Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pool Outlook for San Jose

It was a rockin' season for the San Jose Sharks, who put together another solid year with some more solid players, looking to capture their first Stanley Cup title.  Sadly, much like the 2010 season, the 2011 season ended with a short stay in the Western Conference Finals, losing to Vancouver in five games.  The Sharks have all kinds of talent, but some injuries and some depth issues were really what sunk the team in the end, but a good portion of their core are already signed, so there is no reason why they can't end up back in the Conference Finals (or better) again.

The biggest acquisition of the Summer was Antti Niemi, who was left in limbo during the Chicago Blackhawks fire sale.  The Sharks were able to wait out a number of teams, move their previous starting goaltender out of the picture and then sign Niemi on the cheap for the 2011 season.  Niemi posted 35 wins, 6 shutouts and 1 assist for 83 points in the pool, 9th among all goaltenders in the league, 16th overall. Niemi is proving that he is a good goaltender that can play for good offensive teams, making him into a hockey pool star.

The cast of forwards were very similar to previous seasons, but a different face led the way in the 2011 season.  The Sharks had six of the top 100 scoring forwards in the league, which included Patrick Marleau (73 points in 82 games), Joe Thornton (70 points in 80 games), Joe Pavelski (66 points in 74 games), Dany Heatley (64 points in 80 games), Ryane Clowe (62 points in 75 games) and rookie Logan Couture (56 points in 79 games).  There was a lot of scoring to be had out of the Sharks, which only proves why they are a perennial favourite in the hockey pool.  All six are signed on for the Sharks now, which makes them only more dangerous for the 2012 season.

The Sharks also finished with four of the top 100 scoring defensemen in the league in 2011, which gave the team plenty of options in the year.  Dan Boyle (50 points in 76 games), Ian White (26 points in 78 games between Calgary, Carolina and San Jose), Jason Demers (24 points in 75 games) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (18 points in 80 games) all made a real impact, both in the wins for the team and in the hockey pool.

Backing up Niemi for the bulk of the season was Antero Niittymaki, giving the Sharks a solid Finnish tandem for the bulk of the season.  Niittymaki finished with 12 wins for 24 points in 2011, good enough for 45th among all goalies.  Niemi is a big-minute goalie, which restricts the value of his back-ups, but Niittymaki did make the best of what he received, in terms of minutes.  Also making a brief appearance was Alex Stalock, who played in 29 minutes, just enough time to register a win.

2012 Pool Outlook
The usual suspects are all here for the San Jose Sharks, looking forward to the 2012 season, the team should be as potent as they have been in the last number of years, which makes them a strong team to pick from in your hockey pools.  The team's overall success may be dictated by who they get to fill some of the roles left behind by free agents, but at least they have a solid base they can work from.

Patrick MarleauDan BoyleAntti Niemi
Joe ThorntonJason DemersAntero Niittymaki
Joe PavelskiMarc-Edouard Vlasic
Dany HeatleyDoug Murray
Ryane Clowe
Logan Couture
Torrey Mitchell

Salary CapA solid base of players does cost the team significantly when looking at the salary cap implications.  Currently, the Sharks have 13 players on their table above, including seven forwards, four defense and a goaltending tandem, coming in at an annual cap projection of $50.9 million.  This potentially leaves $12 million to sign about 10 players for the 2012 season, but looking at the holes they have to fill, the bottom six and last defense pairing should be easy to fill at over $1 million per player.

Restricted free agents will get first crack at the excess space, likely because they still have the most potential in the group of free agents for San Jose.  Devin Setoguchi, Benn Ferriero, Jamie McGinn and John McCarthy all played more than 30 games in 2011 and should be getting good looks in camp this year, especially Setoguchi, who had a pretty good year.

Ian White, Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers, Kyle Wellwood, Kent Huskins and Scott Nichol are all up for unrestricted free agency and I would bet that most of them make it to market on July 1st.  The Sharks have been known to go after veteran talent at the trade deadline, helping to anchor their team for a playoff run, so I don't imagine they will try too hard to keep whatever veteran talent here, which didn't work in their 2011 run.

With a number of blueliners likely leaving the Sharks through free-agency, I think there is going to be a lot of emphasis placed on defenseman talent in the 2012 season, starting with Justin Braun, who got lots of time in with the club in the 2011 season.  He scored at a good rate and may have a full-time job to lose in camp.  Nick Petrecki has been slowly coming along for the Sharks, but there does seem to be hope that he'll be ready for 2012.  Up front, Brandon Mashinter played in 13 games for the Sharks in 2011, his size should earn him some bottom six looks in camp, which could pan out to a regular spot as well.

I would be looking for the Sharks to add some top end offense to their system with their 1st round pick this year.  After Couture, the Sharks depth is somewhat questionable offensively, with only a couple more players, that will need time to develop, on the way.  The North American style of talent the Sharks carry will likely move through this draft as well, I would guess that they will be looking for a lot of skill with five of their seven picks still in hand.

What I said last year at this time... "If I had to guess what the Sharks were going to do in the 2011 season, I would have to start with what they'll probably do in the Summer of 2010. Pavelski should get a fat deal on his plate, imagine Blake will retire, Nabokov and Marleau will both be offered deals to stay, likely for a little less than market value and the Summer will have a little bit more definition by those players right there. San Jose will likely be active in July, moreso than the Draft, because free agency may be easier to piece together than trades for youth. Saying all of that, I think the Sharks are going to take a bit of a hit in the standings because of this change and it might be a bit closer in the Pacific Division when it's all said and done. Points-wise, it really does depend on who stays and who goes, so keep a close eye on the Sharks for top end players, if everyone stays, I would say look for the status quo... if not, it's gonna be a crap shoot."

Pavelski got his deal, Blake retired, Nabokov and Marleau did get contract offers, but only one signed and the team was defined in part by these moves here.  The Sharks did take a bit of a hit in the standings, finishing 2nd in the West, instead of 1st, but the status quo was still very much intact.  The top end players had a nice addition with Niemi, not losing a beat in the net, while the Pacific Division did get a little bit tighter, not tight enough for the Sharks to fall into a tighter race though.  I like what I said last year, most of it held up pretty well.

For the 2012 season, there are far less questions about the team's core, which should make for a safe transition from season to season.  The chemistry through the core is very solid and with a little extra cap space, the team could very well find that missing link in unrestricted free agency, which could get them back on top of the West standings.  I can't see any major changes from the 2011 season, Niemi will get lots of wins, Marleau/Thornton/Heatley should do what they do, while Pavelski/Clowe/Couture will provide adequate scoring depth, although it may be scattered from month to month.  The Sharks will feel a push from Anaheim, but I would wager that they hold them off for another division title in 2012.

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