BT's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews: San Jose Sharks

xx yySenior Writer ISeptember 4, 2009

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 25:  Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the San Jose Sharks stands during the national anthem prior to playing the Anaheim Ducks during Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinal Round of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on April 25, 2009 in San Jose, California. The Sharks won 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Proving that the NHL is constantly in motion, the Phoenix Coyotes signed Taylor Pyatt yesterday—a signing that will almost certainly assure their capturing of the Pacific Division crown.

Ok so it doesn't, but wouldn't it be great if Pyatt was the piece that put them over the top and they signed him three days after their preview was done? Maybe I'll get lucky and Los Angeles, Dallas, and Anaheim will complete some blockbuster trade on Monday.

That, or the Toronto Maple Leafs will sign another defenseman.

Or maybe both.

San Jose Sharks

2008-09 Record: 53-18-11, 117 points, first in West, lost in first round to Anaheim Ducks in six games

Additions: Scott Nichol, F (1 year/$750K), Daniel Rahimi, D (Trade w/Vancouver), Patrick White, F (Trade w/Vancouver)

Subtractions: Mike Grier, F (FA), Travis Moen, F (FA), Brian Boucher, G (FA), Marcel Goc, F (FA), Claude Lemieux/Jeremy Roenick, F (Retirements), Kyle McLaren, D (FA), Christian Ehrhoff, D (Trade w/Vancouver), Brad Lukowich, D (Trade w/Vancouver)

There was no team that was a bigger disappointment last year than the San Jose Sharks.

For a team that was so dominant during the regular season and even found a way to continue winning without its starting goalie, the fact that they were seen as the team “most likely” to be upset in the first round of the playoffs tells you about the playoff history of the Sharks.

For whatever it means, the Sharks can continue to dominate in the regular season. Once it gets to the playoffs however, they need to find a way to get rid of the seemingly even-tempered culture and act as their animal namesake.

Nipping at the Nabokov

The easiest place to start with the Sharks is in net with Evgeni Nabokov. Over the past two seasons, Nabokov has proven that he is a winner in the NHL, grabbing 86 wins in 139 games.

Nabokov slipped a little last year statistically, allowing more goals on fewer shots, but Nabokov was also battling through a series of lower-body injuries last year which can be a big hindrance on any goalie’s play.

While Nabby will continue to provide the Sharks with one of the top number one presences in the game, Sharks fans may see Nabokov’s totals lean toward the 77 games he played in 2007-08 rather than the 62 in 2008-09.

The big reason for this is Thomas Greiss and Henrik Karlsson.

It may seem strange to say, but the loss of Brian Boucher is big, as now the Sharks haven't necessarily lost much in terms of talent, but in terms of a goalie capable of exploiting his talent to the fullest? The Sharks have taken big strides backward.

Both Greiss and Karlsson were recently inked to contracts, and Greiss has the most experience with North American hockey. Karlsson is fresh to the game across the pond, although he has had some success in Sweden in both the Elite League and lesser leagues.

As it stands, Greiss is the leading candidate for the backup job with three years of AHL experience under his belt.

Although Greiss has a fairly strong AHL resume, success at the NHL level is no guarantee—something the Sharks have to prepare for.

The backup goalie position could prove to hurt the Sharks. With two inexperienced ‘tenders behind Nabokov, if other parts of the team falter the Sharks will have to lean, and lean heavily upon Nabby.

Is the Captaincy going to be a “Thornton” in someone’s Boyle?

Alright, Boyle isn’t a forward but we’ll work with it.

The forwards for the Sharks are led in size and skill by Joe Thornton. Undoubtedly one of the premiere passers in the game today, the knock against Thornton that many are mumbling about, is his inability to shoot in big-time situations.

For Thornton, the goal-scoring potential is there (he had two 35+ goal seasons in Boston) so it may just be rediscovering his shot. If the Sharks can convince Thornton to shoot a little more often this year, not only will they have one of the most complete centers in the game, but it’ll also help in the playoffs where Thornton has never scored more than three goals since 1998.

Just so we're clear: 25-29 goals a year is still a good, strong number—it's just that Thornton is capable of more.

The Sharks were also fortunate last year to get a bounce-back season from Patrick Marleau. Despite the trade rumors that continue to surround him, Marleau is a great weapon off the wing and may have a 40-goal season in him if the stars align and he can stay consistent and healthy.

From there, the big addition of another goal-scoring winger never came.

Sharks fans will continue to wonder how Jonathan Cheechoo became a 50-goal scorer so quickly, but even more puzzling is the fact that he’s scored 35 goals in the past two years (Two fewer than 2006-07 total of 37).

While Cheechoo has the size that should allow him to succeed, something simply hasn’t clicked over the past few seasons whether it is health-related or a mental aspect of the game.

