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What happened in San Jose? A team that was expected to continue competing for the division title crashed and burned, bringing up the rear in the Pacific Division (29th in the league) with 63 points. It was the team’s worst season since 2002-03. You might be thinking “Oh, at least they’ll get a good prospect out of this”. But let’s not forget that that draft pick went to the Ottawa Senators as a part of the Erik Karlsson trade, rubbing even more salt in the wound.
The 2019-20 season was a rough one at the Shark Tank. San Jose had to offload a few longtime players over the offseason and through the year, including Joe Pavelski, Brenden Dillon, Barclay Goodrow, Joonas Donskoi, Justin Braun, and Gustav Nyquist. Adding into this, through the actual season, many core players missed significant time through the year due to injury. Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, and Tomas Hertl were all absent for periods of the season.
What you’re left with after factoring all of this in is a nearly unidentifiable San Jose Sharks roster that is full of holes they cannot fill due to cap troubles, players playing higher in the lineup than they otherwise would, and overall underperformance. The leading scorer was Timo Meier with 49 points, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson both had their worst years since 2012-13, and Martin Jones was once again one of the worst goalies in the NHL statistically. Jones was 4th last in Goals Saved Above Average at -15.01 (.896 SV% and 3.00 GAA).
Where does the team go from here? They’ve got tons of money and term locked up in their core for the next 5+ years. But, the team does not have any cap space to really retool on the fly and the money and term they’ve got locked up in their core for the next 5 years make any of them incredibly difficult to trade. Especially with the flat cap impacting a number of other teams’ financial situations. The cap troubles are shown by their approach to the 2020 offseason, where the additions are mostly cheap depth options. Ryan Donato, Patrick Marleau (again), and Matt Nieto with a retained salary Devan Dubnyk. No real gamebreakers there. The only major contract dealt out was giving Kevin Labanc his payday.
Assuming the Sharks’ core can stay healthy through the 2020-21 season, the team should rebound a bit. But, they won’t be the dominant force they once were with the amount of turnover the roster experienced.
One bright spot of the 2019-20 roster was the surprisingly elite penalty kill. The Sharks led the league in PK% by killing off 85.7% of penalties taken. This number was the highest by any team since the 2015-16 Anaheim Ducks (they tied the 2016-17 Boston Bruins). How the team that was 5th worst in goals against per game (3.21) managed this, I have no idea, but it is impressive nonetheless.
Melker Karlsson (unsigned at time of writing)
San Jose Sharks Roster Overview
The San Jose Sharks possess a strong top-6 forward group. Provided they can stay healthy this season, that is. Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, and Tomas Hertl lead the way. The Sharks spent a fair portion of last season with their lines in a blender and never had much consistency. The same players are mostly back, but expect them all to jump around up and down the lineup again. Kane, Labanc, and Hertl were the TOI leading line by a slim margin, maybe they get the nod as a forward line again.
Once again, Patrick Marleau is back in San Jose. He spent a brief stint in Pittsburgh, recording 2 points in 8 games, but signed for a year back with the Sharks, presumably for his last season to end where it all began. Of note for this season is that Marleau is just 45 games away from setting the all-time record for games played. With the 2020-21 season being 56 games, Marleau has a chance to set that record this year.
Beyond the top-6, the Sharks are a bit weak. Ryan Donato, Matt Nieto, Marcus Sorensen, and (maybe) Melker Karlsson are solid in these roles, but the rest is depth players or others who are unproven. These lines will have to band together and at the very least play a solid shutdown game, as it cannot be expected they contribute a whole lot offensively.
On paper, this is one of the best defensive lineups in the league. Two Norris Trophy winners in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, a strong shutdown guy in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and an up-and-comer in Radim Simek who has been slowly working his way up to reliably pairing with Brent Burns, even moreso now that Brenden Dillon has been traded.
The trick is balancing the wide skillset of this group. Burns and Karlsson are all offense and need to be balanced out by defensive defenders, like Vlasic and Simek.
With the slowly downgrading forward lineup, the Sharks will be relying even more heavily on their defense to not just defend. Burns and Karlsson will need to drive the offense from the back end and return to their regular 60+ point pace forms if this team is to succeed.
What should a team do when it has one of the worst starting goalies in the league? Why, acquire another one of the worst starting goalies in the league, of course! I’ve joked about this numerous times already, but whereas most teams try and go for, at worst, a 1A/1B situation in net, the Sharks have willingly given themselves a 2A/2B situation with Martin Jones and the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk.
I get it, the team is under cap pressure and couldn’t afford to go after the top targets in free agency. But there has to have been a better option somewhere and with some navigation of the team’s cap situation to get them a better goalie.
Maybe they hope that Evgeni Nabokov, named the team’s goaltending coach when Peter DeBoer was fired last season, will be able to work some magic with Jones and Dubnyk to bring them to serviceable goalie form. That type of turnaround is not something I would want to bank on.
San Jose Sharks 2020-21 Prediction
4th – 6th West Division
Personally, I think the level of bad that the Sharks were in 2019-20 was a fluke and I’m banking on a healthy, rested roster being able to rebound. Maybe not back to divisional leader level, but at least competitive. Being in a division with Colorado, Vegas, and St. Louis will be tough but the Sharks are, to me, a clear favourite in the second tier of this division and could make some noise if Karlsson and Burns are back to elite form.
That concludes our San Jose Sharks 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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