The Lockout Hurts, Part IV: San Jose Sharks

The San Jose Sharks have been one of the NHL’s most successful franchises over the past decade. They have been first or second in the Pacific Division in nine of the past 10 seasons.  They have advanced to the Conference Final three times. However, they have been unable to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Sharks are not as strong as they once were – their forward depth, in particular, is much shallower than it once was.

They have a goaltender with a winning pedigree in Antti Niemi, but many wonder if he can lead this Sharks club to postseason success. Their forward core, most notably Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, have had their big game performances questioned by hockey pundits. Their prospect group is relatively shallow thanks to many years of stocking up at the trade deadline.

Has the window to win closed in San Jose?

Five teams that stand to benefit from a lockout or shortened season:

Five teams that will suffer with no hockey in 2012-13:

As mentioned, the Sharks have been one of the NHL’s most successful clubs over the past decade. They have had great individual successes and deep and talented rosters, but have been unable to translate that into postseason successes. Why will the current work stoppage hurt the Sharks?

The Window to Win

The Sharks aren’t necessarily old, but the likes of Marleau, Thornton, and Dan Boyle have played their best hockey. San Jose has had many chances to live up to the high expectations placed upon them by fans and media, but they have come up short every time. And the Western Conference is in the middle of a balance of power shift – San Jose and Detroit are now having to contend with young and talented teams in Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Jeremy Roenick absolutely rips into Marleau:

San Jose does have some talented young players that they will build their team around for the next decade. On the back end, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic compliment each other nicely. Burns is a dynamic skater and offensive talent, while Vlasic is a defensive rock and one of the most positionally sound defensemen in the entire league. Boyle, as mentioned, is in the twilight years of his career. Veteran Brad Stuart will supply ample experience and defensive acumen, but he isn’t a game changer.

Up front, Logan Couture is one of the better young two-way forwards in the game. Ryane Clowe is, at times, a dominant power forward. He hasn’t figured out how to apply himself consistently, and he may never will. Joe Pavelski is a very versatile forward capable of scoring 30 goals, and the Sharks have leaned heavily on him in recent years.

It is hard to see the current Sharks team being able to match up with the speed and depth of several Conference rivals without significant changes to the core.

Goaltending

There is no ignoring the fact that Niemi has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, but he owes much of his success to the team he played behind. The 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks were a dominant team at both ends of the ice. Niemi did supply very solid goaltending for them during their postseason run, but he would have to play much better in order to carry this current Sharks team all the way.

The Sharks rewarded him with a four-year extension worth $3.8 million per before the start of the 2011 season. Was Niemi deserving of that type of money? At times, he is one of the best goaltenders in the league. He has gone on stretches in the past where he plays lights out in goal. However, he is also prone to giving up soft goals on a regular basis.

Goaltending scout Justin Goldman of the Goalie Guild is very high on Sharks prospect goaltender Alex Stalock, but he isn’t ready to start at the NHL level yet. Stalock was profiled at the Hockey Writers a few months ago.

While Stalock might spend the majority of his next hockey season in the AHL, the goalie has not failed to impress the San Jose organization since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. The Minnesota native has shown steady improvement since 2005 as the netminder has put up impressive numbers while playing in the USHL, NCAA, ECHL and AHL. Even though Stalock suffered a leg injury that hindered his 2011-2012 season, fans should look forward to the goalie making an impact in the NHL in the near future as there are a couple of factors that could influence the netminder’s arrival in San Jose.

A Bare Cupboard

The Sharks have one of the weaker prospect groups in the league. Hockey Prospectus profiled their top 10 a few weeks ago – you can read that right here. Recent 1st round pick Tomas Hertl aside, the Sharks don’t have any high end talent in the farm system. Consistent on-ice success led to annual trade deadline day acquisitions in which the Sharks typically gave up futures (picks and prospects) for veterans and proven players. They moved prospects Mike Connelly, Michael Sgarbossa, and winger Jamie McGinn to Colorado at the 2012 deadline in a trade that fetched them wingers TJ Galiardi and Daniel Winnik. Sgarbossa, in particular, is a prospect with lots of offensive upside. Hockey Prospectus ranked him as the second best propsect in the Colorado system.

Sgarbossa has high-end hockey sense and good puck skills which led to praise from scouts this year such as “the ability to take over games” and “the kind of player who makes everyone around him better.” The OHL scoring leader this season also has a feisty side to him, as he plays with a great on-ice drive, and shows a lot of competiveness on the forecheck and in battles. He’s a solid skater who isn’t an explosive player but has a fine top gear and a good first step. Sgarbossa is a solid finisher as well. He has a great off-ice regimen, and is physically ready to make the next step.

Matt Nieto and Travis Oleksuk are both very solid young forwards, but neither has much upside beyond a second or third line forward. After Hertl, they are the two best prospects in the organization.

Some of San Jose’s trades since 2005:

  • 2006-07: Acquired Bill Guerin for a 1st round pick (St. Louis selected David Perron) and two players
  • 2006-07: Acquired Craig Rivet from Montreal in exchange for Josh Gorges and a 1st round pick (Mac Pacioretty)
  • 2007-08: Acquired Brian Campbell for Steve Bernier and a 1st round pick (Buffalo selected Tyler Ennis)
  • 2008-09: Acquired Travis Moen and Kent Huskins from Anaheim for Nick Bonino, a prospect, and a conditional pick

Ennis, Pacioretty, and Perron may not have been the players San Jose would have selected had they kept the picks, but all three are proven top six forwards with top line upside. Bonino is a very good young center who the Ducks are counting on to center their third line in 2012-13. The Sharks also traded top prospect Charlie Coyle to Minnesota last summer, but that was not a trade for a rental player. They received Brent Burns in return, and Burns will be the backbone of the defense in San Jose for the foreseeable future.

Off the ice, the Sharks were able to recover from the last lockout. San Jose has a strong fan base for hockey, thanks in large part to the successful product the team has put forth on the ice.

If you live in the Bay Area and are starved for hockey this fall, I’d highly recommend checking out the San Francisco Bulls, who are playing in the Cow Palace. This is the inaugural season in the ECHL for the Bulls.

The lockout isn’t going to help the Sharks much. They are a year or two away from a minor rebuild, as they don’t have the players to contend right now, nor do they have the prospects to contend in the near future.

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