Until Cheechoo gets it sorted out, counting him as a “big-time weapon” is hard to do.

Fortunately enough, there are still goal-scoring options. While not "50-goal potential," Milan Michalek has developed into a solid 25-goal scorer, whose still working to find the playmaking side of things. Michalek may even be in line for a 30-goal season one day, but seeing him return to the neighbourhood of 40 assists first would be a big boost to the Sharks.

From there, Ryan Clowe and Devin Setoguchi are quickly growing into the role vacated by Cheechoo. Setoguchi’s 20-goal improvement over his 2007-08 numbers is very promising, while the speed he brings to the game is an asset alongside the bigger forward.

Clowe’s physicality also brings another dynamic not delivered upon by some of the larger forwards, so to have that mean-spirited player driving to the net adds to the dimensions this forward group can bring.

Although some outside of San Jose may just find disinterest in the name of Joe Pavelski, his production demands otherwise. His vision and speed make him a dangerous center to line up alongside, and youngsters Logan Couture (who’s been working out hard in the Bay area this year) and Jamie McGinn could really benefit from that.

On the lower end of the spectrum, the Sharks will have Torrey Mitchell back for the entire year, instead of just the four playoff games he appeared in last year because of a broken leg.

Although he started slowly (as expected) in games three and four of the Anaheim series, Mitchell was worked up to 11 minutes in each of the final two games of the playoffs, and won more than 60 percent of his faceoffs in two of those four games—exactly what this team needs out of him and exactly what he's provided in the past.

The grinding game will be taken care of by Jed Ortmeyer, Jody Shelley, and Scott Nichol along with the only Shark draftee of that foursome, Brad Staubitz.

Boyle, oh, Boyle I’m excited for this…

Lame. I used his name twice. Oh well!

After being given up on by the Tampa Bay Lightning after signing a big contract extension, Dan Boyle proved that the 2007-08 wrist surgery wasn’t going to hinder him in the future.

Boyle posted the second-best offensive season of his career last year with 57 points and 16 goals, reinvigorating a Sharks power play that finished third in the league at 24 percent—a whole 8 percent more efficient than 2007-08. (Alright, so it’s actually only two power play goals more than the year before but in 10 fewer opportunities. Yay math!!)

Then there was the reincarnation of Rob Blake, which didn’t really make any sense.

First of all, he spent less time on the power play last year than in his final season in LA ('07-'08), where he played alongside Lubomir Visnovsky who is offensively gifted in his own right. Second of all, while he shot a whole lot more, he scored just one more goal on the power play, and one more goal total than the previous year.

Finally, he’s 39. Go figure.

The most realistic explanation for the sudden jump in power play production for Blake is that, like in Colorado, with all of those extra shots making it through on the powerplay, the rebounds are there for the forwards to put home. While Blake may see much of the same success this year if he can keep getting his cannon of a shot through, don’t expect another 45+ point season.

With the exodus of Christian Ehrhoff, that opens up space and time for Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Vlasic brings an offensive game to the table with 36 points of his own last year. Although Vlasic is starting to look like a power play specialist (21 of those points came with the man advantage), his cool head and calm demeanor allows him to move the puck out of his own zone in tight defensive situations, while he’s also not afraid to throw his body in front of a shot (led the team with 122 blocks last season).

Then we have to get to the fact that Brad Lukowich will not be with the team any longer, with his role likely being filled by Kent Huskins.

Following the trade of Lukowich, it was said by San Jose that they have the utmost confidence in Doug Murray, grouping him in amongst their top-five, giving the big shut-down defender a chance at more opportunity and responsibility.

After that, the open spot(s) on the roster will fall to any of Jason Demers, Mike Moore, Derek Joslin, or Nick Petrecki.

So what's it all mean?

The Sharks stayed quiet for a lot of the offseason, and by the end of it, they had traded away some quality depth on the blueline.

Is there a chance that some of the younger players expected to fill in on the lower pairings do a good job? Sure there is. But that also doesn't account for the loss of the established offense of Ehrhoff or the experience that Lukowich brought to the team.

Looking at it in the bigger picture, Rob Blake won't be around forever—meaning that instead of having a good top three of Boyle, Ehrhoff, and Vlasic, if he left after next year, the Sharks are (currently) down to two, and Vlasic isn't a top-pairing guy.

Up front, a return to (at least) the 20-goal plateau would be a welcome treat from Jonathan Cheechoo, but it's not like the offense can't come from other places.

So long as Thomas Greiss can provide Evgeni Nabokov with competent backup production and the lower pairing can stabilize, the regular season shouldn’t be a problem for the Sharks (Although the Ducks are going to make it close, especially after these changes).

How about we wait and see on what happens in May?

First in Pacific

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, or you can email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.


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