One month from today, Oct. 12 to be exact, the San Jose Sharks will open the 2016-17 season at home against the Los Angeles Kings. San Jose’s abridged offseason saw a few notable changes and there may be more to come depending on how things shake out in the annual training camp.
Here’s what we know so far:
The defense got better
Blaming the Sharks’ Stanley Cup Final defeat on Roman Polak is too easy and is absolutely unfair, but the bottom defense pairing needed to be better this year. The addition of David Schlemko accomplishes that goal. San Jose didn’t need a world beater, they just needed an upgrade — they got it.
The last rodeo?
Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns are all on expiring contracts. Conventional wisdom is that Burns will sign an extension, but the futures of Thornton and Marleau aren’t so certain. If Jumbo wants to stick around, I imagine the Sharks will make it work, but Marleau isn’t a sure thing.
Sharks have their goalie ... probably
Martin Jones was nothing short of fabulous in the 2015-16 season, meaning he’s got something to live up to in his sophomore campaign. One season of great play isn’t enough to call Jones a sure thing just yet, but I like his chances. If he takes a big step backwards this year, the Sharks are hosed.
Core remains unchanged
Burns, Marleau, Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are still the guys driving the bus. As they go, both in terms of play and health, so goes the Sharks. Will the extra mileage hurt the San Jose players on the wrong side of 30? There’s precedent, even in recent history, of a Cup losing team making it back to the Final a year later, but it’s tough. Obviously.
Have the Sharks won back their fans?
Most of this chatter was drowned out by the time the Western Conference Finals rolled around, but the Sharks did not sell out every playoff game last year. That’s unusual, especially in a city that had a very, very long sellout streak.
I’ve written about this before, but I point back to the disastrous 2014-15 season as a reason for the downtick in attendance. Will a year of unprecedented success bring back the faithful every night? With the Golden State Warriors expected to be every bit as good as last year, the Sharks have some competition on their hands.
The bar stays high
As other blogs have gotten in touch with me for season preview purposes, one question has come through nearly every time: How does this change expectations in San Jose?
It doesn’t. The Sharks have been a cup-or-bust team for years and are again this year. Of course every team’s stated goal is to win the Cup, but San Jose has been in position to make a run for the past several seasons and is in a similar spot this year. I’m not saying there will be riots in the streets if the Sharks fall short, but this a team and fanbase that’s tired of silver linings.