With the acquisition of two-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, we Sharks fans are undeniably excited for the upcoming NHL season. Some might say downright giddy, even. In the long and largely successful time in which Doug Wilson has been the General Manager of the San Jose Sharks, there have been many years in which we eagerly anticipated the return of the Boys in Teal to the ice.
But is this the most optimistic Sharks fans have ever been in September? Let’s look back:
What happened in the previous season: The Sharks finished 28-37-9-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Head coach Darryl Sutter was fired 24 games into the season and (after one game of Cap Raeder behind the bench) was replaced by Ron Wilson. Captain Owen Nolan was traded at the deadline for Alyn McCauley, prospect Brad Boyes, and a first round pick.
What changed: General Manager Dean Lombardi was fired at the end of the season, and thus began the Doug Wilson era. The biggest on-ice departure was Teemu Selanne leaving for Colorado as a UFA. Good riddance.
Reason for optimism: A young core including Patrick Marleau (age 24), Jonathan Cheechoo (23), Marco Sturm (25), Brad Stuart (24) and rookies Christian Ehrhoff (21) and Milan Michalek (19) combined with veterans like Mike Ricci, Mike Rathje and Vincent Damphousse sure looked like a competitive roster. Also, missing the playoffs the previous season kinda felt like an aberration.
Reason for pessimism: The goaltending troika led by Evgeni Nabokov had been below average in the previous season. After parting ways with their GM, head coach and captain, it sure looked like the Sharks were committed to significant changes.
Opening Night Optimism Score: 4/10. With the advantage of hindsight, this seems low, but at the Lombardi years had been the Sharks most successful to date, and it was not clear that things were going to get significantly better with a new GM.
What happened in the previous season: The Sharks finished first in the Pacific Division with a record of 43-21-12-6. In the playoffs, they reached the Western Conference Final for the first time in franchise history.
What changed: Gary Bettman decided to cancel the start of the season.
Reason for optimism: The lockout couldn’t possibly last all season!
Reason for pessimism: LMFAO you must be new here.
Opening Night Optimism score: 1/10. I was tempted to give this a zero, but the Sharks success the previous season and the hope that the lockout would only wipe out half a season bumps this up ever so slightly.
What happened in the previous season: Not a damn thing.
What changed: The powers that be decided to actually play this season. Milan Michalek’s knee was healed (Remember we are talking about what had changed before Opening Night).
Reason for optimism: The last time we saw the Sharks, they made the longest run in franchise history and were two wins away from playing for the Cup. The aforementioned young core was moving into its prime. Honestly, we were just thrilled to have hockey back from the lockout.
Reason for pessimism: They did not have the greatest playmaker of his generation on the roster. And some of the other teams in the conference were pretty stacked.
Opening Night Optimism score: 7/10. We hadn’t seen any NHL team on the ice for 15 months, so the optimism was tempered with uncertainty more than pessimism.
What happened in the previous season: The Sharks finished with 99 points (44-27-11), second in the Pacific Division. Jonathan Cheechoo scored 56 goals and won the Rocket Richard Trophy. Patrick Marleau finally broke through, scoring 86 points in 82 games. Oh, and they traded for some guy named Joe Thornton, who won the Art Ross and Hart Trophies. They lost in the second round of the playoffs to Edmonton, when Dwayne Roloson morphed into Dominik Hasek, circa 1998.
What changed: Rookies Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matt Carle joined the team, as did veteran wingers Mike Grier and Mark Bell.
Reason for optimism: Joe. Thornton. Acquiring a player of his ability in the prime of his career was a coup. He made everybody around him better in a way that is difficult to succinctly articulate, but suffice to say, once he showed up the team felt like it moved from good to great. We expected them to win every night, and it didn’t seem unrealistic. The loss to the Oilers hurt, but sometimes you run into a hot goalie.
Reason for pessimism: Again, the goaltending was below average. Nabokov and Vesa Toskala split time almost evenly, and neither was great.
Opening Night Optimism score: 8/10. This team was good and we knew it.
What happened in the previous season: A record of 51-26-5 and 107 points was good for second place in the Pacific Division. And another second round exit from the playoffs, this time at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.
