Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pool Outlook for San Jose

Things were going so well in the 2010 season and the playoffs for the San Jose Sharks, but then they came across a young team from Chicago and dashed their hopes in a big hurry.  There were plenty of positives for the Sharks in the past year, but I think the Conference Finals loss will be considered a massive dark cloud on a season with such high expectations.  The Sharks managed to pick up another clutch scorer in the off-season, shored up their blueline with more veteran help and had enough to sit at the top of the Western Conference after 82 games in the regular season.  Yeah, I would say that not appearing in the Cup Finals, if not winning the whole thing, would be considered a pretty reasonable sized failure, but they were bested by one hell of a team.

So, looking at the hockey pool numbers, which are fairly positive in 2010, Evgeni Nabokov was the team leader in the year, thanks to 44 wins and 3 shutouts for 94 points.  Although, I'm kind of thinking it as well, the team does have a couple players that should be in triple-figures, but I digress.  Nabokov had a season where all he really had to do was be solid, because there was a pretty good team effort in front of him and the scoring was spread out pretty well.  Nabokov finished 2nd in the league in wins, 6th in save percentage and 10th in goals against average, while playing the 6th-most minutes in the league, so he was definitely a great pool goalie, ranking 3rd in points.  Of course, his Summer has a big question mark over it due to his impending free agency, but why wouldn't anyone want him for their pool team, especially if he stays with the Sharks?

Yes, I did make mention that maybe the forwards were a little underwhelming in 2010 and I think that's a fair statement to make.  Joe Thornton is usually an 80-assist player, but failed to crack 70 this year, thus finishing with only 89 points in 79 games.  You can't really complain about the final tally, although I would have been expecting a little bit more.  Patrick Marleau, on the other hand, really stepped up his game, going just a shade over a point-per-game with 83 points (44 goals and 39 assists) in 82 games.  Marleau is usually good for plenty of points, but he really made himself into a fine bargain, jumping up to 21st in pool scoring, 14th among forwards. Trailing right behind Marleau was Dany Heatley, who finished with 82 points (39 goals and 43 assists) in 82 games, but his season was somewhat underwhelming as well, since the prospect of Heatley playing with Thornton was theoretically going to produce 50 goals or more.  Production does drop off a little bit after the big three, but the Sharks did have one more player in the top 100 of pool scoring in Ryane Clowe, who finished with 19 goals and 38 assists in 82 games, which was an improvement for him.  Playoff hero, Joe Pavelski, had a bit of a down year in the regular season, which everyone forgot about come the Spring dance, but injuries did force him to only 67 games and 51 points this year, but he could have been in around 70 to 75 if he stayed healthy.  The only other point of note would be Devin Setoguchi, who had a pretty good 2009, failed to live up to those high standards he set for himself, dropping down to only 36 points in 70 games, ranking well below what he did the season before.  He'll be a depth forward at next year's draft, for sure.

The Sharks defense looked good to mediocre in 2010, but Dan Boyle led the way with 15 goals and 43 assists in 76 games, ranking him 4th among blueliners during the year. Those are some pretty solid numbers from a top end blueliner and he should be considered a fairly high pick in the draft next year.  40-year old Rob Blake finished 2nd in team defense scoring with 30 points in 70 games, while Kent Huskins was 22 points in 82 games and Jason Demers was 21 points in 51 games.  All three were under half a point-per-game, which may have also been slightly underwhelming as a whole, but they played good enough defense as a team to win so many games, but that doesn't really help the pool situation much.  Both Doug Murray and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic had some injury problems in the year, which was likely a key contibutor to some inconsistencies in the offense from the blueline in 2010.

Of course, when you have a goalie that ranks 6th in the NHL in minutes played, your back-up goalie is not going to see a lot of action, let alone a lot of points.  Thomas Greiss did manage to be promoted to the Sharks back-up spot in 2010, so I would say there is a small victory in there for himself, but with 7 wins and 14 points in 2010, Greiss only reached 57th in the goaltending ranks for points, which is a bottom-end back-up in the rankings.   The winds of change may blow in his favour through the Summer, however, with free agency looming large in the crease, so it will be very interesting to see how that will shape up for 2011.

