Our San Jose Sharks 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
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It has been a rapid and drastic fall from grace for the San Jose Sharks. After missing the playoffs only twice in 18 seasons, the Sharks suddenly crashed and have now had their worst 2 season stretch since 95-96/96-97. 2020-21 was a terrible year for this team, with a 21-28-7 record that placed them tied for 25th in the league. This team is not in a great spot right now and it doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of turning itself around in the near future.
The organization seems committed to a re-tooling attempt rather than a full rebuild, which makes sense because they do still have quality players on the roster. It’s about all they can manage as well, since they have a lot of money locked up in expensive players for the next 5-8 years. Logan Couture at $8M, Erik Karlsson at $11.5M, Brent Burns at $8M, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic at $7M are taking up a lot of the team’s cap space and flexibility in making worthwhile moves. Their contracts are not going to be easy to move, which leaves the Sharks stuck building around them again instead of making changes to their core.
One of the biggest problem areas for the Sharks over the last few seasons has been goaltending. We’ve spent enough time harping on the team for continuing to give Martin Jones chance after chance when he never regained his form from 2016 and was continually one of the worst goalies in the league since then. San Jose completely revamped their goaltending tandem and their new crew, James Reimer and Adin Hill, should be significantly better than those from seasons past. The biggest question now is how much of a difference will these changes make?
Because of the weak Pacific Division with California rivals Anaheim and Los Angeles, Vancouver, and possibly Seattle all projecting around where San Jose should finish, the Sharks could jump past a few teams quite easily if those changes in net make a huge difference and if the team stays healthy.
Those are big ifs though. The team quite simply isn’t able to make big enough moves to counter the age regression of the roster and to make up for the poor performance in many stats. The Sharks were second last in the league, giving up 3.5 goals per game while only scoring 2.61 per game. Their powerplay at 14.1% is third last in the league. Penalty kill is middle of the pack at 14th, which is about the most positive thing for the Sharks right now.
What this means for Sharks fans is some years of mediocrity before they can finally fully commit to a rebuild. The upcoming draft is supposed to be fairly deep, so a bottom 5 year to give them a high-end draft pick might just tide them over until they can start getting some of the big money off of the books and actually rebuild this team.
San Jose Sharks Roster Additions
San Jose Sharks Roster Subtractions
San Jose Sharks Roster Overview
At forward, the Sharks have a few interchangeable pieces in the top 6. The likely scenario to me is for the line of Evander Kane-Logan Couture-Kevin Labanc to play together again as they were the most frequent line combination last season. This is assuming that Evander Kane plays the year.
Kane has had an absolute dumpster fire of an offseason and as of the writing of this post, I am still unsure if he will be playing this season. First it was unsure as there were open investigations into his gambling habits and whether or not he bet on his own games. He has since been cleared of any wrongdoing in that. He is also now facing allegations of sexual assault and domestic battery made by his estranged wife, who he has received a restraining order against as he claims she has been violent towards him in the past. The league is now investigating him now for allegedly breaking COVID protocol. And, there are reports from the Sharks locker room that the other players don’t really want him around.
It might be best if Evander Kane does not play. As of right now, Kane and the Sharks agreed to have him not participate in camp while investigations are ongoing but there comes a time where it is not worth the distractions for the rest of the locker room or organization to have him around.
Timo Meier is the next winger in line after Kane who should take that spot if Evander isn’t around, otherwise Meier should be next in the depth chart with Tomas Hertl and Rudolfs Balcers.
An interesting training camp battle to watch is if William Eklund can make the team. If he does, it is almost certainly going to be in a top-6 role (since where else do you play your best, offensively talented forward prospect). There are spots available in these winger spots, as Kane might be absent or Rudolfs Balcers spot could be available as he isn’t quite a sure thing in a second line winger role. On that second line would also be a great spot for Eklund to play alongside Hertl, who is an excellent all-around player for William to develop beside.
Nick Bonino is the best option to centre the third line. His wingers will be a mix-and-match but likely options to start with are Alexander Barbanov, John Leonard, Balcers, and a longshot could be Jonathan Dahlen. Dahlen is another highly talented forward prospect who has spent the last couple seasons back in Sweden putting up insane numbers (148 points in 96 games). He hasn’t played an NHL game yet but with the weak wings in San Jose, this could be the year.
Centring the fourth line should be a mix of Dylan Gambrell and Noah Gregor. Gambrell played in 49 games and averaged about 16 minutes of ice time per game, but only put up 12 points. They need more from him if he is going to get that much ice time. Andrew Cogliano and Matt Nieto are the favourites to wing the fourth line. This is an interesting build as Nieto and Cogliano are both small, fast players which is not a typical combination for a fourth forward line.
We could also see Nick Merkley and Lane Pederson get time in this area of the lineup as well. Merkley’s 10 points in 27 games could be an indication of someone who will be a more productive option for the bottom 6 if the rest of the offense starts to dry up.
Mario Ferraro has emerged out of nowhere as an excellent defender for San Jose. 2020-21 was his second season in the NHL. In 56 games he put up 17 points in about 22 and a half minutes of ice time per game. That’s not the key part of Ferraro’s game, however. He recorded 96 blocks (good for 22nd in the league) and 155 hits (15th in the league and almost 3 per game). Especially as Vlasic regresses, the Sharks need someone to step into the defensive defender role and Mario Ferraro appears on the right track to be a top-pairing defender. Brent Burns will most likely join Ferraro, as was the case last season, on the top pairing. Though at 36 years old, there will come a time he is unable to play 26 minutes per game from the top pairing.
Erik Karlsson has regressed every season since he put up 82 points in 82 games back in 2015-16 leading us into his 22 points in 52 games in 2020-21. He has had serious issues with injuries to his groin and feet that have severely impacted his ability to skate at an elite level (hence the downward trend in production). He will hopefully be healthy and ready to play at a high level again but until we see how he starts the year, he will probably play behind Burns on the second pairing.
The Sharks have liked Nikolai Knyzhov on this pairing from last season. 2020-21 was his first full season but obviously earned the trust of the coaching staff as he played over 16 minutes per game. Look for him to get more ice time in the upcoming year with an expanded role.
It wasn’t too long ago that Marc-Edouard Vlasic was the consensus pick as best defensive defender and sometimes even most underrated player but he is now regressed to a point where he plays third pairing and averages less than 18 minutes per game. Radim Simek is the most likely option to join him.
In terms of seventh and beyond defenders, the Sharks are fairly weak. Jacob Middleton, Nicolas Meloche, and Brinson Pasichnuk are all starting to enter their peak years but none have been able to ever consistently stay in an NHL lineup. They should get chances this season but they aren’t likely to be regulars.
As mentioned before, the Sharks are now rolling with a James Reimer-Adin Hill tandem. Reimer has spent the last couple seasons in Carolina where he has put up okay numbers on a good team. Although he should be an upgrade on what Martin Jones provided, the difference in team quality from Carolina to San Jose is significant. We will have to wait and see how Reimer performs with his new team that is way worse defensively.
Adin Hill might quickly get the nod as primary starter, as he has put up solid numbers on some mediocre Coyotes teams the past couple seasons. Hill has only played 19 games max in a single season so playing 30-40 (or even more) is a big jump.
San Jose Sharks 2021-22 Prediction
6th-7th Pacific Division
It is possible for this team to all bounce back at once and they challenge higher up in the division. But, the recent trendline and aging core with a roster that can barely do anything to react due to cap restrictions indicates a similar season to last year for the Sharks. They’ll be competing with their California rivals at the bottom of the division, probably in a tight race for last with Anaheim.
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