Complete Preview and Predictions for the San Jose Sharks in 2016-17

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistOctober 10, 2016

Complete Preview and Predictions for the San Jose Sharks in 2016-17

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    The San Jose Sharks first played NHL hockey in the fall of 1991, but they did not make it to the Stanley Cup Final until the spring of 2016. Getting so close to winning it all and falling short was disappointing for the team and fans, but the thrilling ride through the postseason has Sharks Nation looking forward to getting back there in 2017.

    The Sharks were an effective team in all areas during 2015-16, scoring 241 goals and allowing only 210—the NHL average was 222 goals for and against last year. Led by Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and three more 20-goal scorers added to that trio as support—Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl and Joel Ward—San Jose had no trouble offensively all year. A tight defensive unit and fine goaltending by Martin Jones gave the team a chance to win every regular-season game—and 14 more in the postseason.

    San Jose general manager Doug Wilson was fairly quiet during the offseason, with most of the primary assets from one year ago returning under contract. As is the case with all NHL teams in the cap era, inexpensive value contracts will be required, and this is an area of strength for the Sharks. Fans may not recognize some of the names on opening night, but if history repeats, these no-names will emerge as useful players by spring.

    Here's what the Sharks look like as they head into what could be another Stanley Cup Final season.

Key Roster Changes

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Key Additions

    • Mikkel Boedker (LW)
    • David Schlemko (D)
    • Marcus Sorensen (RW)
    • Tim Heed (D)
    • Maxim Letunov (C)

    Key Departures

    • James Reimer (G)
    • Roman Polak (D)
    • Nick Spaling (LW)
    • Dainius Zubrus (C)

    Aside from the Boedker signing, San Jose made smaller moves, and it remains one of the most creative teams in the NHL when it comes to procurement. David Schlemko is an example; his stock rose significantly last season, and many teams were interested. The Sharks got it done by offering a four-year deal, which could produce real value for years to come.

Projected 2016-17 Depth Chart

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Forwards

    Tomas Hertl - Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton

    Mikkel Boedker - Logan Couture - Joonas Donskoi 

    Patrick Marleau - Chris Tierney - Joel Ward

    Matt Nieto - Tommy Wingels - Melker Karlsson

    Defense

    Paul Martin - Brent Burns

    Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

    Brenden Dillon - David Schlemko

    Goalie

    Martin Jones

    Aaron Dell

Biggest Storylines to Watch

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Can the 35-plus set do it again?

    The Sharks have been blessed with two brilliant forwards in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both men dominate the all-time Sharks scoring records, and both have remained productive late into their 30s. Paul Martin is also over 35 while remaining effective.

    History teaches us that erosion of skills takes place somewhere after 30, and even great players begin to fade after age 35. That said, all three aforementioned players remain productive. There is risk in having so much of the roster and cap tied up in older players, and one of the areas of danger this season is one or more of these veterans falling off in terms of production.

               

    Who is going to be the backup goalie?

    Martin Jones has established himself as a bona fide No. 1 goalie, providing quality netminding for the Sharks. The team was 15 goals better than NHL average and inside the top 10 in even-strength goals against last year.

    Jones started 65 games a year ago, a large total that ranked him No. 5 in the entire NHL. James Reimer and Alex Stalock spent time as backups last season, but there was little work for either man. San Jose tried three men in the backup spot during the preseason, and it looks like Aaron Dell has the best chance for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Fans may want to pay close attention in the next few days, as there could be a roster addition.

              

    Can the Sharks make it back to the Stanley Cup Final?

    San Jose's build toward its first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final took a long time. From the early days of Arturs Irbe and Pat Falloon to Jonathan Cheechoo and Evgeni Nabokov to today, Sharks fans were patient and faithful.

    Now that the fans and organization have had a taste, how long will it take to get back to the Final and win the Stanley Cup? The window of opportunity is closing on Thornton and Marleau, but the team is blessed with top talent of all ages across the roster. This year should see a strong regular season, but the playoffs could be difficult for an older team that went so deep a year ago.

Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Best-Case Scenario

    If the Sharks can rerun last season, it would be difficult to complain about that script. San Jose received quality scoring from two lines—and sometimes three—while also enjoying strong defensive play and stout goaltending.

    Last season, the Sharks successfully ran Thornton with Pavelski and Hertl, giving the team plenty of firepower for a second scoring line. A healthy Couture, Marleau, Ward and others give head coach Peter DeBoer an embarrassment of riches for two feature lines—or three lines that can deliver offense.

    Defensively, the team needs normal performances from Vlasic, Burns and Braun and a strong first season from Schlemko. All are possible, as is one more good season from Martin. The goaltending from Jones should be excellent, and finding an adequate backup shouldn't be difficult.

    The best-case scenario for San Jose involves good health and performances at or near established levels. The team is good enough to win the Pacific Division based on that kind of season.

               

    Worst-Case Scenario

    The elephants in the room for San Jose are age and injury. Couture had a difficult time with injuries a year ago, and he is one of the players the Sharks must have playing at top levels in order to repeat as Western Conference champions.

    The other worry—and it is a big one—is fading performances from Thornton and Marleau. The organization has well over $13 million in cap space tied up in the two men, and that is not a good spot to be in for any NHL team.

    The goalie situation is probably the weakest in terms of depth, but it is uncertain how much that would cost the Sharks should injuries hit. If Jones goes down with a long-term injury, the club could probably reach out and acquire an average NHL backup until he returns. The NHL pool of goalies should allow a team like San Jose to change direction quickly without tremendous asset cost.

    If a veteran like Marleau fades and injuries hit this season, San Jose could fall from the top of the Western Conference. It is anyone's guess if that would be enough for the Sharks to lose a playoff spot in 2016-17.

Final Prediction

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    George Nikitin/Associated Press

    Thornton and Marleau are free agents next summer, Martin and Ward are 35 and Burns and Pavelski are both past 30. No matter what happens in 2016-17, chances are the San Jose Sharks will have a different look coming out of the expansion summer of 2017.

    That means the team has just one more bullet in the chamber for this group. Capping off wonderful California careers for Marleau and Thornton with a Stanley Cup has a certain majesty and poetry—and it is not out of the realm of possibility.

    A lot of things will need to go right, including health across the roster and veterans playing at established levels. If Thornton can post 82 points again, if Pavelski can score 38 goals and if Burns can put up 75 points, this club will make the playoffs and could push for the conference crown again in 2017.

    San Jose badly needs one of its young forwards—Chris Tierney, Nikolay Goldobin—to emerge as a full-fledged NHL player who can deliver offensively while being responsible without the puck. Based on the team's own draft and development record—and the resumes of these players—it is possible one or both will deliver.

    Look for the Sharks to push toward the top of the Pacific Division, finishing second or third and well inside the playoffs. It is unlikely, based on age and roster, that San Jose returns to the Stanley Cup Final, but the team is good enough to win a round or two and go deep into the NHL spring.

                

    All advanced stats via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.