Friday, May 25, 2018

Pool Outlook for San Jose

The San Jose Sharks remained a strong team in the 2018 season, just going about their business, as they have been doing for the last 10 years or so.  Even the departure of Patrick Marleau didn't seem to disrupt the make-up of the team and the mid-season injury to Joe Thornton was only a minor hiccup.  The acquisition of Evander Kane at the trade deadline seemed to smooth everything over and the Sharks continued right along and finished in 3rd place in the Pacific Division, only a point behind Anaheim for 2nd place in the regular season.

In the opening round, the Sharks swept the Ducks rather easily, but the next round, they faced the Vegas Golden Knights and ended up giving them their best challenge in the playoffs, as we now see the Golden Knights head off to the Cup Finals.  The Knights beat the Sharks in six games, as they really couldn't answer the blue collar speed approach to the game that Vegas had.

The times, they are a changin' in San Jose, as it seems fairly likely that we won't be seeing Thornton in a Sharks jersey, after two straight seasons of major knee injuries and surgeries, it seems like a foregone conclusion that his days are numbered.  The addition of Kane gives the Sharks a little more offense and the team's leadership seems to be in good hands with Joe Pavelski, so the transition seems to be moving along well.

Goaltender Martin Jones was the steadiest of all the Sharks players in the 2018 season, appearing in 60 games, winning 30 and posting 68 points to lead all San Jose players in hockey pool scoring.  That does seem to be a fairly low number for points for a team leader in the playoffs, but it was a pretty solid year throughout their lineup.  Jones ranked 11th among all goalies in scoring, 51st overall, which would put him as the top pick in the 3rd round of a draft redo.

The Sharks did have 17 players that were considered pool worthy, by far the most we've seen so far in these blog posts.  Aaron Dell, the team's backup goalie, also appeared on the list, which is also rare for a team that was led by a goalie.  Up front, the Sharks had Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, Kevin Labanc, Mikkel Boedker, Timo Meier, Joe Thornton and Joonas Donskoi all posting enough points to be in the conversation.  There wasn't a lot of points to be had by any one of these guys, but just enough to be worthy of being on a pool team and competing.  On defense, it was much of the same, with Brent Burns, Justin Braun, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brenden Dillon and Dylan Demelo, all coming in the top 100 blueliners.  That is some pretty crazy depth there.

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

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.

Make it back-to-back-to-back years in 3rd place in the Pacific and no one saw what Vegas was going to do by this time last year, so that has to count for something, right?  Thornton came back, Marleau didn't, but the Sharks did find some more scoring in Kane, not to mention Meier having a decent season as well.  Really, the team's scoring woes were taken care of by committee in the 2018 season, which is definitely good news for them moving forward.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

My pick for the Sharks before the season started was Tomas Hertl and he did pretty well for the team this season.  I was looking to him to be that potential breakout player again, maybe hitting that 40-goal mark, even though I really only had him pegged for 40 points in my projections.  In the end, he finished with 22 goals and 46 points in 79 games, which is nothing to sneeze at and like I had pointed out, this team was scoring by committee and Hertl was definitely a positive influence on that committee.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Evander Kane 7.000 Brent Burns 8.000 Martin Jones 5.750
Logan Couture 6.000 Marc-Edouard Vlasic 7.000 Aaron Dell 1.900
Joe Pavelski 6.000 Paul Martin 4.850
Mikkel Boedker 4.000 Justin Braun 3.800
Melker Karlsson 2.000 Brenden Dillon 3.270
Joonas Donskoi 1.900 Tim Heed 0.650
Dylan Gambrell 0.925 Joakim Ryan 0.650
Timo Meier 0.894
Maxim Letunov 0.834
Rourke Chartier 0.703
Marcus Sorensen 0.700
Barclay Goodrow 0.650

The Sharks had a lot of pool worthy players in the 2018 season and a good chunk of them are already coming back for the 2019 season, including Evander Kane, who re-signed earlier this week.  With the core group of players thinning out the older folks, this team has some real upside coming and they may just stay the course of being a consistent contender in the Pacific Division.  I wouldn't say they have it all right now, but they're staying in the mix.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

There is going to be a delicate balance between free agency and the team's overall salary cap number this summer and this could have a major effect on what the team looks like in October.  The team is stocked up with signed young talent, but it's a pretty good guessing game to figure out who could make it out of camp, so I have pieced together that 21-man roster above, leaving some flexibility.  That roster there is coming in with $7.5 million in cap space before the ceiling hike, so there will be some money to spend.

Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc, Dylan Demelo and Chris Tierney lead the RFA class of pool worthy players for the Sharks, giving the team quite a bit to think about.  If they are going to manage through that salary cap conundrum, they'll have to spend wisely through these four players or else use more of their youth in the coming season.

Joe Thornton is on the list as a pending UFA this summer, it will be interesting to see if he decides to call it quits or not.  I don't see him coming back from another major knee injury, but you never know.

The Sharks don't have a lot of stellar prospects in the pipe right at the moment, most of their crops are in the NCAA ranks, maturing in college.  One guy who has now come out of college, Maxim Letunov, has signed his entry-level deal and is going to get a long look at camp, one would imagine.  Especially if the Sharks have troubles with their cap space.  The 22-year old is fairly big, excelled in the college ranks as an all-star, so it will be interesting to see how he pans out.  He could be one to watch.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
The Sharks will be picking from the 21st spot this year and their prospect pool could really use another forward.  Unafraid of the European talent, the San Jose Sharks might score well with Russian forward Vitali Kravtsov.  The 18-year old played at a number of different levels, including with his KHL team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, excelling in the playoffs, where he had 11 points in 16 games.  It sounds like this kid is ready to play at some higher levels, as he really shot up the leagues in Russia, as he carries some good hockey awareness and isn't afraid to use his size in physical play.

Compared to everyone else that I have reviewed in the past few weeks, the San Jose Sharks are the most likely to finish around the same spot as they did in the 2018 season.  They have a lot of the same pieces ready to go for next year, they are working some of their youth in to take the spots of the elders that are slowly making their way out, so I would say that the franchise is in pretty good shape.  Could it be better?  Sure.  A blockbuster deal that would bring that extra element of offense to this team would be a great way to challenge the likes of Anaheim and Vegas next year, but those deals are hard to come by.  Still, they'll be players in the 2019 season.
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