The San Jose Sharks have consistently been one of the top teams in the league during the regular season, but continue to struggle when it counts most. Despite the talk of a rebuild lighting the head of every Sharks fan on fire, there are a lot of positives to take from the San Jose off-season. Primarily: That there wasn’t a rebuild in the sense that many of us expected to see.
We won’t get too deep into rebuild talk here, as it’s been covered really well here at The Hockey Writers. Here’s a bit of what you’ll find on the rebuild at THW: J.D. Burke wrote about how the Sharks can rebuild from within, turning to emerging players like Mirco Mueller or even semi-established younger players like Matt Nieto. Andrew Wilson wrote about what the team is doing despite one of the big head-scratchers being that GM Doug Wilson dropped the “R” word without really starting a rebuild as we usually see. (What we usually see is firing of key staff, stocking up on draft picks, a fire sale on veterans who still have trade value, and a multi-year plan.)
And, lastly (though we have plenty more up on the site), Burke wrote about how the Sharks are getting tough through re-signing Mike Brown and signing guys like John Scott. Burke doesn’t think that’s the ticket to a Cup Final and I’d have to agree. (Oh, and here’s a short read on what Fear the Fin thinks about the Scott signing.)
Nonetheless, the lack of change on the Sharks roster should really be good news. The team was solid throughout the year, boasts a veteran core that still produces (Joe Thornton: 11-65-76, Patrick Marleau: 33-37-70), a solid starting netminder in Antti Niemi who is only one year removed from being Vezina Finalist, a promising second string goalie in Alex Stalock, has a young leadership group in Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic that is blossoming, as well as a group of exciting prospects and emerging talent like Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto, Mirco Mueller, Freddie Hamilton, and Eriah Hayes.
As the Sharks continue to push for an appearance in the Cup Finals, here are five games that fans of the Sharks and other viewers who want to get a good sense of the Sharks’ season shouldn’t miss.
5. Pittsburgh at San Jose, March 9
Sharks fans only get to see the East Coast heavyweights in person once each season. This match should be of particular interest because the Penguins are in a similar position to the Sharks, having under-performed in the playoffs a couple of years in a row.
The Penguins have taken a different approach this offesason than the Sharks. Pittsburgh overhauled management by firing coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero. They allowed forwards Jussi Jokinen and Lee Stempniak, as well as defenseman Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to walk during free agency. They also chose not to re-sign another of other role players.
They traded away top six winger James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, then acquired Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, back-up netminder Thomas Greiss, and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, in what might be one of the best free agency signings this off-season.
They have potentially fixed some depth issues, stayed cap compliant, and acquired a viable back-up to the sometimes shaky Marc-Andre Fleury.
At this point in the season Sharks fans should be able to compare and contrast the differing approaches of the Sharks and Pens and they’ll get a chance to see Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in person.
4. Anaheim at San Jose, November 29
Perennial enemies, the Ducks make their first appearance in SAP Center on November 29. Any game between the Sharks and Ducks is worth catching, but this will be the hometown crowd’s first look at the Ducks new additions of Ryan Kesler and Dany Heatley. Oh, and Clayton Stoner who the Ducks signed to the tune of four years at $3.25 million.
With a couple key signings and the continued development of young players like Emerson Etem, Jakob Silfverberg, Devante Smith-Pelly, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen the Ducks stand be a big divisional threat again this season. Anaheim won the division last season, but the Sharks were only five points behind them. The Pacific Division will likely be a race between these two and the Los Angeles Kings again this season, so every game counts.
3. New York Rangers at San Jose, January 10
The last time the Rangers came to town the Sharks put up nine goals, four of which signaled Tomas Hertl’s coming out party (remember this one?) and the second to last game Martin Biron would play in the NHL after he allowed five goals on 21 shots and was pulled.
This game intrigues not because of that pile-on victory, but because this game sees the Stanley Cup also-rans hitting the west coast and the first game former Shark defenseman Dan Boyle will play in San Jose since being informed that the team would not be re-signing him this off-season.
2. Los Angeles at San Jose, in Levi’s Stadium, February 21
San Jose will become the 19th NHL team to play an outdoor game on February 21 when they take on the Kings at Levi’s Stadium for another installment of the NHL’s Stadium Series. No two teams have played each other more often since the start of the 2010-11 season than the Sharks and Kings. It’s a great rivalry that has involved the Kings knocking the Sharks out of the playoffs for two straight postseasons.
While the announcement has made some Wild fans cry (never give up hope), this is going to be a fantastic outdoor game between two teams that are competing for the division title. Some of these outdoor games fail to take on meaning beyond the fact that they’re outdoors and nationally televised. This late in the season, between these two teams, the two points at stake will mean something. (For instance, this year’s Winter Classic between Washington and Chicago is slightly meaningless outside of it being another two points up for grabs.)
1. San Jose at Los Angeles, October 8
The NHL sure knows how to schedule an exciting game to open the season. Few have forgotten the heartbreaking defeat the Sharks were handed by the Kings in the playoffs. The Sharks took a 3-0 series lead on the Kings, outscoring LA 17-8 in those three games. Then the Kings came back and won four straight, outscoring San Jose 18-5.
No Shark will forget that series, as has been outlined in numerous interviews with the players. Couture recently told the Canadian Press at Smashfest, “The feelings aren’t going to go away, probably never. It’s just something that sticks with you for a long time.” That makes the season opener a chance for some early season revenge on the defending Stanley Cup champs.
For that matter, all the same things can be said of the season finale, which will also be in Los Angeles, on April 11. The final game of the season can sometimes feel a little perfunctory, but even if seedings are locked into place for these two teams, it’s unlikely that either will take it easy on the other with the odds of them facing off again in the playoffs and a season full of animosity and a Stadium Series match behind them.
Both the season opener and season closer will be nationally televised on the NBC Sports Network.
Take a look at the complete San Jose Sharks 2014-15 season schedule here.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.