Last season ended with the San Jose Sharks making it to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. Whilst they put up a gallant fight, taking the series to six games, with Martin Jones putting in particularly strong performances – four 38+ save games, 33.5 average saves per game, .923 save percentage – the offensive might of the Pittsburgh Penguins was just too much for the Sharks.
After looking at this San Jose’s offseason exploits, and who’s coming through the system, it looks as though last season was just there to tee up the next one. San Jose legends Patrick Marleau and “Jumbo” Joe Thornton – both entering the 2016-17 season as 37-year-olds – see their contracts conclude at the end of the next campaign. The Sharks will be looking to give the Teal veterans a proper send-off.
So let’s go into how the San Jose Sharks have improved their Stanley Cup finalist roster.
San Jose lost the three Toronto players that were traded in near the deadline of last season – Nick Spaling, James Reimer, and Roman Polak – along with Dainius Zubrus. Whilst all of these players played their roles very well during last season, they won’t be major losses. The players who have come in, however, are major gains.
First, they re-signed Czech starlet Tomas Hertl to a two-year, $6 million deal, and they’ll soon ink in other high priority restricted free agent Matt Nieto. Then once the free agency opened, the Sharks started circling their newest stars, breaching two big names to the team.
Veteran defensive-defenseman David Schlemko was pulled in on a four-year deal for $8.4 million. He will add decent defensive depth to the lower lines of the Sharks in a less aggressive and cleaner way that Roman Polak did, at the back end of last season. Schlemko scored six goals and 19 points in 67 games last season, which was coupled with 47 hits and 88 blocked shots. Whilst he is a downgrade on the physical defensive stats of Polak, he does provide more playmaking opportunities.
Later that same day, July 1, the Sharks splashed in on Danish winger Mikkel Boedker. The stocky 26-year-old scored 17 goals and 51 points between the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche last season. Boedker brings physicality and scoring prowess, along with another option on the powerplay. Last season the Dane scored 19 points on the powerplay, fired 166 shots on goal and achieved a positive giveaway/takeaway differential, with a +6 on 38 takeaways.
Another transaction, that may have floated under the radar for some Sharks fans, was the acquisition of Yotes prospect Maxim Letunov. Arizona needed to cash in on some of their talented young centers as they simply had too many of them. Picked 25 places behind San Jose’s own Nikolay Goldobin in the same draft, Letunov brings more Russian scoring power, but with an added four inches in height – standing at 6’4’’.
Breaking into the NHL team
It’s Timo Time! After patiently waiting a year for San Jose’s highest draft pick since Logan Couture to further perfect his craft in the QMJHL, with the Halifax Mooseheads and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies – managing to obliterate Shawinigan Cataractes 4-1 in the President’s Cup final – it’s finally time for Swiss wunderkind Timo Meier to take to the Teal.
After being drafted ninth overall in 2015, Meier went back to the Mooseheads, where he scored 11 goals and 36 points in 23 games. Being seen as one of the league’s best players, the Huskies decided to trade him in to enhance their title claims. The Chronicle Herald reports that they gave up a first, second and fourth round pick to bring in Timo for their playoff push, and they got exactly what they ordered.
In his remaining 29 QMJHL games with the Huskies, Meier scored 23 goals and 51 points. Timo, and his new team, comfortably made the playoffs. En route to lifting the cup, the Sharks prospect scored 11 goals and 23 points in 18 playoff games, he was simply incredible.
Now it’s his time to join the NHL lines, and bring his mighty two-way game to the Sharks, and bring them more playoff success.
Along with Timo Meier, there is also 2014 first rounder Nikolay Goldobin, who put up a solid 21 goals and 44 points with San Jose’s AHL affiliate, the Barracudas, last season. He featured in the odd few games for San Jose last season, scoring a pair of points, and appears to have made big strides during his time with the Barracudas.
It’s also possible that defenseman Mirco Mueller could return to the team. He featured in 39 games of the 2014-15 season, and then 11 games of last season, but head coach Peter DeBoer thought it best to let him develop with the Barracudas, where Mueller finished the campaign with a +7 rating and 11 points. The now 21-year-old has grown into his frame a bit more now, which will help him to bring more of the required physicality that comes with his style of being a defensive-defenseman.
Martin Jones is obviously San Jose’s first choice goaltender, which was further enforced by his elite performances in the post-season, but they are yet to acquire a back-up. Whilst there are still ample back-ups available in the free agency, with the likes of Jhonas Enroth, Karri Ramo, and Ben Scrivens still open to negotiations, San Jose may actually look to newly acquired Lithuanian net-minder, Mantas Armalis. Signed earlier this year, the big 6’4’’ 195lbs goalie has been playing his craft in the SHL, with Djurgardens. Sportsnet followed as the Maple Leafs, Flames and the Hurricanes edged towards signing the goalie, but San Jose came out on top. Whilst Armalis will most likely spend his first couple of seasons in the AHL, there is the possibility that he’ll be seen as an adequate back-up to Jones, maybe.
With so few players leaving the lines, but so many high-quality options coming in, or vying to come in, there are many ways in which the Sharks could line up next season. Having said that, there are a few trends that hint to who might go where.
Firstly, if Timo Meier comes into the team, which he almost definitely will, he’ll most likely shoot straight into the top line alongside Thornton and Pavelski, just as Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, and Joonas Donskoi have in the past, to help blood him into the league.
The San Jose lines might play out something like this:
Timo Meier – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Mikkel Boedker – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Patrick Marleau – Tomas Hertl – Joonas Donskoi
Matt Nieto – Chris Tierney – Tommy Wingels
Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko
Sharks for the Cup?
Whilst it is fairly uncommon for a team to make the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons, especially one who was such an underdog coming into their first ever appearance, Peter DeBoer knows exactly how to do it. Winning it is another matter.
Given the great improvements to the Sharks so far this offseason, the seemingly everlasting talents of Marleau and Thornton, and the ever-improving play of their current young stars, San Jose look primed to make a great run at the cup again next season and possibly go all the way.