Last season was unfamiliar territory for the San Jose Sharks, scrapping through the season and only clinching a playoff spot at the very end. This year, a slow start in a 48-game schedule could be the difference between a summer of hockey and one on the golf course.
For San Jose to keep the playoff streak alive, they must get contributions from all members. Here are 5 players to watch on the 2013 San Jose Sharks:
5.) Ryane Clowe
Ryane Clowe has been a staple in the Sharks top-six ever since the 2006-07 season. Last season, Clowe had a down year by his standards, registering 17 goals and 45 points in 76 games. This was after averaging around 60 points the two seasons previous. Clowe is in the last year of this contract and is due to become a UFA.
At 6’2”, 225 pounds, Clowe has a valuable mix of skill and size, which would make him an attractive commodity on the open market.
Clowe is at his best when he is playing a physical game and commanding space for him and his linemates.
4.) Martin Havlat
Havlat arrived in a straight up trade for sniper Dany Heatley. Previously known for being injury prone, Havlat was coming off three straight seasons of playing at least 73 games. Much like the rest of the team, Havlat’s luck took a turn for the worse in San Jose last season, suiting up for just 39 games and managing 27 points.
As you can see, when healthy, Havlat is a proven top-six forward. Though not overly physical, his high hockey IQ and speed put him in plenty of great offensive opportunities. Expect Havlat to rebound and play a key role on the powerplay.
3.) Antti Niemi
Niemi surprised the hockey world in 2010 by backstopping the Chicago Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup championship. Since arriving in San Jose, Niemi has done his role putting up a combined record of 69-40-15 with a combined save percentage of .917% and a GAA of 2.40. He gives the Sharks a chance to win every night.
Niemi attempted to stay in shape during the lockout playing one month in the SM-liiga (Finnish Elite League), but has since returned to workout with the team. With three years left on his contract and a $3.8 million cap hit, Niemi is the go-to guy for the Sharks.
For San Jose to be successful this season, Antti Niemi must continue to uphold the level of play he displayed in his first two years with the Sharks.
2.) Joe Thornton
When Joe Thornton was named captain of the Sharks, he responded with two seasons of playing under the point per game average.
Thornton returned to his wife’s homeland during the lockout and kept in game shape playing for HC Davos. In addition to being game ready, look for Thornton to return to the NHL refreshed and ready to dominate once again.
Expect Thornton to return to the point per game average and lead the charge as the Sharks compete for a playoff spot in this shortened season.
1.) Patrick Marleau
Patrick Marleau has taken criticism from former teammates, analysts, and mostly the fans. Whether justified or not, it seems that Marleau’s future with the team will be determined by their success in 2013. After three straight seasons of 71-plus points, Marleau had a down season in 2012 while still managing 30 goals and 64 points.
It was in the 2012 playoffs that Marleau took the brunt of the criticism, going pointless in a five-game series loss to St. Louis. Marleau is a proven sniper and still an attractive commodity around the NHL.
Look for Marleau to be on the move if this season goes south.
The Sharks fought hard last season, but must come together quickly in order to make the playoffs in 2013.
Thornton, Marleau, and Clowe must rebound from underwhelming 2011-12 seasons, and the injury bug must be avoided in order for San Jose to find success this year.
Creator of the Bettman Stand Up hockey blog. I cover the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers, In Hossa we trust! I also write for publications such as Arbitrage Magazine and Elite Sports Blog. You can follow me on Twitter @RickEmrith