The San Jose Sharks had one of the quietest offseasons of any NHL team. The major moves involved players they re-signed and one they didn’t.
It is clear the Sharks management is largely pleased with the roster, and value continuity within the organization. Nonetheless, they have kept the door open for major change by leaving salary cap space open. The Sharks have historically spent close to the cap. Absent any future moves, it will not be the case this season.
The higher end forwards include familiar names Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. The middle is filled with competent veterans, including Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Jannik Hansen and Joonas Donskoi.
For the lower lines, there is an abundance of players competing for roster spots. Last season, San Jose’s fourth line was among the more effective fourth lines in the league. If anything, their depth has improved, with developing players such as Ryan Carpenter and Danny O’Regan making strong pushes for a roster spot.
The defense was the strength of the team last season and the group of defenseman is unchanged, save for the loss of David Schlemko to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. The top 2 defensive pairs remain intact, one featuring defensive ace Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the other featuring offensive force Brent Burns. Even with Schlemko’s departure, the third pairing is hardly starting from scratch. Dylan DeMelo has played 70 games in his two NHL seasons, partnering with Brenden Dillon for nearly all of them. The two have good chemistry and formed a solid third pairing. Even so, DeMelo faces strong competition for a starting role from last season’s San Jose Barracuda standouts Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan.
The goalies remain unchanged from last season, with Martin Jones locked in as the starter. Backup Aaron Dell tied Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky for the top save percentage in the NHL last season. Underused last season, Dell can be expected to carry a larger load in 2017-18.
The Common Marleau Question
The biggest story of the Sharks summer is a player no longer in San Jose, Patrick Marleau. Marleau was in the local media often, including pictures of him skating at the Sharks practice facility wearing his Toronto jersey and leaving the area for his new team. A charming photo of Marleau with his kids was perhaps the most noticed. While Dad was smiling, his four boys appeared none too happy in their new sweaters.
There's a whole lot of Canadian pride here. 💙 pic.twitter.com/dWbS17mmIW
— Christina Marleau (@c_marleau) July 28, 2017
Many have wondered how much Marleau’s absence will impact San Jose. The most common question I’ve seen this summer is – how will San Jose replace Marleau’s 27 goals? Among playoff teams, only Ottawa scored fewer regular season goals than the Sharks. Losing 12 percent of the team’s goal scoring seems like a big hole.
In practice, though, the Sharks need to fix just one thing and most of Marleau’s missing production returns. The team set a new franchise low for power play scoring in 2016-17 with a meager 41 tallies. This is a drop-off of 21 goals from the prior season, when the Sharks led the league in power play scoring with 62. While Marleau will be missed on the power play, the Sharks top unit is expected to include four players who have combined for over 1,000 career goals. They know how to score and last season’s extra-man scoring slump has ‘anomaly’ written all over it.
The Meaningful Marleau Question
The Sharks are a defense-oriented team, among the best in hockey in shot suppression. They allowed the fifth fewest goals in the league, despite a starting goalie who was 35th in save percentage (among goalies with over 1,000 minutes of playing time).
The question rarely raised but more important is “what will Marleau’s absence do to the defense?” On this front, the answer is murky. Marleau is a good possession player, though his plus-4 rating last season was his first positive finish since 2011-12. Aside from his monster game against the Colorado Avalanche, where he scored four goals (all in the third period) and finished the game plus-4, Marleau was even on the season.
Marleau was not used on the penalty kill last season. Though he can be an effective penalty killer, using him for these tough minutes didn’t benefit the player or the team.
The Sharks have no shortage of quality younger players looking for roster spots. The competition is so intense, last season’s top rookie, Kevin Labanc (20 points, plus-9), might not make the Sharks roster. While it might not be the glamorous choice, the Sharks are likely to go for a defensively responsible roster replacement for Marleau, as opposed to a goal scorer.
Losing Marleau to Toronto isn’t likely to move the needle defensively while a power play resurgence should nicely fill the goal-scoring gap. Marleau’s departure is emotional, but the impact on the Sharks should be surprisingly modest, as long as the power play returns to form.
The Season Ahead
With the preseason underway, the story in San Jose is about openings and opportunities. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson told developing players they’d get a shot to earn a roster spot. With the departure of Schlemko, Marleau and former Sharks pugilist Micheal Haley (who played 58 games last season), there are jobs to be earned. These jobs won’t be filled by rentals such as Jaromir Jagr, the jobs will get filled by players within the organization. Wilson values the competition and there will be plenty. The decisions on roster spots made during the preseason are not final. The competition for roster spots will last all season. After all, moving a player from the Barracuda up to the Sharks is literally a walk down the hall.
As the quiet summer ends, the Sharks turn towards a pivotal season. In the days ahead, we’ll begin our look at the upcoming season in earnest and explore the three major questions facing this team.
Over the weekend, a pair of popular former Sharks were traded for each other. Both Jamie McGinn and Jason Demers began their NHL careers in San Jose. They were Sharks teammates from 2009-2012. McGinn is headed to his sixth NHL team, the Florida Panthers. He’ll be coached by former Sharks assistant Bob Boughner. Demers, now on his fourth NHL team, returns to the Pacific Division with the rapidly improving Arizona Coyotes.