We're barreling down the stretch now with our season previews as camps are establishing their rosters. Jobs will be won, hearts will be broken, and some interesting developments can occur out of injury and necessity. Before you know it, the puck will drop on regular season hockey and we'll see how close to the mark (or how far off) we were with our predictions.
And now, the San Jose Sharks.
Team M.O.: All and all, the team's very balanced much like the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference. That said, their success lives and dies by the overall quality of players they have in their roles. While the team flirted with having split goaltending duties in the past, but it didn't work out then; they're praying it will work out now.
Last Season: First in the Western Conference, where they finally broke into the Western Conference Finals... where they were dispatched in 4 games by the Chicago Blackhawks. They made some changes in the off-season, were they the right ones?
Offense: I don't care who you tout as the "big" center of the team, Joe Pavelski's worth mentioning first because he's going to be an elite playmaker in the league. Hockey people don't like his size though, so they have a guy like "Jumbo" Joe Thornton to fortify their scoring lines with the same skill set and an immense presence. Patrick Marleau enjoyed something of a bounce back season per se but that's only because the bar's raised so high for his performance to the point where anything less than a point-per-game is worrisome. Playing with Dany Heatley certainly didn't hurt or vice versa; the move to the Sharks has been a boon to both of their productivity. Devin Setoguchi suffered something of an "off" season last year but was still averaging a .51 point-per-game average, which is respectable for a second-line forward. Ryane Clowe managed to look like a combination of his new and old selves last season, putting up 57 points to go with 131 penalty minutes; he really is one of the most underrated power forwards in the league. In terms of scoring forwards; they may chose to have Benn Ferriero on their roster as their "Number 7" scoring winger, but he should still have waiver options so the team may chose to assign him to the minors instead. Regardless, this is as good as a group of scoring forwards as you'll find and keeps them competitive with the rest of the teams in their division.
Going into the "bottom-six" portion of the depth chart, Logan Couture's done well in his stints with the Sharks to the point where having him playing on the third unit could be better than having him spend more time in the minors; his skills are what they are but he can still learn the speed of the NHL game. Torrey Mitchell's done very well as a checker and could be a surprise source of secondary scoring. Jamie McGinn's another young forward who'll start off with checking duties but likely be called upon for offensive situations once he matures as well. Scott Nichol gives the checking guys some experience, as well as a nasty presence. Frazer McLaren, however, looks to be the new "take-out-the-trash" guy because he's 6'5" and 250 lbs (yowza!) but he can still skate a regular shift. Jamal Mayers was brought on to provide veteran presence but just because he's getting up there in age doesn't mean he can't throw down, either. John McCarthy will likely crack the lineup thanks to his speed and defensive presence while Steven Zalewski may crack the line up if Ferriero is re-assigned; Zalewski might not be spectacular but he's versatile.
If anything fails the checking forwards, it's either inexperience or injuries. Otherwise, they look pretty good from here.
Defense: Hockey fans in Tampa Bay still rue the day the Lightning sent Dan Boyle to the Sharks; he still generates close to 60 points annually from the blue line. Marc-Edouard Vlasic's still trying to find a level of consistency with his game but he's becoming a more complete defenseman each year. Douglas Murray doesn't throw down nearly as much as you'd want to see him do, but he still provides the team a solid defender who's capable of negating the oppositions offensive attack. Niclas Wallin was unspectacular when coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes, but the team re-signed him because having Cup-winning veteran defensemen on a good contract isn't a bad thing. Kent Huskins gives the team a solid third-pairing defender; he kinda disappeared come playoff time so that's something of a concern. The last remaining spots are going to be battled for by Jay Leach, tryout Andreas Lilja, and prospects Derek Joslin and Jason Demers.
All and all, the depth looks great at first but kinda tapers off when you go down. It's by no means bad but just not optimal.
Goaltending: The crease is crowded but whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen. The team picked up Antti Niemi from the Blackhawks and he provides a team with a goaltender who's as consistent in the playoffs as he is in the regular season; though those results came with a far superior defense playing in front of him so it will be interesting to see how he does with the Sharks. Antero Niittymaki was brought over and while he's a capable goaltender to use in a 1/1A setup, his consistency (or lack thereof) is somewhat frustrating; leaving you no choice but to designate him as the backup so he'll be pushed to push for the starting job.
I'm not a fan because Thomas Greiss is looking to be the odd man out on this lineup and considering the Shark's roster needs, they likely won't go into the season with three goaltenders. Greiss, if anything, understands their system and has done well when called upon. If he gets waived, he will be claimed. Beyond him is Alex Stalock, but he's only a season removed from college so he's got waiver rights all day.
In short, two new goalies in a system could be a blessing or a curse. Call it a roll of the dice and if you're a Shark's fan, hope for the best.
Management: Coach Todd McLellan's brought a system to the Sharks that the players and the management are believing in. It's efficient, it works, and he's just as bright as the guy who taught him. If anything, it's up to GM Doug Wilson's vision to come to fruition. Can the teams he builds finally get over the top?
Prediction: Third in the Pacific Division yet still in the playoffs.
The Pacific Division is arguably the best and will for certain send three teams into the playoffs. Their group of forwards are spectacular and the rest of the team's still slightly above average. While San Jose takes a slight step back this season in comparison to the loaded L.A. Kings or the balanced Phoenix Coyotes, they'll still be competitive enough to land a playoff spot.