he can score seven to ten goals a season, then the Sharks can wheel it to him and let him unleash on the power play. If he's only a one- to five-goal scorer, then he'll be used more as a puck-mover.

Kyle McLaren will be providing his big-body presence on the back end for San Jose for the sixth-straight season. Although he'll never be an offensive dynamo, McLaren can provide a gritty, hard-hitting rock on the back end.

Douglas Murray rounds out the defense as a solid, physical option at the bottom of the rotation.


Joe's emergence is a Thornton in the side of Patrick Marleau

As is prone to happen throughout training camp, the San Jose Sharks just suffered an injury to their forwards.

Torrey Mitchell will be out up to eight weeks. Although his offense is nothing like that of Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, the Sharks will miss the 23-year old in the face-off department, as well as on the penalty kill.

Speaking of Marleau and Thornton—despite an offseason of doubt, they're at the top of the Sharks' depth chart once again.

Following a very down year of only 48 points in 78 games, Marleau is looking to rebound heavily this season. If he can put behind last season, Marleau could return to being the 30-goal man he was in 2006 and 2007. So long as he keeps the legs moving, Marleau could produce at a point-per-game average once again, as he works to avoid another down year.

As for Thornton, there's not much to say about him. Granted, he's had trouble producing in the playoffs, but the Sharks should also be able to help him out.

You may not know this, but team-wise the Sharks played the most games amongst teams that made it to the second round of last year's playoffs, with 13. They also tied for the fewest goals scored with 26—with the Avs, who played a full three fewer games than the Sharks.

But back to Thornton. In Joe, the Sharks have a center unmatched by many in the NHL.  The man could easily put up 100 assists in a season. He's got the size and skill needed to be great, and he's got the ability to improve the performance of his line-mates.

Down the middle, the Sharks also have exciting youngsters Logan Couture (an exciting young prospect out of the OHL), Marcel Goc (a speedy young German), and Joe Pavelski (a young playmaker with good vision).  Each of them have the ability to line up anywhere. Veteran Jeremy Roenick can provide a 10- to 15-goal, 30-point presence, with the ability to line up down the middle as well.

On the right side, the Sharks have three very different players. Jonathan Cheechoo—coming off an injury plagued season—seems to be a good bet to score 30 goals, especially while playing with big Joe Thornton. He's proven in the past that he has the hands and the moves to score 50, and if Thornton and Cheech can stay on the same page this season, there may be no stopping them.

If Devin Setoguchi plays an entire season in the NHL, however, Cheechoo could have a bit of a challenge for the team lead in goals. The 21-year old is a two-time 30-goal scorer in the OHL, a good two-way player, and a speedster—to say the least.

Meanwhile Mike Grier can be a great third-line option, and woll chip in the occasional goal and offensive support.

Opposite Grier, Setoguchi, and Cheechoo, the Shaks have some young effective weapons on the left side.

For the past three seasons, Milan Michalek has used his tools very effectively. He's scored 17, 26, and 24 goals respectively, and he's always proved to be a strong two-way player. As he continues to develop this season, the 23-year old could come to establish himself as a threat to break the 30-goal plateau, or he could simply settle into the comfort of the 23- to 26-goal range.

While Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo may be more familiar names for those who don't consistently follow the Sharks, another name that seems to come up in conversation is Ryan Clowe. Clowe is a hard-working player—much like Mike Grier—who missed most of last season with a knee injury.  If given the opportunity Clowe could post 20 goals over the course of a season, although he's more likely to straddle the 13- to 15-goal range.

Jamie McGinn and Lukas Kasper could also be pleasant surprises for the Sharks this season, but inexperience may play a large factor.  Jody Shelley can give you a (quite literally) fighting chance, but not much else.


So what does it all mean?

As I said with Dallas, the Stars have a lot of weapons up front.

The Sharks made strides to try and give a fresh look to their defense, and with Evgeni Nabokov in net, you can't discount that the Sharks have a chance. Despite that, the forwards need to play with urgency this season, as they need to prove they can keep stride with the suddenly-resurgent Stars.

Second in the Pacific


And now it's time for another edition of The Community Leader's View from the Pressbox! And this time, Ken Armer ISN'T here!

Now introducing San Jose Sharks Community Leader Danielle Marchell:


Goaltending for San Jose should not be a problem at all. Evgeni Nabokov is still the clear-cut go-to guy for the Sharks, and I wouldn’t expect anything less than another nomination for the Vezina. I would also expect to see Brian Boucher starting in goal more often this season, since he’s a respectable and dependable backup goalie.

The injury to Torrey Mitchell will not be as big of an impact on the team, and thankfully happened at the start of the season as opposed to sometime in mid-April. Yes, he was very skilled on the penalty kill and in the face-off circle, but the loss should not put too much of a damper on Stanley Cup hopes.

It should be interesting to see if Mitchell’s injury opens up a door to some of the young prospects—or more specifically, for Jeff “I want to make a comeback” Friesen. Also, anticipate more of a contribution not only from seasoned veterans like Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Milan Michalek, but also from younger members of the squad like Devin Setoguchi.

As for defense, I’m going to be expecting more offensive contributions from the defensemen on the team, especially with Todd McLellan’s new coaching style. The current roster of defensemen the Sharks have is probably one of the deepest I have seen in a long time, and the addition of Dan Boyle provides a skilled puck-moving offensivedefenseman that Brian Campbell proved not to be for the Sharks.

The Sharks are currently over the cap, and it seems to me like the most logical person to eliminate from the team would be Kyle McLaren, as he is not the physical presence that he once was with his infamous hip checks.

I see this team improving greatly from last season, especially if they do not start off the season by just relying heavily on Joe Thornton and Evgeni Nabokov. I honestly believe that this team can finish first in the Pacific Division.


I think the Sharks co-Community Leader MJ Kasprzak also has something to say:

I never thought we were going all the way last year, because I recognized we did not have the blue line to carry us through the Western Conference. Even after we got Brian Campbell, we were clearly behind the Ducks and Red Wings.

A player to watch who you did not mention as an addition is Jeff Friesen. He is over some health issues that have hindered him in the past and early indications are he has his speed and shooting touch back—he could be a huge addition for what is already a top-three forward unit.

Losing Ozolinsh and Carle is nothing—they couldn't even crack the lineup. And while Carle may develop, the Sharks goal is to win NOW. As for Rivet, his leadership, savvy, and grit will be missed, but his lack of speed was a liability; overall, this is a vastly-improved blueline.

However, among forwards we will miss Curtis Brown a TON, as he was probably the team's best penalty killer, an outstanding checking line center with the ability to score a few workmanlike goals. Rissmiller was also better than his numbers indicated.

I agree with everything you said about our goaltending, but Nabby's performance did drop off in the playoffs. He needs to get more rest because the Sharks goal is to WIN THE STANLEY CUP (not just make it to the conference finals!), so all indications are that he will get more games off.

Ehrhoff still struggles in the defensive end WITH the puck...I'm sure Danielle has A LOT to say on this so I'll leave that to her! McLaren has been hurt two of the last three years and pretty ineffective; I believe the team will waive him and hope someone picks up his salary to drop under the cap. We would need to pick up a seventh defenseman then, but Mac's hitting has become Murray's job, and he does it better.

Finally, Clowe has a nose for the goal and should hit 20 even though he is likely to be on the third line. And I don't understand why everyone is saying Blake is too old to perform at a high level. Yes, he'll turn 39, but he has the same trainer as Chris Chelios who is seven years older, and people still recognize that his re-signing helps the Wings. Blake will score 10-plus goals and get 30 assists—book it!


Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile. You can also check out his previous works in his archives.


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