What changed: Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell were shipped out to Toronto for a package of picks that wound up resulting in the Sharks drafting Logan Couture. Trade deadline acquisition Bill Guerin left as a UFA for the New York Islanders. Probably a good call on his part; I’m sure that worked out well for him. The most prominent addition was future pariah Jeremy Roenick. Also, they added weird little numbers on the front and a shit-ton of orange to the jerseys, for some reason.
Reason for optimism: Coming off a 50-win season, the Sharks had established themselves as one of the best teams in the league, and were picked by some observers to win the Cup. In the last days of his itinerant career, Roenick was clearly chasing the Cup that had eluded him, and he saw the Sharks as his last, best hope. Rookies Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Torrey Mitchell and Devin Setoguchi and a second-year player named Joe Pavelski seemed poised to bolster a strong team.
Reason for pessimism: With Toskala gone, the Sharks didn’t really have a backup for Nabokov. That sounds funny now, considering how Toskala’s career went in Toronto, but it was a real concern at the time (Nabby wound up playing 77 games, which is….not optimal).
Opening Night Optimism score: 8/10. We knew this was a good team. The lack of a backup goalie was a little worrying, and the blueline could probably do with a top-end puck mover were the only concerns we had.
What happened in the previous season: The Sharks won the Pacific Division with 108 points (49-23-10). Between February 21 and April 1, they did not lose a game in regulation (18-0-2). They acquired Brian Campbell at the trade deadline, in the hopes that the skilled defenseman was the missing piece. They lost in the second round to Dallas, dropping the deciding sixth game in 4OT.
What changed: Todd McLellan replaced Ron Wilson behind the bench. Campbell took Chicago’s filthy lucre. Former Norris Trophy winner and future Hall of Famer Rob Blake signed as a UFA. Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich were acquired via trade from Tampa Bay.
Reason for optimism: In Dan Boyle and Rob Blake, the Sharks added two highly skilled right handed defensemen. Brian who? This team was loaded.
Reason for pessimism: I guess, backup goalie. Nabokov was 33 and, if not quite long in the tooth, asking him to play the bulk of the regular season games, plus playoffs, seemed like it might be a big ask.
Opening Night Optimism score: 9/10. This team was stacked. There were other very good teams in the league, but the Sharks were as good as any team on paper. Which is where they played the games back then, right?
What happened in the previous season: The Sharks were the best team in the league in the regular season, winning the President’s Trophy with 117 points (53-18-11). They lost to the Ducks in six soul-crushing games in the first round. It took me an hour and a half to write that last sentence.
What changed: Patrick Marleau was stripped of the captaincy in favor of Rob Blake. Cheechoo, Michalek,and a pick were traded for the biggest fish on the market, Dany Heatley.
Reason for optimism: Heatley was an elite winger who had scored 50 goals as recently as the season before last. Adding a great goal scorer to play alongside Thornton, the greatest playmaker in the game had us all drooling.
Reason for pessimism: Did you see what happened in the playoffs last season?
Opening Night Optimism score: 8/10. This team was very good, but at this point, we were painfully aware of their playoff record.
What happened in the previous season: Again the Sharks won the Pacific Division, this time with 113 points (51-20-11). In the playoffs, the Sharks easily won rounds against Colorado and Detroit, before being swept by the eventual Cup champs from Chicago in the Western Conference Final.
What changed: Captain Rob Blake and Jeremy Roenick retired. Evgeni Nabokov left as a UFA. He was replaced in goal by Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymäki.
Reason for optimism: After years of early exits, the Sharks finally won two rounds! And although they lost in the Conference Final, they brought in the goalie who stymied them in that round. If you can’t beat ‘em, sign ‘em as free agents after Chicago was forced to let ‘em go because you inflated the salary of Niklas Hjalmarsson by signing him to an offer sheet that Chicago ultimately matched. I’m pretty sure that is an actual saying.
Reason for pessimism: The top line of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley were all over 30. As was Dan Boyle. Nabby leaving marked the end of a very successful era. Blake and Roenick retiring seemed to signal that the vets believed they had seen their best chances to win with San Jose come and go.
Opening Night Optimism score: 8/10. Getting to the Conference Final was a huge boost to the optimism after what happened a year earlier. Getting Niemi felt like a coup at the time. It’s not like he just played the four best playoff games of his life against the Sharks, right? Right??
