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January 8, 2013 | 6:01pm ET
Season Preview: San Jose
By Dennis Bernstein,

The good news is that the San Jose Sharks championship window is still open; the bad news is that the space is now only a sliver. They're still deep on paper and possess one of the league's better coaches, but the quick playoff exits have raised significant doubts regarding the team's core.


San Jose boasts three 30-goal scorers in Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau. Couture put to rest any doubts about a sophomore jinx, while Marleau produced eight game winners. While the days of Joe Thornton being a 90-100 point scorer are gone, he's still a legitimate No. 1 pivot. The key to this group will be the performances of Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe, the former needs to prove he can stay on the ice while the latter needs to show that the rigors of being a power forward haven't taken too big of a toll.


Dan Boyle is the heart and soul of the group, still a productive gamer at 35 years old, but can he fashion another strong season? Brent Burns arrived from Minnesota and played as expected, he gave the offense a boost but wasn't the stopper the Sharks have needed for years. The playoff loss exposed this group's major weakness, the lack of physicality across the board.


Antti Niemi needs to fashion a season that will put to rest the mindset that the strong Chicago Blackhawks team in front of him was the reason he has a Stanley Cup ring. With three years remaining with a cap hit of $3.8 million, he's not likely going anywhere and while he'll have another strong statistical season, critics will point to his 9-13 playoff record while wearing a Team Teal sweater.

Projected Outcome

This is the make or break season for this school of Sharks. Pavelski needs another big season to show why the Sharks were right not to put him in a Rick Nash deal, while Couture looks like an All-Star for the better part of the decade. So while their days will be long in Northern California, not so for Thornton and Marleau, they must lead the way to a deep playoff run especially with the latter living down to his legacy as a non-playoff performer by going pointless in the St Louis eliminator series.

3 Players to Watch
Logan Couture
High skill and high hockey IQ makes the kid from London, Ontario the heir apparent to Joe Thornton as team captain. He's an exciting, passionate player who is an untouchable and may wind up being the best player to emerge from the 2007 Entry Draft at the end of his career. When most predicted a sophomore slump, Couture went back to back 30-goal seasons and became more creative in setting up his teammates.
Patrick Marleau
At 33, he's still relies on his speed to beat other opponents and showed no sign of letting up with his sixth 30+ goal campaign last season. It's never been about the physical with Marleau, his skills are top shelf but his disappearing act in the St. Louis series has continues the dialogue that he is not a championship player. Set aside the regular season production, he'll surpass 400 career goals this season but it all comes down to playoff performance.
Douglas Murray
The lone physical presence on the Sharks blueline missed 22 games with varying injuries and like Clowe, needs a return to form to prove his bruising style hasn't robbed him of his best days. If he continues on the decline, the Sharks championship hopes likely evaporate into the chilly Northern California air.

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