The San Jose Sharks roster looks vaguely familiar at this point in the off-season. Perhaps that’s because it’s virtually the same team that took them to the Western Conference Finals last season.
That finish warranted few alterations to the roster, but are the Sharks in any better shape to improve on last season’s breakthrough in the playoffs?
Despite a few changes, it’s hard to argue that the Sharks roster looks about the same, if not a little worse.
When they were eliminated, it was clear that some players wouldn’t be back the next season.
Change in Net
One of Evgeni Nabokov or Patrick Marleau was due to be left behind because of salary cap contraints. The team decided that player should be Nabokov.
They then proceeded to replace Nabokov with a much cheaper alternative in Antero Niittymaki. Niittymaki will join forces with Thomas Greiss to protect the Sharks net.
The judgement on this change won’t be determined until halfway through the season, or maybe not until the playoffs. Niittymaki is a proven goaltender but has never had a team of this caliber in front of him. It’s anyone’s guess how he’ll fair in the playoffs or if the Sharks will take a chance with Greiss instead.
Rob Blake announced his retirement in early summer and the Sharks have yet to find a suitable replacement.
They will return seven other defenseman who saw action last season in Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglas Murray, Kent Huskins, Nicklas Wallin, Jason Demers, and Jay Leach.
If no more moves are made on the back end, then it simply means that these players will see increased responsibilities from last year. One of which may include wearing the captain’s “C” in Boyle’s case.
The consensus is that Demers will have a greatly expanded role in taking over Blake’s power-play time. As to who will be playing alongside Vlasic this season, it could be any of the latter four players mentioned above.
The team has also yet to choose Blake’s successor as captain. Boyle appears to be the favorite, but Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski all have to be considered in the discussion.
It is well-documented that this unit is not as strong as it was last year.
The next step for the Sharks would be a Stanley Cup appearance. Looking at the teams who’ve accomplished that the last few years, they all have above-average defense-corps. As of right now, the Sharks do not.
If there’s one fairly different look outside of the net, it’s in the Shark’s bottom six forwards.
Manny Malhotra was due for a big raise after the successful season he had at a huge bargain last season. His impact will hopefully be replaced by Logan Couture who made great strides in his rookie season between the AHL with Worcester and in San Jose.
Other familiar faces in the Sharks lineup from last season include Scott Nichol, Torrey Mitchell and Jamie McGinn. Malhotra, Jed Ortmeyer, Jody Shelley, and Brad Staubitz will not be back in teal.
That leaves two available lineup spots that will probably be duked out in training camp by prospects and camp invitees. Last season the Sharks got contributions from Benn Ferriero, Ryan Vesce, and Frazer McLaren. They should be front-runners for those spots.
Some of the Sharks’ success in the first two rounds last season was because their bottom-6 forwards made contributions in a number of ways. There’s nothing that really inspires any kind of new enthusiasm from this group right now. Again, it appears that players with limited experience will be asked to do much more as regulars this year (Couture, McGinn). The team appears to be banking on improvements within their own individual players.
With Devin Setoguchi’s newly signed 1-year deal worth $1.8 million, the Sharks will return the same top two lines that drove their success through the regular season and into the playoffs last season.
Thornton, Marleau, Dany Heatley, Pavelski, and Ryane Clowe will join Setoguchi once again.
There have been some questions as to how these players will be arranged. Marleau, Thornton, and Heatley formed one of the best lines in hockey last season. Pavelski, Clowe and Setoguchi carried the Sharks through their first round series of the playoffs and were the team’s best line down the stretch during the regular season.
This is the same unit that was responsible for most of the team’s success last year. They’ll be expected to do even more this year if the team has any hope of reaching it’s first Stanley Cup birth in the franchises history.
Based on those broad subgroups, it appears the Sharks are actually a little worse on paper than they were last season. Obviously, names don’t guarantee anything. Neither does “expected” outcome. Ultimately it will be up to this group to make GM Doug Wilson’s moves pay off when the season rolls around.
Filed Under: San Jose Sharks
About the Author: I am a journalism senior @ San Diego State University. Live, die and breath all sports; hardcore Bay Area fan. Playing guitar and sports is my downtime, usually in some combination with movies (making and watching).