Season Preview: San Jose
By Dennis Bernstein, TheFourthPeriod.com
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.
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
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.
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
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.