What happened in the previous season: Another Pacific Division title on the strength of a 48-25-9 (105 points) record. After defeating L.A. and Detroit in the first two rounds, the Sharks lost in the Western Conference Final for a second straight year, this time to Vancouver.
What changed: Devin Setoguchi was traded to Minnesota as part of a package for Brent Burns. In a separate trade, Dany Heatley was also sent to Minnesota, in exchange for Martin Havlat.
Reason for optimism: Two straight trips to the Western Conference Final and five straight seasons with over 100 points in the regular season. Logan Couture looked pretty good in his first full season.
Reason for pessimism: The core was definitely getting older. And teams like Vancouver and Chicago looked better on paper than did the Sharks.
Opening Night Optimism score: 7/10. Not getting to the Cup Final in the last five seasons was really looking like a missed opportunity. Still, the team was good, but not overwhelmingly so.
Year: January 2013
What happened in the previous season: For the first time since 2006, the Sharks failed to crack the 100 point mark in the regular season. Their record of 43-29-10 was good for 96 points, which left them second, one point behind…*checks notes*... the Phoenix Coyotes? That can’t be right. In the playoffs, the Sharks lost in the first round, in five forgettable games to the St Louis Blues.
What changed: Gary Bettman and friends decided to cancel half the season, because they could. Old friend Brad Stuart re-joined the club, but beyond that, not much changed.
Reason for optimism: I mean they clearly weren’t a bad team. And once you make the playoffs, literally anything can happen, I guess.
Reason for pessimism: By this point, it was clear that the Sharks had moved from being one of the best teams in the league to the creamy center: definite playoff team, but almost certainly not a threat to win the Cup.
Opening Night Optimism score: 6/10. It was nice that this lockout didn’t wipe out an entire season.
What happened in the previous season: We only played half of it because of the third lockout in the Bettman era. In the 48 games that they did play, the Sharks went 25-16-7, which left them third in the Pacific Division, behind Anaheim and LA. They beat the Kings in the first round, and were swept by Vancouver in the second.
What changed: 2012 first round pick Tomas Hertl left his native Czech Republic to come play for the Sharks.
Reason for optimism: Rookies Hertl and Tommy Wingels looked promising, and maybe they could take some of the pressure off the old guys on the team.
Reason for pessimism: This roster included Raffi Torres and Mike Brown and Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish. The defensive corps included three regulars who were over 35 (Boyle, Stuart and Scott Hannan)
Opening Night Optimism score: 5/10. This was a team whose core was in decline, and too many of the complimentary players were either too old or not skilled enough.
What happened in the previous season: With 111 points (51-22-9) the Sharks finished second (behind Anaheim) in the Pacific Division. The highlight of the year came in October when Tomas Hertl scored four goals against the Rangers, including this between the legs beauty that forced Martin Biron into retirement.
WE DO NOT SPEAK OF WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PLAYOFFS THAT YEAR.
What changed: They re-signed Mike Brown and signed John Scott. Also, Drew Remenda was kicked to the curb. Joe Thornton was stripped of the captaincy. Brent Burns was moved from forward back to defenseman.
Reason for optimism: Hertl and rookies Chris Tierney, Melker Karlsson, and Mirco Mueller should ease the load on the vets. Things can’t get any worse than this, right?
Reason for pessimism: This was a flawed team, and rather than addressing those flaws, management doubled down on grit and toughness and such.
Opening Night Optimism score: 4/10. The Sadness-of-which-we-shall-not-speak stung, and it exposed the Sharks need for improved depth on the blue line and better middle-six wingers. Of course neither need was addressed and things looked not so good. Still, this team had enough good players that it was impossible to be too down on them.
What happened in the previous season: For the first time in the Doug Wilson era, the San Jose Sharks missed the playoffs. Their 40-33-9 record left them fifth in the Pacific Division and well outside the playoffs. They played an outdoor game at Levi’s Stadium.
What changed: Todd McLellan was replaced by Peter DeBoer as Head Coach. Joe Pavelski was named captain. Wingers Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi and defenseman Paul Martin were brought in as free agents.
