The San Jose Sharks have enjoyed consistent success like few other franchises have seen. They’ve missed the playoffs only twice since 1997, reaching the Conference Finals five times. If you don’t think that means anything, then consider that there are 17 franchises that have been to a Conference Finals series fewer times than San Jose.
For the first time in a long time the Sharks are facing a season that could be the beginning of the end for their yearly success.
During the 2018-19 season the Sharks controlled play with a 54.87 percent Corsi for (CF%) rating. That’s good enough for tops in the league and a generous uptick from the normal Peter DeBoer Sharks teams that we’re used to.
DeBoer is normally in the 51 percent range. That’s still a nice number that will allow you to have success. It’s an even better number when you have a collection of stars. That’s what DeBoer has had for the past three seasons – but they’re starting to fade, or outright disappear.
It will be a difficult task for DeBoer to keep his possession averages on his career trend if he loses the players that are up for free agency.
A Joe-Less Sharks?
If Joe Thornton retires, then San Jose is losing a huge part of their team. That being said, the Thornton of today is a shell of what he once was. The decline was increasingly evident during the 2018-19 regular season and playoffs. If he does come back for another year, the decline will only continue, so expectations of what he will bring offensively will have to be lower.
If he does decide to retire, scoring chances should still be created without Thornton on the ice. But how many could be the problem. He has always been a possession savvy player, and one the Sharks have leaned on during his entire tenure. That was no different this season as he had one of the best possession numbers on the team (3.37 relative Corsi for). But Thornton isn’t the only Joe who could be gone.
There’s also Joe Pavelski.
Pavelski is going to be an expensive keep for the Sharks, and it might be in the best interest of both parties to say their goodbyes.
San Jose could lose another positive possession player (0.27 relative Corsi for) who has provided star level offensive results. Pavelski is not as far in his decline as Thornton, but the contract he receives next is one he won’t be able to live up to.
If it’s a game of loyalty that ends up being played, then expect San Jose to lose. The team always loses on loyal contracts.
The Erik Karlsson Effect
Erik Karlsson was a major factor in the higher-than-normal possession numbers for the Sharks this season. He also was a huge contributor in masking the nightmarish goaltending that plagued the team all season long.
With Karlsson potentially not returning, we can expect a regression on Brendan Dillon’s 57.28% shot attempt share. Dillon was a 51.3% Corsi for player in the three seasons prior to Karlsson being there. Don’t expect him to fall off a cliff, though, because he is a still a positive possession player overall relative to the team on a regular basis.
Karlsson simply made the whole roster better by just playing. That’s what we saw from him with the Ottawa Senators, and it’s what we saw with him with the Sharks. It’s unfortunate for San Jose if he’s moving on because there’s no indication his play will lessen any time soon.
The Complete Disappearance of Martin Jones
All of the individual question marks with regards to personnel loss are beginning to add up, and we haven’t even discussed the biggest issue within the Sharks: Martin Jones.
Jones hit career rock bottom during the 2018-19 season as he put together the worst campaign of any goaltender. The .895 save percentage (SV%) was good enough for dead last for anyone who played at least 655 minutes at 5-on-5. It highlights a decline that began immediately following his first season with San Jose.
We’ve already seen above that the Sharks control the puck more than their opponent, but a lot of that work gets undone with this poor save percentage. The Sharks allow an above average amount of high-danger chances, however, Jones also sports a below average high-danger save percentage. His poor play just carries over to each shot location.
The Sharks’ goaltending issue will certainly be more prominent if all three of Thornton, Pavelski and Karlsson are gone. San Jose has cap space to sign a large contract or two, but their focus has to be on their expiring youth contracts.
If the youth continues to develop at a good pace, it will offset some of the loss, but there will still be damage done. It could be a very long season for the Sharks if they fail to control play at a normal rate and the goaltending stays below replacement level.
*all stats from naturalstattrick.com