We have reached the finale of our season review of the San Jose Sharks, summarizing the major issues we’re covered along the way. Feel free to catch up on anything missed in our Sharks Season Review series:
- The Main Points
- The Forwards
- The Defense
- The Goalies
- Salary Cap and Roster
- GM and Owner
For the San Jose Sharks, 2016-17 proved a challenging season. The reasons are obvious in some cases and surprising in others. The team merited both its playoff spot and, given the injuries, its first round exit.
Teams face substantial difficulties in the season after a deep playoff run. For reasons covered in our prior articles, the Sharks had more than the normal share.
The veteran team had a solid start to the season. San Jose spent a large chunk of the season leading the Pacific Division, before running out of gas in March and finishing third. Major injuries to critical players piled up late in the season. By the time the battle of attrition known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs started, San Jose was on the very wrong side of the attrition equation. Though San Jose put up a respectable battle in the opening round of the playoffs, Edmonton dismissed the Sharks in six games.
The roster was excellent, including Ted Lindsay Award and Norris Trophy finalist Brent Burns. Burns’ play earned him the richest contract in Sharks history. The coaching, though, was a mixed bag. Issues including integrating new forwards, a power play power outage and a drop-off in the face-off circle were among things gone wrong.
The Sharks defense was superb, the offense acceptable, with the exception of the power play. Goaltending was a minor problem, as the starter had a below average season. Fortunately, the backup was stellar.
Depth was terrific, the best in team history. The fourth forward line, third defensive pair and backup goalie were major positives.
This offseason will be busy for San Jose, though many moves are not overly complicated. The Sharks have already re-signed Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi. They’ll attempt to extend franchise cornerstones Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones, both entering the final season of their deals. They’ll hope to keep top prospects Ryan Carpenter and Tim Heed. We’ll see what they want to do with fourth liners Chris Tierney and Micheal Haley, both are free agents.
Decisions need to be made on who to protect in the expansion draft and the direction the team wants to take with underperforming free agent Mikkel Boedker. Likewise, the team needs to consider its options with a pair of elders. Joel Ward, under contract for another season, and Paul Martin, under contract for two more seasons.
The second biggest storyline revolves around Patrick Marleau, the Sharks all-time leader in numerous categories including goals and points.
Marleau was drafted by San Jose 19 years and 11 months ago. He’s spent his entire career with the Sharks, though his play became uneven in recent years. The 2016-17 season was his best in several years, including entry into the NHL’s exclusive 500 career goal club. Yet, he’ll be 38 soon, and he becomes a free agent if the team doesn’t sign him between now and June 30. There is little doubt the Sharks will attempt to keep Marleau, but the decision will come down to Marleau’s desire to stay in San Jose. It is likely Marleau will get more money by testing the free agency waters than by agreeing to a team-friendly deal.
The Top Story
No Sharks story this season is bigger than the one about the player nicknamed Jumbo, Joe Thornton. Over the past few seasons, Thornton has notched one impressive milestone after another. In early March, against Winnipeg, Thornton earned career assist 1,000. Just the 13th player to reach this milestone, he joined a group which includes only hockey royalty. A month later, Thornton’s career took an ominous turn.
On the same ice sheet where he won Olympic gold in 2010, Thornton tore multiple ligaments in his knee. This late season injury is franchise-changing.
Thornton had a modest season by his standards even prior to the injury. San Jose has had, since Thornton’s arrival in 2005, a top line center who competed effectively with the best in hockey. It is safe to say, the days of Thornton filling this role are over. While we’ll touch on the challenges of his recovery more during the offseason, the player who may return to San Jose for the 2017-18 season will not be the elite player of 2015-16. He probably won’t even be the pretty good player of the 2016-17 season.
An Era Ends
Like Marleau, Thornton is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. There are many questions about Thornton, including whether he returns to play for San Jose. He’s been terrific for a dozen seasons in San Jose. But once people pass the wishful thinking phase and reality sets in, one thing becomes painfully clear: an era has passed.
Going forward, the Sharks have most of the pieces needed for a very successful team. The missing piece is a player along the lines of what Joe Thornton was not too long ago.
A year ago, I wrote the Sharks window for a championship was simple. It was open as long as Joe Thornton was a top NHL player. The knee injury closed this window. For the Sharks to re-open the window, they’ll need someone new to fill those Jumbo-sized skates.
With one era ending, what will the next era look like? The answers start with this offseason. Chapter One of the next era of Sharks hockey begins now.