None of California’s three teams qualified for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Though it was a chaotic year, that does not dispute the fact that the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks were among the weakest in the league. With never-ending hope of making the 2021 postseason for all Californians, I will show you why the Sharks are California’s best shot.
Sharks’ Past Playoffs
The most obvious reason stems from the 2018-19 season. The Sharks made it to the Conference Final. A little recap: The Sharks won against the Vegas Golden Knights, then proceeded to beat the Colorado Avalanche and progressed into the semis where they faced the St. Louis Blues (who went on to ultimately win the Cup). During their run against the Blues, the Sharks started out strong with a win in Game 1.
The Blues then responded with a Game 2 win. At this point, it could still be anyone’s series. In Game 3, the Sharks took the series lead and things were starting to look promising when the Blues took over, winning the next three games and advancing to the Final. A full summary of Game 6 can be found here, Bleacher Report.
Though the 2019-20 season did not seem auspicious, being only one year out from a shot at the Stanley Cup Final ought to be a good sign. However, let’s take a look at more concrete reasons that the Sharks are California’s best option for next year’s Cup.
Los Angeles Kings
It is important to delve into the other two California teams. The Kings had a weak start to their 2019-20 season but had a strong run before the NHL cut off due to COVID. They are also currently nearing the end of their necessary rebuild. Though this will make them strong contenders they do not quite have the proper team put together to send them all the way.
For their 2020-21 season, the Kings have limited talent beyond Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. Though they will have a few recent draft picks starting their NHL career next season, it is more likely that the team will need a season to figure out how to work together.
Their goaltending is strong (something the Sharks are currently lacking) but a strong goalie and two excellent players are not enough to take a team all the way. For now, it is evident that the Sharks have a stronger roster.
The Ducks are in a similar position. With a weak 2019-20 season, they did not show much promise when it came to their players. Their goalie, John Gibson, is decent but not enough to carry the rest of their team. Being in the middle of a rebuild themselves, the Ducks may have a difficult time pulling it together for the coming season.
This being said, no one can predict completely how a team will function each season and either team could (somewhat surprisingly) pull it together and come out strong. The chances of this are slim.
Injury: Tomas Hertl
In order for the Sharks to make it into the 2021 playoffs, they will need to avoid injuries that have previously harmed some of their top players. This past season both Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture were affected by injuries. The former suffered from a torn ACL and MCL, as Daily Faceoff reports. Prior to being sidelined for his injury, Hertl had 16 goals and 36 points in 48 matches with the Sharks. Hertl’s recovery was seemingly smooth.
In April of 2020, he was ahead of the scheduled recovery time and by August 6th, he could resume skating. It is expected that Hertl will be at training camp this coming season and will continue without any repercussions. Though it is unsure whether he can recreate his solid 2019-20 campaign (as Hertl has never surpassed 50 points before this season) we can be certain that he will come back with a drive to be stronger and continue his solid play. This would help vault the Sharks into the fight for the Cup.
Injury: Logan Couture
Couture, on the other hand, suffered from an injury ridden season in 2019-20. He missed 17 games from January 9th to February 23rd after suffering from an ankle fracture he sustained while playing against the Blues.
Following this, the Sharks captain was struck in the side of his head by a puck in the first period of a game against the Avalanche. He was unable to return to play for the rest of that game. Couture had only five shifts at this point and had 4:07 of ice time before the injury. According to Bob Boughner, the decision to keep Couture out of the game was purely precautionary. This does not dispute the fact that losing him for the rest of the game contributed to the Sharks defeat that day.
Despite these injuries and absences, Couture ended the season having played 52 games and acquired 39 points overall. As a two-time all-star and team captain, Couture is of enormous benefit to the Sharks. A key to San Jose playing a solid 2020-21 season is both Hertl and Couture staying injury-free.
It is undeniable that the Sharks have the most talent of the three California teams. With many seasoned vets such as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson to guide their newer players, as well as the young players motivating the vets to play better, the Sharks have a dynamic that will help them qualify for the playoffs in 2021. They have also built substantial depth in their defense, setting them up for a hopefully successful season. Any positive player surprises combined with their dynamic and deepened defense should bring them back into the playoff mix.
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Although the Sharks suffered the worst record of the three Californian teams in their 2019-20 season they are still clearly the best positioned to get back into the playoffs. Between their past playoff appearances, the state of the Kings and the Ducks, healed injuries and pure talent, it would be surprising if these other teams surpassed them. Though all of these things have to align, most have a reasonable chance of happening, therefore there is a good chance the Sharks can get back into the playoffs. This is why Californians should believe that the Sharks are their best shot.