Saturday, September 24, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: San Jose Sharks

A wild season for them last year that culminated in a crazy exit from the postseason in the Western Conference Finals, culminated with a crazy offseason that saw the Sharks wheel and deal to a very different team. The core mainly stays the same, but will the new guys be able to get this team to the elusive Stanley Cup Finals?

Strengths: Scoring was not a problem for the Sharks last year, of course when you have Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski, it probably shouldn't be. But, Heatley was traded to Minnesota in a blockbuster move on that netted the Sharks Marty Havlat. He likely will not replace Heatley's scoring threat, but Heatley himself looked a bit slower last season, and maybe the change in scenery will help Havlat, as he'll be a secondary scorer in San Jose as opposed to Minnesota. In a separate trade with Minnesota, the Sharks got Brent Burns, who will now help Danny Boyle in becoming a decent pairing of offensive threats along the blue line. The departures of many Sharks pluggers from a season ago will allow the decent amount of young guys like Jamie McGinn, Benn Ferriero, and Jason Demers to plug those holes and become permanent spots on the team, and they have good talent to boot. In net, Antti Niemi did step up a season ago, and has filled the void left by Evgeni Nabokov, except in the playoffs, where he was much better.

Weaknesses: When a team that made the Western Conference Finals makes alterations as big as what Doug Wilson did, there are going to be some questions. Even though the Sharks addressed needs, who will they plug in on the third and fourth lines, which have lacked serious production in the past couple of seasons. On the blueline, will Brent Burns help the defense group that has had a serious confusion in roles in the past few seasons, especially with guys like Douglas Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Even though they have plenty of scoring depth, Dany Heatley's scoring touch will be tough to replace, and the question is who will replace him?

Any Help Coming? The Shakrs don't have an amazing farm system, but there are some good young players on their way up. D Taylor Doherty is 6'7'', a huge Zdeno Chara type defenseman, who can become a bruising blue liner at some point. G Harri Sateri is a good Finnish goaltending prospect who may end up for the first time in his career playing in the U.S. C Tommy Wingels is a great two-way forward who can do everything pretty well, or a jack-of-all-trades kind of prospect.

Outlook: The Sharks have reigned suprme over the Pacific for 4 years straight, and with the stern test coming from the other California teams, the Sharks had to make some changes to keep up. They did, so now it's a question of how far can this team with the current core go? The Western Conference Finals are step 1, and the Stanley Cup Finals are in step 2, and do they have enough to finally break through? If they don't, a cry for more sweeping changes may need to be answered.

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