|Post-Season God Joe Thornton|
51 wins, 20 losses, 11 OTL, 113 points, 3rd overall in the league
The San Jose Sharks are a team that have gained a bit of a nefarious reputation. Despite having some of the best teams in recent years, the Sharks are known for their dramatic post-season collapses. Last year was no exception as the Sharks despite being the top team in the western conference were dramatically swept in the conference finals by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. This season shall be interesting for the Sharks as their window of opportunity to make it to the hockey promise land is gradually closing and there's no telling how many more chances the current incarnation of this team will get. The question for the Sharks this season will be can they rise above their choker label and win the Stanley Cup this season?
The Sharks are blessed to be led by three elite forwards up front. Centering the top line will be former first overall pick Joe Thornton who was recently named the captain of the Sharks. Thornton has been one of the most consistent regular season scoring players since his arrival in the NHL. The 6-4 pivot is perhaps the best playmaker in the NHL while occasionally showing a bit of a fiery streak. The Sharks pulled off quite the coup when they traded for controversial sniper Dany Heatley from the Ottawa Senators. Heatley is an uber-talented winger who's blossomed into a superstar and one of the best goal scorers in the league. Another second overall pick in Patrick Marleau surprised with a career year in goals (44) and perhaps the best season of his career when he was moved from center to wing last year. Marleau is a smooth skating constant scoring threat who also can play a decent two-way game.
The Sharks historically have always had one of the better scouting and player development programs. That will pay off this year with three players under 23-years old who are expected to play a huge role in the Sharks' top six. The Sharks were heavily criticized when they moved up in the 2005 draft to select Devin Setoguchi eighth overall. However the 23-year old Setoguchi has developed into the goal scoring sniper they were looking for. The young winger has fantastic goal scoring instincts while being competent in the defensive zone. Setoguchi will likely start on the top line with Thornton. The 22-year old Jamie McGinn has found himself as an effective toolbox player for the Sharks. McGinn offers a honest hard working two-way game with flashes of offensive potential. The Sharks believe there's some offensive upside in McGinn as he'll likely compliment the top line to be begin the season. Logan Couture is a bit of a question mark for the Sharks. The 21-year old is a silky smooth intelligent forward who has an innate gift for generating offense. Couture dominated the AHL last season but has some questions about whether or not he's going to be a third line or a first line talent in this league.
Ryane Clowe is a power forward who does all the little things that teams covet. Clowe plays an old school physical game that involves roughing up the opposition and playing dirty in front of the net. Clowe isn't the most gifted or consistent scorer but he's a fantastic complimentary player. Joe Pavelski seemingly came out of nowhere to develop into an excellent top six center. The former seventh round pick boasts a balanced scoring acumen with decent vision and an underrated shot. Despite Pavelski's talent, due to the depth of quality forwards for the Sharks he'll likely start on the third line. Torrey Mitchell is a hard working checking center with a bit of a scoring touch. The 25-year old Mitchell has evolved into the Sharks' de facto toolbox player and will likely start the season on the wing for even strength minutes.
The Sharks in the past have loved to sprinkle long time veterans into their lineup to serve in complimentary roles. The most recent of these is defensive center Scott Nichol who's an effective energy player and intergal part of the penalty kill. Recent UFA signee Jamal Mayers has made a name as a hard nosed depth forward who can play any forward position. Mayers will be looked upon to be an asset to the penalty kill and to punish the other team with his gritty style. 22-year old depth winger Frazer McLaren will likely occupy the opposite wing on the fourth line. The huge 6-5 McLaren plays a decent gritty two-way game while displaying a decent pair of fists when needed. McLaren will be looked upon to be something of an enforcer this season for the Sharks.
