5 Burning Questions on the Sharks Horizon

As the calendar seems to crawl towards the NHL season, the flip to September can certainly be celebrated. No, it isn’t October yet, but September signifies that training camp is just mere weeks away. And for Sharks fans, this means we can put a nightmare summer in the rear view and look forward to the on ice product.

With that in mind, let’s delve into the five biggest game-play story lines, (the silly captaincy debate won’t be included) as we inch toward the start of the season.

1. Where Will Joe Pavelski Play?

Last year the Sharks opened the regular season on fire with Pavelski as the third line center. I certainly don’t need to rehash how much more successful the Sharks have been when “The Big Pavelski” centers his own line. For some reason though the Sharks seemingly prefer him on Joe Thornton’s wing. A line of Tomas Hertl, Thornton, and Pavelski would be a dominant possession line but it would leave the bottom six dearth of talent.

Photo courtesy of C. Alexander
Photo courtesy of C. Alexander

2. Will They Overload the Top Pair?

With Brent Burns moving back to defense after a year and change at forward, the question remains how they will use him. Popular sentiment has the Sharks pairing Burns with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. This was thought to be the future top pair when San Jose acquired Burns as a defenseman at the 2011 NHL Draft. The issue here though is the same as above. Does overloading hurt the depth? Perhaps the Sharks would be better off with Burns, Vlasic, and Justin Braun (their three best defenders) each on different pairs. If the past is any indication, the Sharks will try Vlasic and Burns together, at least to start.

Brent Burns with the half caveman
Brent Burns with the half caveman

3. Who Mans the Crease Opening Night?

With Antti Niemi struggling last season and rookie Alex Stalock playing lights out (in a short sample size) yours truly was calling for more starts for the freshman goaltender. Doing so made some of my frequent readers believe I was “anti-Niemi” (pardon the pun). That simply isn’t the case. With Niemi playing the first five games of the Kings series, I thought it was a mistake to throw a cold rookie into Game 6. My best guess is Niemi will get the opening night nod in Los Angeles as a sign of respect to the veteran. After that though, these two will split time until one starts to separate himself from the other.

Antii Niemi has proven to be one of the most reliable playoff goaltenders of the past two seasons. (flick/HermanVonPetri).
Antii Niemi has proven to be one of the most reliable playoff goaltenders of the past two seasons. (flick/HermanVonPetri).

4. Can Tyler Kennedy Bounce Back?

Tyler Kennedy had a horrendous first season with the Sharks. There is no getting around that. That said, scratching him the entire playoffs in favor of Mike Brown was a significant mistake. Brown reverted back to being a liability after getting under the skin of the Kings early in the series. The Sharks struggled to score as the series progressed and Kennedy could have helped provide depth scoring. A big reason the Sharks acquired the speedy winger was because of his penchant for scoring big playoff goals for Pittsburgh. Prior to last season Kennedy had played his entire career with the Penguins and with the increased travel and new surroundings in San Jose, he deserves a mulligan. If he gets to play with a talented center this year (like he did in Pittsburgh with Jordan Staal) he can definitely bounce back and score 10-15 goals.

(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Power Play Without Dan Boyle?

For the majority of the past four seasons, the Sharks featured a top power-play unit of Thornton, Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle. With the Sharks having parted ways with Boyle, it is almost a lock that Burns take his place on the top unit. There is a chance though that the Sharks look to mix up their units. Perhaps this means they put Hertl on the top unit and drop Couture to the second. However, both players are terrific offensive weapons who can each take face-offs. Therefore swapping these two doesn’t change much. Considering Couture has tons more experience with the top unit, methinks they will start with the following:

PP 1: Thornton, Marleau, Couture, Pavelski, Burns

PP2: Hertl, Matt Nieto, Tommy Wingels, Matt Irwin, Jason Demers

(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

Even with Boyle gone and Raffi Torres injured, the Sharks can still feature a star-studded top unit and a respectable second unit. Is it October yet? Let’s drop the puck already!


8 thoughts on “5 Burning Questions on the Sharks Horizon”

  1. Andrew,

    Thanks for the reply on my last comment and I agree that there is no reason to reduce the minutes for JT and PM if everything is status quo since they are still top players.

    The point that I was trying to make was that all the talk of turning the team over to the younger players was an absolute joke and those comments by Wilson and McClellan were made solely to deflect the blame after the playoff failure in an attempt to save their jobs. I have lost all respect for Wilson and McClellan and it wouldn’t surprise me if the players have as well considering how quick the GM and Coach were to throw the players under the bus.

    • I don’t think anyone believes Jumbo is tight with McLellan and Wilson anymore. It’s pretty pathetic in my opinion how they are treating a future hall of famer. And if you ask me, the players in the room are smart enough to realize the staff is wrong. They will all say publicly that they think McLellan is a great coach, but I doubt they all feel that way in reality.

  2. It will be interesting to see what approach McClellan takes…will he actually ‘turn the team over the younger players’ (ie. less ice time for JT and PM, including less #1 PP minutes) or will he put the best team out there that he can which would of course means JT and PM on the top lines both even strength and on the PP.

    If the Sharks are really willing to take a step back this year in order to take 2 or 3 steps forward in future years then they can’t just roll the same lines out there that they did last season. I personally don’t see McClellan sacrificing any games this year in order to get the ‘kids’ more minutes which just confirms that the whole ‘rebuild/tomorrow team’ stuff from he and Wilson was just a bunch of nonsense to try to save their jobs.

    The Sharks will make the playoffs, most likely battling to the end of the regular season for a 7 or 8 seed and will get bounced in the first round by one of the other, far deeper teams in the west. Wilson and McClellan’s jobs will be safe once again and we will be having this exact same discussion next year.

    There will be no real change until either Wilson and McClellan are fired or JT and PM’s deals are done in 3 years.

    • Appreciate the read and comment JWR! There is no reason to reduce the minutes of JT or PM, each are still 70 point players, marleau is a 30 goal machine, Thornton will lead the team in points this year as Pavelski’s shooting percentage is bound to come down.

      With new divisional format Sharks will get in easy in my opinion, as the 3 seed in the pacific, nobody can challenge them for that. I’m not sold on the owner Plattner being content with Wilson/McLellan after another first round exit, i hope not anyway.

  3. If they are smart they will pair Burns with Hannan first half of the season. Someone needs to teach Burns how to play defense and Hannan is very good in the role of mentor.

    • I don’t think they are looking to give Hannan top 6 minutes. But that’s an intriguing idea, vlasic-demers, burns-hannan, irwin/mueller-braun.

      Thanks for the read and comment Thomas! Don’t be a stranger!

  4. Enjoy your articles and thoughts Andrew. I just can’t see this team making the step above to get to the finals sadly. Interesting to see what Burns can do. I’m kind of pulling for Stalock to become the starter. I can’t see Joe playing on this team next September. Pavelski is bound to regress but Hertl has potential.

    • Appreciate the love Nathan. Pavelski’s point totals will fall but I don’t believe that means he will regress. But yes, unless they add a top-6 forward at the trade deadline, (6 million in space, they could easily do it) and move Pavelski to 3C FULL time, i dont see this team getting past the first round. Perhaps Colorado falls out of the race and looks to deal Danny Briere, always a big playoff performer, he’s on a one year deal.

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