San Jose Sharks: A Year to Forget

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Coming into the 2019-2020 season, the San Jose Sharks were the team to beat. After putting up 101 points last year, the Sharks rolled into the playoffs with a lot of confidence. Their playoff run started with a series against the Golden Knights, that ended with an epic game seven win in overtime. They followed that series up with another great matchup against the Colorado Avalanche. Trading wins back and forth, San Jose won the series in seven games. Their dreams of a Stanley Cup championship would eventually end when the St. Louis Blues beat them in the Western Conference championship. San Jose would take a 2-1 series lead, but the Blues came back with 3 consecutive wins to secure a trip to the Stanley Cup.

Making a deep playoff run usually instills some confidence going into the following season. Unfortunately, that’s not how it played out for the Sharks. Losing their captain, Joe Pavelski, to free agency, the off season started out on a sour note. The regular season wasn’t any better, with lackluster play from their top goalie, Martin Jones, being a big factor in their poor performance. However, he wasn’t the only one contributing to the terrible season.

The Roster

Pavelski was the only “big name” that the San Jose Sharks lost in the offseason. So, you would think that guys like Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson would be able to sustain their high level of play. You’d hope that Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier would build on their success from 2018-19. There was hope that the newly crowned captain, Logan Couture, was going to keep up his consistent play. The blame can’t be 100% placed on substandard play, as the Sharks did have some injury woes, but the drop in production from the top guys is tough to overlook.

First, let’s look at a few players that failed to live up to expectations this season.

Tomas Hertl

  • 2018-19

77 games played: 35G / 39A / 74Pts / +5 / 15PPP / 176 SOG / 19.9sh% / 64 Blocks / 53 Hits

  • 2019-2020

48 games played: 16G / 20A / 36Pts / -18 / 7PPP / 117 SOG / 13.7sh% / 25 Blocks / 29 Hits

Before tearing his ACL and MCL in late January, Hertl was playing well. On a 62 point pace, Hertl did come down a bit after having a career year in 2018-2019. Career highs in point production and a big spike in shooting percentage were signs that a regression was inevitable.

Logan Couture

  • 2018-19

81 games played: 27G / 43A / 70Pts / -6 / 18PPP / 204 SOG / 13.2sh% / 52 Blocks / 65 Hits

  • 2019-20

52 games played: 16G / 23A / 39Pts / Even+/- / 9PPP / 126 SOG / 12.7sh% / 45 Blocks / 54 Hits

Missing most of January and February with a fractured ankle, Couture was able to keep up his usual production pace. Like Hertl, Couture was on a 62 point pace, which is right in line with his career average. Unfortunately, the injury bug hit him again, when Couture suffered a concussion on March 8th. Although there was talk that he was close to returning as the season was put on hold, injuries have always been an issue with him. Many had hoped he would take the top line and see an increase in production this year. There is always next season.

Brent Burns

  • 2018-19

82 games played: 16G / 67A / 83Pts / +13 / 28PPP / 300 SOG / 5.3sh% / 105 Blocks / 90 Hits

  • 2019-20

70 games played: 12G / 33A / 45Pts / -22 / 17PPP / 225 SOG / 5.3sh% / 115 Blocks / 72 Hits

After leading the team in points in 2018-19, Burns came way down to Earth this year. On pace for 53 points, his worst pace since 2011-12, Burns was one of the biggest disappointments for the San Jose Sharks this year. His shot totals were on pace for 264, another low since 2014-15. Age could be finally catching up to the 35 year old defenseman, but don’t count out a return to form next season. With this season’s poor performance being the anomaly, he could have a couple more top years left in the tank.

Moving onto a couple names that benefited from the great play of the other players last season, but did not regress all that much.

Timo Meier

  • 2018-19

78 games played: 30G / 36A / 66Pts / +9 / 10PPP / 250 SOG / 12sh% / 40 Blocks / 99 Hits

  • 2019-20

70 games played: 22G / 27A / 49Pts / -22 / 9PPP / 199 SOG / 11.1sh% / 38 Blocks / 155 Hits

In his third NHL season, Meier broke out. Adding 30 points to his previous year’s totals while keeping a modest shooting percentage and seeing an increase in time on ice, Meier seemed set for another great season. With the other big names getting hit hard with the regression bug, it seemed probable that the young forward would get hit too. That really wasn’t the case. On pace for a 57 point season, Meier looked to avoid the big regression. Sustaining his production could mean he is set to explode next season.

Evander Kane

  • 2018-19

75 games played: 30G / 26A / 56Pts / -4 / 11PPP / 268 SOG / 11.2sh% / 25 Blocks / 173 Hits

  • 2019-20

64 games played: 26G / 21A / 47Pts / -12 / 18PPP / 216 SOG / 12sh% / 25 Blocks / 135 Hits

The definition of consistency, Kane has hovered around a 55 point pace his entire career. In fact, his career average is 53 points per season. This year was a little different, Kane was on pace to set a new season high. Before the stoppage, he was on pace for his first 60 point season. A reliable 25+ goal scorer, you know what you’re going to get out of Kane.

