Our San Jose Sharks 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season.
In September 2018, the nearly entire offseason long question of where Erik Karlsson would play was answered. The Sharks had won Erik Karlsson watch. The San Jose Sharks acquired Erik Karlsson and Francis Perron, in exchange for Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo, Josh Norris, Rudolfs Balcers, a 2019 first-round pick, a 2019 second round pick, an additional conditional first, and a conditional second. San Jose gave up a lot for the elite defenseman, and he only had one year left on his deal.
Karlsson had a slow start to the season, which prompted a lot of people to question if he could fit in on a deep Sharks defensive core.There was concerns he wouldn’t adjust to being a number two defenseman on the team with Brent Burns being the number one offensive defenseman. He also battled through groin injuries throughout the season and only played in 53 games. He did however still get 3 goals and 42 assists. In 15 games from December to January, Karlsson put up 25 points, looking like an elite defenseman. He missed 27 of the last 33 games of the season and came back for the playoffs.
As a whole, the team was 2nd in the league for goals scored. They were 21st in the league for goals against. With injuries to Erik Karlsson, the defense struggled at times, but the team’s goaltending struggled worse. The team had the worst save percentage in the league with .889. Martin Jones and Aaron Dell had some rough years. They were the worst part of the lineup stat-wise last season.
At the deadline, the team bolstered its offensive production to overcome the poor goaltending by adding Gustav Nyquist from the Red Wings. Nyquist slotted into the top 9 forwards and scored 11 points in 19 games for the Sharks.
Despite the issues during the season, the Sharks placed second in the Pacific Division with 101 points. In the first round of playoffs, San Jose beat the Vegas Golden Knights in a dramatic fashion in game seven. They went on to beat the Colorado Avalanche in seven games, and then lost to the St.Louis Blues in game six.
Although they didn’t make it to the finals, the team had a lot to be happy about. They had battled through some tough series and a lot of the team showed they were capable of contributing. Martin Jones came back from the dead in playoffs. He had a really bad start in the Vegas series and it was looking like Dell would be the starter, but later in the series he turned it around and started to look like a legitimate starter again. He started making some huge timely saves and kept the games close. He fell off again in the Blues series, only posting a save percentage above .900 once. Karlsson returned in the playoffs and got pretty hot. He had 16 points in 19 games, and it was obvious he was not playing at 100%. He was still having issues with his groin. He tried to fight through it, but he eventually had to accept he was too hurt to play. He missed some entire periods in some of the Blues series, and missed the entire last game. In the very early off season he had surgery on his groin to help him return to form. Kevin Labanc showed he is a gamer. He stepped up in some huge moments.
The team will be looking to get back into the finals and have another shot at a Stanley Cup, but the roster will look dramatically different this season. Captain Joe Pavelski, winger Joonas Donskoi and depth defenseman Joakim Ryan all left as free agents. The team made signing Erik Karlsson a priority. He signed a huge eight year contract for an annual average cap hit of $11.5 million, making him the highest paid member of the team. His paycheque left no room to keep all those other guys, and general manager Doug Wilson flipped Justin Braun to the Flyers for a couple picks. Braun’s absence freed up $3.8 million in cap space. Gus Nyquist was not re-signed and moved on as a free agent. Karlsson’s contract is immense. Hopefully for the Sharks he’ll play in more games and play all season like he did in the 15 games, 25 point streak he had mid season.
This season the Sharks will be relying upon their top six heavily for goals. With free agents Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist leaving, the team could have some depth concerns.
Couture had a career high of 70 points last year and will play number one centre again this season. With the departure of Joe Pavelski, he will also be stepping in as captain. The announcement shocked nobody as Couture has been a real leader on this team for a long time.
Meier, 22 years old, had a career year with 30 goals, 36 assists in 78 games. He also was great in playoffs at a point per game with 20 points in 20 appearances. He signed an extension this off season earning him $4 million the next two seasons, $6 million in 2021-22 and $10 million in 2022-23. With the current pace of his development, it is a good wager that he’ll play his way up to that contract. Meier can play either wing, so it gives the team some options as to who to bring up and play him and Couture.
If Meier plays left wing, Kevin Labanc is a great candidate to move up to play right wing. He had a great breakout year and an insane playoffs. 17 goals, 39 assists, 52 points. In playoffs he had 9 points in 20 games, including this goal in game seven against Vegas where he just walks in and scores from the blueline. He showed poise and calmness under pressure for the Sharks last season and he’ll likely only get better this season. Lebanc got signed on an extremely team friendly deal this offseason. With the team’s push to sign Erik Karlsson, Labanc accepted a huge underpaid contract at only one year $1 million. For both sides it is a bit of a gamble because he could really up his value and demand more after this season. Lebanc did a huge favour to the team as this allowed the team to sign everyone else they needed to. General Manager Doug Wilson and Labanc must have some sort of future plan in place, or Labanc is betting on himself to improve and go for more money.
If Meier plays right wing, Evander Kane could play first line left wing. Kane had his best year since 2011-12 last season. He had 30 goals, 26 assists…and 156 PIMs. The 28 year old will definitely have a place in the top six this season. If he plays on the second line, he’ll be playing with Tomas Hertl, who added nearly 30 points this season to his previous career high. He had 74 regular season points and had 15 points in 20 playoff games. Hertl will be a perfect second line centre for San Jose. He’s really come into his own recently, and can create space for his linemates with his speed and hands.
