It only feels like we’ve been slogging through previews of teams that are, at best, not all that impressive, or just straight up bad. That’s what happens when you are stuck in the Pacific Division with nowhere to go and no escape route. But now we get to the good stuff.
Although it’s slightly painful, because the Sharks did, and have done the past couple years, what the Hawks couldn’t or wouldn’t do. They know there’s not much tread left on the tires of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture. Even Brent Burns is past 30. So is Marc-Edouard Vlasic. So when the timeline is limited, you say fuck it it’s free cake and you go get a generational player when he’s out there to be had. They cleared the decks for John Tavares. Didn’t work. The decks were still clear for Erik Karlsson. That did. And now they’re favorites in the West because they can get out of their division in about 10 games and then pick the carcass of whoever survives the Jets-Predators (maybe Blues?) tango of death in the Central.
It’s a fuck of a lot better than hoping your goalie who hasn’t played in a year can somehow find Vezina form in about seven minutes to shore up all the cracks in your team that you caused to begin with. Or watching Luke Fucking Johnson.
Let’s to it.
2017-2018: 45-27-10 100 points 252 GF 229 GA 50.8 CF% 51.9 xGF% 7.5 SH% .916 SV%
Goalies: You can’t really be more consistent than Martin Jones has been with the Sharks the past three seasons. He’s not been great, as he’s stayed between .912-.918 in save-percentage, but he’s never been terrible. He’s also brought it in the playoffs something serious, as he has averaged a .926 in them. He will turn 29 this season, so barring any type of injury there’s no reason to expect any kind of drop-off. And considering how much the Sharks might score, he probably doesn’t even need to be that good. If he played in Canada, you’d probably hear a fuckton more about him. You will this year.
Backing him up is Aaron Dell, and once you wade through the obnoxious amount of Silicon Valley jokes with him, he’s been about as sturdy a backup as you can find in the league. Because of him the Sharks don’t have to push Jones any more than 55-60 games and he’s fresh for their playoff runs. They could probably even get out of a couple weeks if Jones were to get hurt with Dell. This is something more GMs really should pay attention to.
Defense: Clearly this is where the fun begins. For 50 minutes a night at least, the Sharks can throw out either Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson, and basically know they’re going to get their foot in the ass of anyone up to the throat. No team is going to be able to boast anything close to this, and if you’re any kind of hockey fan you have to be at least a little excited to see what it looks like.
The only question is what Pete DeBoer lines this up as. Before, Vlasic and Justin Braun basically did the mine-sweeping for Burns, who then gooified lesser competition to his historic shot-rates. Obviously, Karlsson will take Braun’s right-sided role with Vlasic, and they’ll do more than just mine-sweep. Braun, unless he flips to the left-side and there hasn’t been much talk of that, slides down to the third-pairing with Brendon Dillon. But he’ll be used late in close games I would imagine with Vlasic to shore up the defensive zone. Basically, when you have Braun on your third-pairing but can slot up when needed, you have the best defense in the league.
DeBoer isn’t the most aggressive of coaches, but he’s also far from an idiot. It would be senseless to have these two horses on your team and not let them run. Considering what’s in front of them, this could be SHOWTIME! if they so choose.
Forwards: It’s the same story as always up top for the Sharks. It’s a bit top-heavy, and Pavelski is forced to play wing because they don’t have quite enough wings to make a top-six. Thornton-Couture-Pavelksi down the middle would probably be the best center-depth in the West, but you can’t turn down the 30-35 Pavelski will get on Thornton’s wing. That’s if Thornton is healthy, and after missing a big chunk of last year, this has to be a huge concern for a player who’s 39. Wouldn’t be shocked if Joe gets the back ends of back-to-backs off just because.
Hertl and Meier are going to flank Couture again, which is not a bad place to be. The third and fourth lines aren’t going to blow your eyelids off or anything, but Joonas Donskoi and Kevin LeBlanc have flashed being very useful in the past. They lost 40 points in Chris Tierney, but that’s the kind of thing you do to get the 80 you’ll get out of Karlsson, minimum. Don’t worry, the Sharks will call up someone with a really dumb name to fill in on the fourth line and it’ll be fine.
Outlook: Considering this power play was self-aware before, with Karlsson who knows where it goes. Yeah, maybe they’re a touch heavy at forward. They can throw Karlsson out behind the third and fourth lines a lot of shifts and make that not matter. Burns can continue to light it up behind the top two lines and against bums or both. The division sucks. This is the ultimate go-for-it. There aren’t any excuses left for the Sharks. Anything short of a Cup is a disappointment, and it very well might be their only chance.
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