Erik Karlsson

  • 2018-19

53 games played: 3G / 42A / 45Pts / +6 / 20PPP / 169 SOG / 1.8sh% / 69 Blocks/ 44 Hits

  • 2019-20

56 games played: 6G / 34A / 40Pts / -15 / 13PPP / 120 SOG / 5sh% / 74 Blocks / 26 Hits

The two-time Norris trophy winner has had a rough go the last two seasons. Plagued by injuries, Karlsson hasn’t been able to finish a full season since 2015-16. That’s not to say that he hasn’t been doing the same thing he always does when he is on the ice. Produce. He was on a 70 point pace last season and a 59 point pace this season. Getting a healthy Karlsson on the ice should bring success to the whole team, the key is just keeping him healthy.

Lastly, one player that took a lot of heat this season. Some of that heat could be justified, but he doesn’t deserve to shoulder all of the blame for this season.

Martin Jones

  • 2018-19

62 games played: 62 starts / 36 -19 -5 record / 2.94 GAA / .896sv% / 3 Shutouts / 1,699 Shots Against

  • 2019-20

41 games played: 39 starts / 17 -21 -2 record / 3.00 GAA / .896sv% / 2 Shutouts / 1,139 Shots against

Martin Jones, the punching bag for most of the season, played almost identical to last year, in which the Sharks made it to the Western Conference Championship. Seeing most of the blame for this terrible season put on his shoulders was a little surprising. His play didn’t waiver from last year, the rest of team’s undeniably did. Jones is also only two years removed from a season in which he posted a .915sv% and a 2.55 GAA. As stated above, health is the biggest concern with this team.

Looking Ahead

Going into next season, assuming the salary cap remains at $81.5 million, the San Jose Sharks will have just under $15 million in available cap space. They have four Restricted Free Agents (RFA) to sign and seven Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) roster spots to figure out. Things could get tight fast. The RFA’s are Kevin Labanc (RW/LW), Joel Kellman (C), Antti Suomela (C) and Jacob Middleton (D). Labanc was the highest paid of the bunch, making $1 million last year, but there shouldn’t be a significant raise for him.

One UFA that should be a priority to re-sign is Melker Karlsson. He is a versatile forward that can play both wing and center as well as control the top penalty kill unit. He won’t show up on the stat sheet very often, but his impact can be felt on the ice. With 6 other spots to fill out, some inexpensive forward options that the Sharks could have an eye on:

Another UFA issue will be the backup goaltender. Aaron Dell is 31 years old and is coming off of a contract where he paid $1.9 million. It’s doubtful that he gets that same money in free agency, but the San Jose Sharks need to keep costs down wherever they can. Looking at the current UFA class of goalies, there aren’t many viable options that can be had cheaply.

Goalies in the System

The hope could be that, recently signed Russian goaltender, Alexei Melnichuk could be the answer. The soon to be 22 year old goalie had a great season in the KHL playing for SKA St. Petersburg. He appeared in 16 games and had a .930sv% and a 1.68 GAA. He also saw some time with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg in the VHL where he posted a .925sv% with a 1.95 GAA. Melnichuk also put up a .937sv% and a 2.16 GAA in 10 playoff games for SKA-Neva St. Petersburg. It’s uncertain which route the Sharks will take when it comes to their backup net minder, but it is promising to see they have a talent like Melnichuk coming up.

Other then Melnichuk, the Sharks are thin at goaltenders in their system. Andrew Shortridge will be a RFA after this season. The 25 year old saw some success in the NCAA with Quinnipiac University, but has seen struggles in the AHL that resulted in a demotion to the ECHL. Josef Korenar could be a stop gap if the Sharks don’t want to rush Melnichuk up to the NHL. The 22 year old Korenar has been the top goalie for the Barracudas, the Sharks AHL affiliate, but hasn’t set the league on fire. His most recent season saw him post a .891sv% and a 3.11 GAA over 33 games played. Nothing to write home about, but he could be the cheap option to use while they wait for Melnichuk. Lastly, there is Zachary Émond. The 19 year old dominated the QMJHL in the 2018-19 season. Putting up a .932sv% with a 1.73 GAA over 27 games. Taking on a bigger roll this past season, Émond’s numbers took a hit. In 53 games played, he had a .908sv% and a 3.16 GAA. He is still young, and has the tools to be successful, it just takes time to develop goalies.

In Conclusion

It’s looking like it could be a rough couple years for the San Jose Sharks and their fans. Navigating the salary cap will be tricky, especially when it won’t likely be going up. By no means are they ready to enter into a rebuild, they still have some top end talent that could keep them in the playoff conversation, but be sure to manage your expectations. They could find themselves in the lottery again next season.

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