NHL Season Preview: 2009-2010 San Jose Sharks

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SB Nation has been running season previews for all 30 NHL teams this entire month and Fear The Fin was up yesterday- long story short the weekend got away from me. Hopefully the sun comes up tomorrow and the internet doesn't explode.

Anyways, today we have a bare bones look at the upcoming season, Tuesday features player breakdowns from TCY and I, and Wednesday has a new edition of FTF Trackz. On Thursday I will be taking two weeks off to prepare for the upcoming season. It's only three weeks away!

2008-2009 Season Recap: The Sharks got off to a record breaking start in 2008, ending January with a 36-7-5 record and ramping up expectations for another playoff run. February and March were much less kind however, as injuries down the stretch depleted the depth of the roster and caused Todd McLellan to mash lines together as best he could going into the postseason- it wasn't enough. Six games in April (of which you can find chronicled here) essentially washed away the achievements of a Presidents' Trophy regular season from the collective consciousness of media pundits and hockey fans across North America, as the Sharks couldn't manage to break through into the Conference Finals for the fourth straight year. Unfairly criticized for their lack of success in the postseason? Yes. Do the results of the regular season compared to the results of the postseason justify that criticism? Yes. While a case by case basis would be most appropriate when analyzing this team, the endgame in April, May, and June is what defines an organization. And unfortunately, last season did nothing to change that definition.

Who's In: Dany Heatley (LW, trade-OTT), Kent Huskins (D, trade-ANA)*, Manny Malhotra (C, UFA-CBJ), Scott Nichol (C, UFA-NSH), various training camp hopefuls (most coming from within the organization- more tomorrow)

*Kent Huskins was acquired at the 2009 Trade Deadline, but did not play a game with San Jose due to injury.

Who's Out*: Mike Grier, Christian Ehrhoff, Brad Lukowich, Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, Tomas Plihal, Marcel Goc, Alexei Semenov, Lukas Kaspar, Travis Moen, Jeremy Roenick, Tom Cavanagh, Claude Lemieux, Brian Boucher

*That's almost a full roster. Unreal.

 

Team Strengths: The addition of Dany Heatley alongside Joe Thornton has the potential to bring a Rocket Richard and Art Ross to San Jose, and Patrick Marleau's move to the second line to play with Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe should allow Todd McLellan to pair them against opposing team's top forwards without worrying about a situation that would cause a defensive liability. The top six should be stellar this season, and rivals any team in the league.

Concurrently, last season's third ranked power play should produce at roughly the same clip. The loss of powerplay dynamo Christian Ehrhoff, who scored 25 points on the man advantage last season (good for third on the team) will hurt, but Heatley will likely make that loss negligible, even with Rob Blake and Dan Boyle being the only proven power play blueliners on the roster.

Manny Malhotra and Scott Nichol, two forwards known for their penalty killing prowess, should tighten up a shorthanded unit that was fifth in the league last year. The addition of these players also allows head coach Todd McLellan to replace the loss of Mike Grier, as well as hopefully reduce the shorthanded time of Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski. They both saw the first and third most ice time respectively on the kill last season- lowering those minutes to a more manageable level will greatly increase their effectiveness at even strength.

Evgeni Nabokov's play in the postseason against Anaheim has been well chronicled, but the hope is that his play will reflect the customary bump expected of a player entering a contract year.

Team Weaknesses: The blueline has a lot of questions surrounding it, and it remains a spot to watch intently this season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Rob Blake will likely be paired together again as a shutdown line, but with Blake's increasing age and propensity to take "slow" penalties last season (hooking, holding), Vlasic's development will be put to the test. At twenty two years of age it's not out of the question to expect him to make up for Blake's potential declines.

Dan Boyle is known for his offensive skills, and while he is not necessarily a liability in the defensive zone, it's not an area where he flourishes. Douglas Murray is of the opposite mold- a player who is able to shut down the cycle and clear bodies from the front of the net, stand up forwards at the blueline, and provides a nastiness that is lacking on San Jose's backend. Pairing them together might be a good solution, as it will provide Boyle the ability to carry the puck in the neutral zone and work in the lower half of the offensive zone- two aspects of his game where he is found at his best.

After that remains many unknowns- Kent Huskins has not impressed me in the three games I saw this preseason, and will be a question mark going forward. Derek Joslin, who was a frequent call-up during the aforementioned months of injury at the tail end of last season, has made a strong bid for his inclusion onto the roster with his penalty kill time and offensive upside, but his age and lack of a full season in the NHL will bring some obligatory growing pains.

The blueline will function well in the offensive zone, but defensively it is a definite question mark along with backup goaltending. Thomas Greiss' preseason has been filled with some questionable outings, and if Nabokov goes down it is uncertain whether he will be able to handle a full-time role. Alex Stalock and Tyson Sexsmith provide some depth at the AHL position, but neither have any professional experience- it is in the best interest of the organization (both this season and going forward) to let them get their reps down in Worcester for the bulk of this season.

Bold Prediction: Pacific division winner by roughly ten points. It's not going to be a cakewalk like it was last season, but I still don't think Anaheim's blueline is going to be enough to challenge San Jose considering the Sharks top six gets the slight nod in my opinion. Los Angeles might sniff a playoff spot but are a season away from actively competing for the title, Phoenix is in shambles (although Dave Tippet should help- I don't think they'll be as bad as everyone expects them to be), and Dallas, even with a full year of Brenden Morrow and a return to form for Marty Turco, doesn't have the defense to challenge San Jose over the course of an 82 game season.

Other than that, you'll hear nothing from me. We'll have six months to think about what lies ahead in April.

X-Factors: Jamie McGinn (reasons found here) and Douglas Murray.

 

Go Sharks.

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