The only weak spot on the top six is who will play second line right wing. Currently it looks as though Melker Karlsson will have a good chance to occupy that spot. The Melkman is perhaps better suited lower down the lineup, but his hard working play style could definitely benefit some higher skill linemates. However, the team could opt to give Dylan Gambrell an opportunity to play second line right wing too. Gambrell has played only eleven games with the Sharks, but played very well in the AHL last season, earning 45 points in 51 games. The Sharks haven’t had the best drafting order the past few seasons, but they always seem to get a steal at some point. Gambrell popped into the lineup in the St. Louis Blues series and earned himself one goal in game five when he beat Binnington cleanly on a shot below the blocker. Gambrell was selected 60th overall in the 2016 draft by the Sharks, and he could have a breakout rookie year.
With Jumbo Joe Thornton returning on a one year, $2 million contract, he’ll centre line three. He’ll be playing one more year in hopes to finally get his hands on a Stanley Cup. He and Marcus Sorensen played together a lot last year along with Labanc. As I mentioned Labanc will likely move up into the top six, but Sorensen and Jumbo will stay together to constitute two thirds of a line. I’d wager that one of Gambrell or Melker Karlsson will occupy the other wing on this line.
The fourth line will be centred by Barclay Goodrow. He’ll provide some great defensive play at regular strength and on the penalty kill. He can play wing as well so provides some flexibility on the checking line. This could allow Antti Suomela to play up the middle on the line. Suomela only played 27 games last year, but did look pretty good in the AHL with 20 points in 47 games. Newcomer Jonny Brodzinski comes over as a depth piece who could immediately slot in on the fourth line. He’s never played a full season in the NHL, so the Sharks will get to see what he can do. Lukas Radil will challenge for a spot on the wings also.
With Justin Braun and Joakim Ryan leaving, the San Jose Sharks blueline will have some spots to fill this season. With the amount that the team dropped in order to keep Erik Karlsson, the defense will have to be far better than average this season. A major success will be to decrease the amount of goals scored against. More likely though, is that Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns will be relied upon very heavily to produce offensively. With the decreased scoring depth up front, having them contribute more will keep the team competitive. This could put the new full time defenseman under a lot of pressure to be defensively sound.
Erik Karlsson will have to be better. Now that he has about a full season playing with the team, he won’t have any excuse for a slow start. Except the fact he had surgery on his groin this May. That could very well affect his performance this year. Will that affect his footspeed? We will have to wait and see. The Sharks signed him to big money and long term. If he takes a drop off this season, it’ll be a very long contract. Hopefully he can stay healthy this season and play a full season, something he has not done since 2015-16. Karlsson had some success playing with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who can compensate for the times Karlsson struggles defensively. Vlasic is a defensive specialist who excels in a shutdown capacity. His positioning and stick work in the defensive zone is top tier in the league. He had his own struggles last year and his numbers took a bit of a dive, but he did seem to find his game late in the season. If these two play well, the defense should be alright. Karlsson also played with Brenden Dillon, who also plays more of a defensive role. Dillon could very easily play on any pairing on the left side. He’s definitely better off on the second or third though.
Despite Karlsson getting the huge deal this season, Brent Burns is still the workhorse of this blueline. Brent Burns played all 82 games last year and his consistency is and will remain to be important to the club. He was over a point per game with 83 points, which was a career high for him. He will continue to take a lot of shots and play on the first powerplay unit. Without Pavelski to work the front of the net and get deflections, I could see Burns’ powerplay stats dip. He may get a new consistent linemate too. He played some of his best hockey with Radim Simek last season. Simek is more of a stay at home guy, which definitely balances out Burns’ offensive instincts. Burns and Vlasic have seen some time together too, so we’ll see how the top two pairings are drawn up.
Tim Heed filled in when Karlsson was injured last season and looked good. He’s got positive corsi numbers and should be able to play bottom pairing right side this season.
Jacob Middleton, Dalton Prout and Trevor Carrick will be on call-up duty for the Sharks this year.
Jones and Dell were not great last year. Jones seemed to get it together in the playoffs, but which version of him will we get this year? Jones will have to improve because they may not have the same run support this season. This team likely won’t be able to win games by simply outscoring them. They will have to have some solid defence and goaltending.
The big question for this team is how will Martin Jones bounce back from a year he had a .896 save percentage and a 2.94 GAA.
San Jose Sharks 2019-2020 Prediction
This team is tough to predict. They sacrificed some of their depth in order to sign Erik Karlsson long term this off season. They let Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Joakim Ryan walk in free agency. They also traded Justin Braun for cap space. Now, they’ll need some new players to take a step forward in their development and contribute more this season. This is a team that may have some trouble scoring goals beyond the top six forwards. That may be okay as Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns can be relied upon to perform offensively every night. Martin Jones is a huge question mark right now. He took a major step back last season, and has to be better to keep his starter job. All that being said, barring significant injuries, this will be a playoff team. They’ll be under a lot of pressure to win it all this year, in order to finally get Jumbo Joe Thornton his cup!