The Sharks' defense is this team's weakness as it gets rather thin beyond their top two defensemen. Dan Boyle has been one of the best offensive defensemen for the last decade. The 34-year old rearguard is considered to be one of the best powerplay quarterbacks with elite vision and offensive instincts. Boyle is one of the most consistent number one defensemen in the league. 23-year old Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been very impressive since entering the league three years ago. Vlasic is a versatile minute eating defenseman who can play virtually any role asked of him on the backend. Vlasic doesn't excel at any one aspect of the game but is extremely competent in the defensive zone, adequate in the offensive zone, and shows the potential to only get better.
Douglas Murray is a big mean Swedish defenseman who's blossomed into the de facto shutdown defenseman in San Jose. Murray will never threaten to win the Art Ross trophy but he's a consistent physical defenseman who can lock down a defensive zone and intimidate the other team. Murray will be San Jose's main penalty killer on the blue line. The Sharks are excited about 22-year old Jason Demers who displayed a flair for offense in his rookie debut last season. Demers is a puck moving defenseman who excels in the offensive zone while being adequate in the defensive zone. The Sharks will look to Demers to play an expanded role on their blue line and compete for top four minutes.
Rounding out the Sharks' defensive group will be veteran Niclas Wallin who will be asked to play a bigger role in San Jose this year. Wallin is a capable defensive defenseman who plays his best when you don't notice him. The 35-year old has had problems staying healthy through his career with this season being no different. Wallin will be entering the season with an ankle injury but he shouldn't miss any playing time. Big depth defenseman Kent Huskins will likely be a fixture on the Sharks' bottom pairing. Huskins plays a simple game and will safely eat minutes without drawing much attention to himself. 25-year old gritty depth defenseman Mike Moore will likely get his first year in the NHL as the team's seventh defenseman.
The Sharks made a controversial decision to let long-time franchise goaltender Evgeni Nabokov walk this off-season in favor of going with a pair of 27-year old goaltenders who have much potential but even more question marks. The reigning Stanley Cup winning goalie Antti Niemi signed with San Jose this off-season after being unable to come to terms with the Chicago Blackhawks. Niemi is a big technically sound goaltender who excels in pressure situations. However Niemi is largely unknown as a number one since he's only spent one year in North American hockey bouncing between the AHL and NHL last year. Niemi will look to make his case as a top goaltender this year with the Sharks. Competing with him for games between the pipes will be Antero Niittymaki who's been one of the best 1Bs in hockey since his arrival in the league six years ago. Niittymaki put in a heroic effort last season on a sinking ship in Tampa Bay and shows starter potential if he can rise above the plague of injuries which have held him back from more in the NHL.
The Sharks are a team that desperately need to win the Cup. The Sharks are slowing beginning to see their core of playing disappear through free agency or retirement. The clock is ticking for this team. One might even think that they're starting their down swing with the quality of their defense and the question marks in net. Look for them to come in somewhere between 4rd-8th in the league and may god have mercy on their post-season souls.
BVB's Projected Opening Night Lineup
Jamie McGinn - 17 G/15 A 32 P
Joe Thornton - 22 G/65 A 87 P
Devin Setoguchi - 28 G/25 A 53 P
Patrick Marleau - 38 G/39 A 77 P
Logan Couture - 19 G/38 A 57 P
Dany Heatley - 41 G/42 A 83 P
Ryane Clowe - 17 G/27 A 44 P
Joe Pavelski - 24 G/24 A 48 P
Torrey Mitchell - 6 G/15 A 21 P
Frazer McLaren - 3 G/11 A 14 P
Scott Nichol - 3 G/14 A 17 P
Jamal Mayers - 4 G/12 A 16 P
Dan Boyle - 14 G/40 A 54 P
Douglas Murray - 3 G/16 A 19 P
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - 4 G/19 A 23 P
Kent Huskins - 2 G/12 A 14 P
Jason Demers - 6 G/22 A 28 P
Niclas Wallin - 0 G/6 A 6 P
Antti Niemi - 26-16-5 | 2.80 GAA | .916 Sv%
Antero Niittymaki - 20-12-3 | 2.90 GAA | .911 Sv%