Sharks Season Preview: Reasons for hope

After a down 2020-21, the Sharks are looking to make a little bit of noise.

The San Jose Sharks had struggled to retool over the past couple of seasons, but this year’s edition looks better. With the mix of veterans and new young talent, the Sharks are starting to look like Sharks teams of old. Will that mean a return to playoffs? You’ll have to tune in to find out.

The Sharks’ local broadcasts still live on NBC Sports California, but the NHL’s new deal will see national broadcasts on ESPN, TNT and NHL Network. You also can check out the Sharks on ESPN+, starting with their season opener against the Winnipeg Jets.

Have the Sharks found their goaltending solution?

The Sharks seem to be asking and answering this question about every five years. But with Martin Jones now gone, the Sharks are going with the new tandem of Adin Hill and James Reimer. Hill, a 25-year-old whom they acquired from the Arizona Coyotes, has shown in his limited amount of time to be a solid option in net. Over the past two seasons with the Coyotes, he posted good numbers in net, with a .918 save percentage (SV%) and 2.62 goals against average (GAA) in 2019-20 and a .913 SV% and 2.74 GAA in 2020-21.

Solidifying the tandem will be veteran goaltender Reimer. He has served in the 1A/1B role before and will be able to support the young goaltender Hill. This is Reimer’s second stint with the Sharks and has always been a solid option in goal, proving it in his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers.

What will we see out of the young forwards?

One of the big problems with the Sharks’ forwards last year is they were not able to get production from some of their young forwards. After making space by waiving Dylan Gambrell and new young forwards William Eklund, Rudolfs Balcers and Jonathan Dahlen taking the reins, the Sharks have improved the forward lines.

Eklund, who was their 2021 first-round pick, impressed during the preseason games and made the Opening Night Roster. Rudolfs Balcers and Jonathan Dahlen spent time in the Sharks’ organization, impressing over the years, and it is likely all three of these forwards will be in the top-six.

The Sharks had lost a bit of their scoring from the previous years, but these three young forwards are very likely to make a big impact.

Are aging players going to help or hurt the defense?

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have been staples on a Sharks’ blue line for the past few years — longer even for Burns and Vlasic — but they are not young. This can do one of two things: help provide a veteran presence that steadies the play of younger defenders, or slow them down.

Injuries to players like Karlsson and Radim Simek have left holes in the defense in the past few seasons. This Sharks have had trouble filling those spots, leading to the inexperience of the defense showing. But having a veteran blue line has also been a staple for the Sharks and is something to be expected.

Player to Watch: Tomas Hertl

Hertl is coming into a contract year and all eyes will be on the Sharks’ young power forward. Hertl put up 19 goals and 24 assists for 43 points in the shortened 2020-21 season. Though it was not his most productive season, he was a main part of the Sharks’ top-six.

He will have a different look this year with two young forwards on his wings. Centering the second line with Eklund and Balcers creates a line full of skill and speed on the wings.

Though he has already show what he can do, the ability to earn a big contract he wants — with the Sharks or not — will be a lot of motivation for the 27-year-old forward this season.

Season predictions

Timo Meier will lead the Sharks in scoring

Meier has been one of the multiple power forward style players the Sharks have and that comes with a big scoring ability. He has already scored 20-plus goals in a season three times over his five NHL seasons, and will get plenty of opportunities this year. He will likely again be playing again on a line with Logan Couture, and chemistry with Jonathan Dahlen will provide him with a lot of those opportunities.

The Sharks are going to sneak into the playoffs

They have a good enough team to make it into the playoffs, but it will be dependent on a lot of factors. They are in a division that seems to switch between unpredictable and very predictable, but with the Seattle Kraken now in the division and the unknowns from multiple teams, the Sharks might have a good chance to sneak in.

Even if it’s a wild card spot and it’s by the skin of their teeth, with all their improvements this  off-season, it shouldn’t be as big of a shock as it is going to be.