Grindliners

Season Preview: The San Jose Sharks and Closing Windows

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The Season Preview will be a running column on questions and thoughts for the upcoming season. Individual teams will be highlighted in each post.  CLICK HERE for the full list of Season Previews.

I refuse to do it.  I won’t even succumb to the temptation.  I will not insult one of the easiest teams to insult.  It’s too easy and frankly I’m above it.  But that being said, I can’t in good conscience ignore reality and pretend that the situation looks good.

The transition from the Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau era to a Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture days was supposed to be better.  It was supposed to be a scarier and more complete team than when the Sharks had Jonathan Cheechoo and a cast of underachievers (you know Cheechoo right?  Of Peoria Rivermen fame?  Trust me, he’s pretty awesome, as the KHL is soon to find out).   But it hasn’t been, and it doesn’t seem likely either, because in all honesty Thornton and Marleau, as bad as they are when there is warm weather, are still better than Pavelski and Couture.  They’re still putting up better numbers.  They’re still bigger pests.  They’re still the leaders.   And they’re still losing.  Only now, they’re getting older too, and Pavelski and Couture are treading water, at least for now.  The only leap forward they’ve taken is with their cap hits.  Starting 2014-15 it’s 12 million for two guys who aren’t even PPG players yet, if ever.  To make things worse, the Sharks have to worry about resigning Thornton and Marleau when the year is done too.  Will they command the same close to 7 million a piece?  Probably not, but the cap is projected to shrink, not grow, and they are already up against the cap with Couture’s raise ready to kick in next year.  One could say that the window was closing, if the Sharks just weren’t so consistent at being right on the border of greatness.

The excuses are gone too.  No more throwing Evgeni Nabokov under the bus for every playoff loss.  Antti Niemi’s got a ring, which makes him the only person on the roster difficult to blame.   No more blaming the old guard, because the new kids are supposed to be the difference makers, right?   Somehow, against all odds, despite being the best team in California over the past 10 years, they’re the only one without a ring.

Yeah… it was this guy’s fault you were losing important playoff games:

NHL: Phoenix Coyotes at San Jose SharksIn fairness, the window hasn’t completely closed.  The Sharks have gotten somewhat better this year, albeit with some risky pickups.  They got Scott Hannan back at the end of last season, who had some great years with the Sharks before, but is also another past his prime body.   Raffi Torres was also a late season pickup and they landed Tyler Kennedy from the Penguins too.  Neither of them are great players, but they do add scoring depth and grit.  All in all, not a very convincing group of new blood.   However, one name may have a bigger impact than any potential new signing.  Martin Havlat.  He’s gotten older, he’s slowed down, he’s injury prone, and perhaps taken a few too many Kronwalls to the head, but when he’s health and flying he’s still one of the best all around players the Sharks have.  Due to the injuries, he’s never been the player the Sharks expected him to be when they traded Dany Heatley for him, but this would be an important year for him to put a vintage season together.  And at times, he still seems capable of it.

Still, that’s why it’s hard to have faith in this team.  It’s a lot of doing the same thing and expecting different results (you know, insanity).  Pavelski and Couture could blossom into bigger leaders.  Thornton and Marleau could put together yet another season of 70 and 60 points respectively.  Havlat could return healthier than he’s been in years.  And the depth could provide the upper hand night in and night out.  Or it could be another disappointing season with Thornton and Marleau potentially walking at the end of the year and putting the rebuild into full swing.  It could also be the year where we finally watch Todd McLellan walk from the hot seat to the unemployment line.  So, which is it?   For Sharks fans, it must be a little too fine of a line between success and failure to sit in front of their TV sets comfortably.

Optimism rating (out of 5) 2.5

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