2011 Season Outlook
Well, I don't think you can expect very much from only looking at the shell of players down below.  Sure, the blueline looks pretty well set and if they are healthy for the better part of next season, goaltending numbers may be a little bit better, no matter who is in net for the Sharks.  Up front, they need a lot of work and a lot of names to be signed up.  Sure, there are a number of players who were in the minors ready to be called up for a full season with the team, but until they are guaranteed a spot on the team, they won't make the list down below.

Joe ThorntonDan BoyleThomas Greiss
Dany HeatleyKent Huskins
Ryane CloweJason Demers
Torrey MitchellDouglas Murray
Marc-Eduoard Vlasic

So, for 10 players, including five defensemen, the Sharks do have a little bit of room to play with and some decisions to be made with that room.  The team signed on above comes in with an approximate annual cap hit of $34.6 million, which is arguably high for only 10 players, but Thornton, Heatley and Boyle do explain a fair chunk of that change already. With a fair bit of space underneat the cap ceiling, it will be a matter of making the decision to stay the course or to change up a lot of the core forwards going into 2011, making a few slight tweaks and alterations here and there.  You can very easily argue that they might not be as far off as they may have looked finishing off that Western Conference series.

If the Sharks do decide to stay the course, they will have to contend with a good number of pending unrestricted free agents, including the likes of Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau, Manny Malhotra, Rob Blake (if he decides to return), Jed Ortmeyer, Scott Nichol and Niclas Wallin, some moreso than others.   It's a pretty substantial group of players with a few of them still likely to command some big bucks against the cap.  Signing a bunch of big name players has a very negative effect on the type of depth they may want to improve upon and it may hurt the restricted free agent crop they have coming as well.

Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, Jamie McGinn, Brad Staubitz and Derek Joslin all played a fair bit in 2010 and all are becoming restricted free agents in July.  Pavelski is the only one really guaranteed a good-sized raise in July, while Setoguchi may find himself using some of his numbers to his advantage in negotiating a better deal.  I would imagine that out of all the free agents this Summer, Pavelski will be the cornerstone to their budgetary decisions, as he'll be the most important player on their free agent list for the long haul.

Looking at the Sharks youth system in the Hockey News' Future Watch and I can't say I'm terribly impressed by the stock of talent that they are showing in there.  Logan Couture ranks as their top prospect and he saw 25 games in 2010, not to mention a good portion of their playoff run.  Past that, there is Nick Petrecki and Derek Joslin, both are taking their sweet time in development on the blueline, but neither one are being rushed and set to fail in the NHL, so there has to be some credit there.  I'm thinking if the Sharks do decided to blow it up and start over in the 2011 season, it might be a long year in San Jose, because they can't really draw from their own stockpile right away.

So, with their top bill in the West and a loss in the Conference Finals, the San Jose Sharks will be picking 28th in the Entry Draft in June, since they still have their pick heading into the Summer.  With an extreme lack of bluechip prospects in their system, I'm thinking the Sharks are going to try and hit a home run with their pick, maybe taking a gamble on a player outside of the box.  In the late part of the 1st round, I would think that they would be looking for a top end forward, using better odds to hit that home run in the draft.

What I had said at this time last year: "A few of the faces may change with the Sharks this summer, but it shouldn't change the outlook towards the best players on the team. Thornton will be close to 100 points again, Nabokov should win 40 again, Boyle should be in the top 10 in defense scoring... the questions will be about the young players like Setoguchi, Pavelski, Michalek and Cheechoo, who could go any which way in 2010. They all should be reasonable picks through the year, but you may want to be weary of going too high with them."

I thought I did okay with the Sharks as a whole spelling out their numbers for the 2010 season.  Thornton was a disappointment though, Nabokov had 44 wins and Boyle was a great defenseman in the ranks, so that's two out of three.  Being weary of Setoguchi, Michalek and Cheechoo (despite two of them going to Ottawa later on in the off-season) would have paid off for you, because they were all terrible in 2010, while Pavelski would have been a bargain, if you managed to pick him up late.  Very happy with that and the overall thought if you put most of that together would have suggested a fairly decent regular season, which it was for the Sharks.

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.

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