The San Jose Sharks have been a pretty darned good team. They have won the Pacific Division four years in a row, and have been first six times and second twice in the last nine seasons. In 2009 they won the President’s Trophy for the best regular season record. Their problem, though, is that they are the definition of under-performance once the playoffs get rolling.
Despite their regular season success they have never played in the Stanley Cup final. When they won the President’s Trophy they were upset in the first round.
The last two years they have made it to the conference final, but they barely showed up for them—they have just one win in the two series combined.
The team that can be dominant in the regular season tightens up and gets in its own way in the playoffs.
Maybe this year is the year they finally figure things out. They certainly seem to have figured out who to blame for the recent issues because they made some very bold changes this offseason.
San Jose Sharks Offseason Moves
The Sharks seem to have had a carefully-crafted strategy this offseason—repeatedly rob the Minnesota Wild. First they got rid of talented but moody problem child Dany Heatley and took back more stable if somewhat less explosive Martin Havlat in return.
Havlat has point-a-game potential that he has shown at times in his career, and he should benefit from the more offensively aggressive system the Sharks play compared to the Wild. Heatley scores more points, but he has worn his welcome out in two locker rooms now, and he wasn’t worth the drama in San Jose anymore.
Next, they exchanged 24-year-old forward Devin Setoguchi for 26-year-old defenseman Brent Burns. Setoguchi had 65 points in 2009, so he has offensive upside, but Burns is a solid two way defenseman who can eat up first pairing minutes, and guys like that are far harder to come by than forwards like Setoguchi.
Burns has been a standout on a lousy power play unit in Minnesota, so he will benefit greatly from joining a much better unit in San Jose. Both were nice deals that served San Jose’s purposes very well.
2011-12 San Jose Sharks NHL Outlook
There is no need to panic just yet, but the window for this team could start to close in the next couple of years because Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau—by far their two best offensive players—are both 32. The team is at least as good as they were last year—and certainly less moody—so there is no good reason why they can’t take another step forward this year.
Thornton and Marleau were not themselves last year, and problems with Heatley now seem to be a contributing factor. If they can find chemistry elsewhere—they clearly have chemistry with each other, so all they need is a line mate—then the sky is really the limit for his team.
A key piece this year is going to be Logan Couture. The 2007 first-round pick was a finalist for Rookie of the Year last year with 32 goals and 56 points. That was obviously far above expectations.
The trick now is for him to avoid the sophomore slump that plagues so many first-year overachievers. If he could just match the production of last year he would be a very valuable asset.
The biggest reason to believe he can do it—making him the biggest asset this team has—is that the Sharks are so deep on offense that he doesn’t have to feel the pressure to carry the weight himself.
Just think of the number of guys on this team that could be first line talent on most of the teams in this league—Thornton, Marleau, Couture, Havlat, Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski, and even Michal Handzus. All of those guys could easily score at least 60 points per season, and that kind of depth is what makes this team so hard to play against.
Goalie is an area of concern. They put their faith in former Chicago playoff hero Antti Niemi last year. His numbers overall were solid, but in October and November he was absolutely brutal. When he is good he is very good, but I don’t yet trust that he is as consistent as a top goalie with a high level contender should be.
2011-12 San Jose Sharks Schedule
The game to circle here is obvious—on Nov. 10 the Wild come to the Shark Tank for the first time. It is extremely rare for a team to make two huge deals in the same offseason, so this will be a very interesting matchup to watch.
San Jose Sharks NHL Futures Odds (from Bodog)
The Sharks have been set at 10/1 to win it all, according to Stanley Cup odds. That ties them with Boston and Pittsburgh with the second lowest price in the league behind only Vancouver and Washington at 7/1. They are tied with Detroit as the second choice for NHL odds to win the Western Conference at 11/2. Vancouver is at 7/2.
2011-12 San Jose Sharks Predictions
I would like this team more than I do if they had previous experience doing well in the playoffs. Despite that, though, this is the team I like best in the West.
They have enviable depth. They have upgraded their defensive talent and improved their chemistry. Their goalie is proven to be good enough to win a Cup. They are well coached.
Though they haven’t made it through to the Stanley Cup final, they have won two series each of the last two years, so they aren’t a total failure. They are going to be well seasoned thanks to a tough division.
This is the team to beat in the West. I still give the East the edge because there are at least two teams there better than San Jose, but this could definitely be the year that they take the next step to the finals.
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