We’ve reached the finale of our season review of the San Jose Sharks. Feel free to catch up on anything missed in the series via the links below.
This season was an important one, promising in some respects, surprising in others. For the first time in two decades, the Sharks played a season without Patrick Marleau. And for the first time in a dozen years, the top line center wasn’t Joe Thornton, even before Thornton’s January knee injury cost him all of the remaining games. But in the absence of the Sharks’ historic players, younger players stepped into bigger roles and delivered one pleasant surprise after another.
Sharks, Start to Finish
Chronologically, the Sharks got off to a solid start (after two miserable games) and continued to grind their way through the season, consistently winning more than they lost and steadily marching towards a playoff berth. The team avoided lengthy losing streaks, but hit a funk after Thornton’s knee injury. In late February, they reeled off a lengthy win streak, shortly after the acquisition of Evander Kane. A late-season slump coincided with Kane injuring his shoulder against Nashville. San Jose finished with 100 points, third place in the Pacific.
In the playoffs, San Jose began by dismissing Anaheim in a four-game sweep, during which goalie Martin Jones had a series for the ages. But in the other Pacific Division playoff series, the Vegas goalie also had a series for the ages. In the second round, it was Vegas putting the Sharks out in six games, five of which were highly competitive efforts from San Jose.
The loss to Vegas seemed almost pre-ordained, given the charmed path Vegas has taken. Still, the Sharks might still be playing if one of two things hadn’t happened. First, Marc-Andre Fleury’s stunning save in overtime of Game 3. And second, the injuries to Evander Kane. Vegas had all sorts of trouble with San Jose’s power forwards, but Kane couldn’t play like one in the series and it cost the team.
Over the year, San Jose’s special teams were superb. They posted a plus-24 differential, best in the league.
Both goaltenders had strong seasons when healthy. Jones went through a couple of unhealthy spells and his game suffered as a result. But when recovered, he bounced back and played at a top level. For a third straight year, he was good in the playoffs. Aaron Dell had another strong season working behind Jones, earning himself a two-year contract extension in the process (at triple the salary). Once again, questions were raised about head coach Peter DeBoer’s tendency to overplay Jones and not keep Dell more active.
Brent Burns took a major tumble this season. Last season, he had a 54-game stretch where he posted a sizzling plus-26 rating. Fifty games into this season, Burns was a dismal minus-24. An astounding difference of minus-50. Burns did come back a bit, finishing the season at minus-16. He also led the team in points and assists.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun had good seasons on defense and both set career marks for offensive production.
Still, the biggest story of the season was the youth. The Sharks transition to a younger team began in a big way this season. Timo Meier, Marcus Sorensen, Barclay Goodrow and Dylan DeMelo all got major increases in playing time and responsibility, while rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan impressed, leading the team in plus-minus. Not only did younger players deliver, but they enabled the Sharks to roll four lines effectively. The team’s depth was an asset all season long.
Logan Couture centered the team’s top line and was the team’s most valuable player, leading them with 34 goals. Meanwhile, linemate Tomas Hertl delivered some of the best work of his career in the playoffs.
Once again this season, a major storyline revolved around Thornton. The legend tore ligaments in his knee in April 2017, but he started the season on time in October. Not surprisingly, he didn’t resemble a healthy Thornton. The January version of Thornton was looking substantially better than the October version. Then he tore ligaments in his other knee, and his season ended.
Two surgeries, one on each knee, in less than a year, makes the return of Thornton less than certain. Certainly, he has the support of everyone who bleeds teal and yes, he’ll probably return. But what will he be in 2018-19? It is an open question.
For San Jose, the transition to a younger team has begun. Time has likely run out in the Sharks careers of Paul Martin and Joel Ward. Martin has another season on his deal, making his exit less certain. If no other solution appears, I’d expect a buyout in June. Ward’s contract ended, and it won’t be renewed. Jannik Hansen is also certain to move on.
The team’s transition to a power forward team went under-the-radar for many. San Jose had five power forwards on the roster by season’s end. Goodrow and Eric Fehr on the fourth line, Meier on the third line, Kane on the second line and Hertl on the top line.
Collectively, they presented matchup problems for other teams, as few clubs have the sort of defensemen who can match up with power forwards on every line. In a league where speed is a big emphasis, talented power forwards present an excellent counter. Kane and Fehr weren’t on the team at the start of the season. At the time, neither Goodrow nor Meier had proven they deserved a regular starting job. By season’s end, the team transformed and candidly, it was competitive with any team in the playoffs.
The Sharks busy offseason has begun and a major move is already complete, signing Kane to a seven-season deal. Others in need of new deals for the upcoming season include Thornton, Hertl and Chris Tierney (another younger player who improved this season). The contract renewal window also opens for Couture and Joe Pavelski on July 1, though their current deals have another full season on them. It is also possible the Sharks will be in a John Tavares bidding battle in late June and on July 1 (the discussion window opens about a week earlier).
All in all, this was a Sharks team which performed better than most expected – they were an under-the-radar team which was awfully close to a much longer playoff run. The overachievement might take away some of the sting, but it remains painful to see another strong San Jose Sharks team come up short of the organization’s biggest goal.