2013-14 NHL Season Preview: San Jose Sharks

antti-niemiThe 2013-14 San Jose Sharks will make the playoffs, but will fail to make a significant impact in the postseason.

It’s the same story for the San Jose Sharks year after year, despite constant tinkering by GM Doug Wilson. The Sharks are a very good regular season team, but they flop in the playoffs. Will this year be different?

One of the interesting storylines for the Sharks this season is the fact that captain Joe Thornton and assistant captain Patrick Marleau are both unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. In particular, what will a contract year bring from each player in terms of performance, and would the Sharks entertain offers for either player should they remain unsigned when the trade deadline hits? Either player would bring a big return, and with the emergence of players like Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, the Sharks could choose to build a winner around their younger crop of talent in the coming years.

While interesting to think about, it’s unlikely that the Sharks don’t do everything in their power to re-sign Thornton, who is still one of the best passers in the game, as well as Marleau, who continues to contribute at a high level each season. But the time can’t be far away from when the Sharks begin to consider making bigger moves to change their status from a good regular season team to Stanley Cup contenders.

It’s worth noting that for as much fire power as the team has on offense, they managed to finish 24th in the league last season in goals scored per game with an average of 2.42. That’s a far drop from 13th in the league in 2011-12. Depth is certainly a concern for the Sharks outside of their top-four of Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and Couture.

On defense, the team finished last season 6th in the NHL in goals allowed per game with a 2.33 average. While Dan Boyle is a very strong puck-moving defenseman, Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan are known more for their stay-at-home abilities. Stuart’s play also brings an element of physicality, especially during the playoffs. Like many teams, the Sharks could always use more defensive depth, but their defensive core is strong and likely won’t need much tinkering. Plan on another strong performance from the Sharks’ blue line this year.

Goaltending is another strong area for San Jose. Antti Niemi quietly put together a very strong campaign last season, finishing with 24 wins, a .924 save percentage and a 2.16 goals against average. His numbers have been very consistent over the past several seasons, and will likely be very similar again this year. As long as Niemi doesn’t endure any extensive injuries, the team should be all set with him in net.

For the past several years, the San Jose Sharks have just been good enough. They’ve been good enough to make the playoffs each year, and sometimes make a splash beyond the first round – twice making it to the conference finals over the past five years. But they haven’t been great, at least not Stanley Cup contender great. Tinkering here and there hasn’t gotten them anywhere, and one has to wonder how much longer they will continue tinkering before major changes—either to the coaching staff, the players or the front office—take place. As it stands right now, the Sharks are good enough to make the playoffs. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.

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