Reason for optimism: They actually addressed their needs: a new coach who was good at systems, a reliable defensive partner for Burns, and some middle-six wingers.
Reason for pessimism: Are you sick of reading the phrase “aging core” yet? Because I am getting sick of typing it.
Opening Night Optimism score: 7/10. I thought the previous season was a worst case scenario, and the Sharks improved in the off-season. Additionally, it was clear that a few of the teams that finished ahead of San Jose (Calgary and Vancouver) did so on smoke and mirrors and PDO benders.
What happened in the previous season: The Sharks finished third in the Pacific Division (46-30-6), which was kind of unflattering. Logan Couture broke his leg in November, and the team stumbled along without him for a few months. But the team’s possession number were pretty good, and they were better than they got credit for. In case you forgot, they defeated the Kings in five games in the first round, bested Nashville in seven game in the second, and beat St. Louis in six in the Western Conference Final to win the Clarence Campbell Bowl and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. Pittsburgh won in six tight games, but man what a ride that was. Also, Brent Burns was a finalist for the Norris Trophy.
What changed: Deadline acquisitions James Reimer and Roman Polak left as UFAs. Free agent David Schlemko replaced Polak on the blueline. For some reason, they added Mikkel Boedker.
Reason for optimism: Went to the Cup Final last year and Roman Polak left.
Reason for pessimism: Getting older everyday. Last season might have been the last, best chance at a Cup for this group, but whatever.
Opening Night Optimism score: Who cares, we went to the Cup Final last season. 7/10? Sure. Why not?
What happened in the previous season: Finished third in the Pacific Division with 99 points (46-29-7). Lost to Edmonton (yes, really) in the first round of the playoffs. Joe Thornton’s knee was held together with packing tape and hope.
What changed: In the most shocking turn of events ever, Patrick Marleau left as an unrestricted free agent.
Reason for optimism:The rest of the division has major question marks, and the Sharks showed us in 2016 that just about anything can happen once you make the playoffs.
Reason for pessimism: They just got run out of the playoffs in the first round by a younger and faster team. A year after losing in the playoffs to a younger and faster team. The Sharks did nothing to make themselves either younger or faster in the off-season.
Opening Night Optimism score: 6/10. This is a playoff team, not a contender. But anything can happen in the ‘Yoffs!
What happened in the previous season: With a record of 45-27-10 (100 points) the Sharks again finish third in the Pacific Division. In the first round of the playoffs, they choke-slammed the Ducks through a table that was on fire. Then they lost in the second round to a goalie, whose career save percentage was .912, but put up .932 in the ‘Yoffs. At the deadline, Evander Kane was acquired for Danny O’Regan and a Togo’s coupon.
What changed: The Sharks acquired Ottawa pariah Mike Hoffman for pennies on the dollar, dumping Boedker and his not good contract in the process. Hours later, they flipped Hoffman to Florida for pretty much his full value. Doug Wilson cleared an impressive amount of cap space and aggressively pursued free agent center John Tavares. After missing out on Tavares, the Sharks were reportedly aggressively pursuing Ryan O’Reilly. And then Max Pacioretty was traded to the Sharks at the draft, except that never really happened. Unable to land any of these big fish, Doug Wilson did not panic. He kept his cap space and, on that blessed September day, traded Chris Tierney, Dylan Demelo, Rudolfs Balcers, Josh Norris and some picks (some of which have multiple conditions attached) to Ottawa for the best defenseman on the planet. Also they drafted Ryan Merkley. We called both of those moves.
Reason for optimism: The defense corps were good to begin with, and THEY ADDED ERIK FREAKING KARLSSON, the best defenseman on the planet. This team is skilled and deep with passable goaltending. Prior to the Karlsson trade, they were a playoff team, but since THEY ADDED ERIK FREAKING KARLSSON, they are one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Doug Wilson has signaled that he is going all in this year, in a way that he never really has before.
Reason for pessimism: Karlsson’s ankle injuries are a little worrying, as are Joe Thornton’s knees. Injury concerns aside, there isn’t a whole lot to be too worried about. Maybe the goaltending, maybe a need for more scoring up front.
Opening Night Optimism score: 10/10. I have never been more excited for a Sharks season. Let’s goooooooooo!