Friday, May 19, 2017

Pool Outlook for San Jose

Last year's Western Conference champions didn't quite have the bite in the regular season that they had a year ago and their veteran prowess wasn't enough in the playoffs, as they only lasted six games in the opening round.  Nevertheless, there are some positives to be had for the Sharks moving forward and they're now moving into a key summer of transition, which is equally as interesting.

The Sharks coasted their way through the regular season, actually finishing in the same spot as they did before their long run last spring, 3rd in the Pacific Division.  They had the pool's best defenseman, their netminder was settling into his second full season as the team's number one and the forward group was evolving before our eyes, although they may have underachieved a little bit.

The Sharks were in the bottom half of the league in goals for, hence the underachieving remark, but their steadiness in their own zone was certainly giving them the tools to succeed, as they were 5th in goals against in the year.  Championships are won by defense, right?

Their prize for finishing 3rd in the Pacific again?  The 2nd place Edmonton Oilers, who were fresh, eager and physical, powering through the Sharks veterans, who have seen a lot of hockey in the last 18-24 months and it may have caught up to them.  The Sharks now know what they are up against in the division and the conference and it's not getting any easier.

There's no doubt that the playoff run the spring before had an effect on the draft, as 11 Sharks were taken in October, getting picks late in the draft to try and capitalize on their depth.  Only one 1st round pick, however, as Martin Jones was the top pick from the Western Conference champs.  Injuries and a cold start saw three of those picks dropped at the first Waiver Draft, where none were picked up to replace them.  The second go-around saw one more dropped, replaced by two, but that didn't help their overall number.  The Sharks finished with only nine players on active rosters, as their scoring depth really showed in the regular season.

One player that didn't suffer any post-season fatigue was defenseman Brent Burns, who led all blueliners and the Sharks in scoring, picking up 29 goals and 76 points in all 82 games, which was good enough for 15th overall in pool scoring, surely making him into a 1st round pick at next year's draft, as one team will capitalize on the discrepancy between top end scoring defenders to even the middle of the pack.

In total, I am showing 11 Sharks finished as pool worthy in the 2017 season, including Burns, so there were some players missed out on at the end of the season.  Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward were all worthy from the forward position, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin and David Schlemko were also worthy from the blueline.  Martin Jones took the brunt of the work in the year, but new back-up Aaron Dell did well with his time in the crease, finishing 43rd among all goalies and getting a nod here.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

With Thornton and Marleau turning 37 this summer, questions are abound about how much longer they have, playing at this high level and trying to make it deeper and deeper into the playoffs, as they still played a big role in their push this year.  The team is in pretty good hands though, as Pavelski, Couture, Burns and Jones are already starting form a fresh core, taking over at just the right time to ensure consistent playoff berths.  The big push over the summer will be to upgrade their depth, aiming to have a more complete team for the next step.  I don't think the Sharks will have any problem making the playoffs next season, but with how wide open and competitive the conference is, the Sharks are no lock for the Conference Finals or a return to the Finals, but they'll certainly compete.

The Sharks did a great job of shifting the responsibility from the old vets to the new core over the last couple of seasons and last season's short summer may have caught up to them a bit, as they couldn't get out of the opening round of the playoffs, but their compete was sure there.  It was a very open-ended statement from this time last year, but it's hard to say that they're going to win the Cup back then and who knew that the Oilers would have their number so early?

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Joe Pavelski 6.000 Brent Burns 8.000 Martin Jones 3.000
Logan Couture 6.000 Paul Martin 4.850 Aaron Dell 0.613
Joel Ward 3.275 Marc-Edouard Vlasic 4.250
David Schlemko 2.100
Mikkel Boedker 4.000 Justin Braun 3.800
Tomas Hertl 3.000 Brenden Dillon 3.270
Jannik Hansen 2.500 Nick DeSimone 0.925
Melker Karlsson 2.000 Jeremy Roy 0.858
Joonas Donskoi 1.900 Michael Brodzinski 0.778
Timo Meier 0.894 Julius Bergman 0.714
Danny O'Regan 0.859 Dylan Demelo 0.650
Jon Martin 0.801
Noah Rod 0.763
Manuel Wiederer 0.737
Kevin Labanc 0.718
Alex Schoenborn 0.718
Adam Helewka 0.705
Rourke Chartier 0.703
Tim Clifton 0.650

There's no shortage of intrigue surrounding the unrestricted free agents that were pool worthy last year and as much as they have been trending downward in their production, they'd still have something to offer a pool team next season.  But as the team stands right now, they have a few of the right pieces in place to be an impact team in the hockey pool and from there, it can get better, as San Jose would be an attractive place to play.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

Required exposure at the forward position will make things difficult for the Sharks at the expansion draft, since they currently only have seven players who would fit under that umbrella and they would have to leave two exposed, at a minimum.  Of course, the Sharks could turn around and sign Thornton and Marleau to deals and leave their aged contracts out there, but right now, I could see Joel Ward and Jannik Hansen getting left out for the picking.  Maybe a defenseman would be more to Vegas' fancy, as there are some potential names like Justin Braun, Brendan Dillon or Mirco Mueller out there as well.  It looks like the Sharks will lose a significant piece, one way or the other.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Sharks have a lot of cap space tied up in their pool worthy core, not to mention a few of those bodies that fell below the cut off of being taken in the draft.  In pool worthy dollars, that's nine players coming in at $38.1 million, you can add another seven key players to that, bringing it up to $58.6 million for 16 players, leaving less than $15 million (against this year's ceiling) for seven more players.  It's not the worst case scenario, but if they are going to shop for another top end centre or winger, they may need to use a fair bit of that space and go really young.

Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are the only two pool worthy free agents on their list and now that Brent Burns is an $8 million man, it seems very unlikely that both will come back and one could even be a stretch.

The Sharks are not exceptionally deep in their youth system these days and they can thank their consistent regular season success to that, as well as their poor scouting, because it isn't like teams are finding NHL-calibre talent past the 1st round.  No, the Sharks are in tough and they were able to give some ice-time to some kids this year, but they may be forced to play some of these guys full-time, if the cap ceiling forces their hand.  Marcus Sorensen and Danny O'Regan, both played some in the 2017 season, both will have their rookie status available, could find ice-time, but are they pool worthy players?  The scouting suggests maybe not.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

The Sharks could really use a home run this year, preferably at the forward position.  London Knights centre Robert Thomas is the kind of guy the Sharks should be looking for.  Scouted as being good in every situation at the junior level, relying on the structure first and worrying about the offense second and just does a lot of things right.  The Sharks are going to need strong, reliable pivots before too long and if Thomas can fill in that frame of his, he he could be there soon.

The lack of current scoring depth is what could hurt the Sharks in the long run and it could really start to sting as soon as next season.  The core group of Pavelski, Couture, Burns, Vlasic and Jones is still in need of that forward that is going to round out their five and they might have it in a kid like Timo Meier, but that's not a certainty, as of yet.  There is some serviceable depth still on their team, but without the playmaking or the finishing of Thornton and Marleau, even in their later years, on the roster right now, it leaves me a bit skeptical about their 2018 season.  Back-to-back years in 3rd place in the Pacific and only Calgary really pressing to pass them next season, the Sharks should be well within the wild card race, but they'll be in tough with Nashville, Winnipeg and maybe even Dallas.
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