The San Jose Sharks cruised to a 45-27-10 record last season. They finished third in the Pacific Division and made the playoffs for the 14th time in 15 years. The addition of Evander Kane at the trade deadline bolstered the Sharks’ attack enough to make it past the first round. They swept their longtime rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, before being eliminated in six games by the Vegas Golden Knights. Their forward corps lacks the high-end talent its possessed in years past, but their blueline more than makes up for it.
The Sharks were active this off-season, to put it lightly. General manager Doug Wilson flipped Mike Hoffman to the Panthers for a handful of draft picks in June, but he wasn’t done there. After missing out on big-fish John Tavares in free agency, Wilson traded for Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson just three weeks before the start of the regular season. Wilson was able to acquire Karlsson without leveraging the Sharks’ short-term success. Chris Tierney was the most notable roster player evolved in the trade, as Wilson held onto young, contributing players like Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl. The trade gives the Sharks’ the two most dynamic defensemen in the game in Karlsson and Brent Burns, and makes them the favourite to win the Pacific Division in 2018-19.
➕ Erik Karlsson (Trade)
➕ Antti Suomela (Free Agency)
After spending most of last year centering the top line, Joe Pavelski is expected to move back to the wing to start the 2018-19 season. Head coach Peter DeBoer has opted to stack the Sharks’ top line this pre-season, playing Joe Thornton in between Kane and Pavelski. Pavelski and Kane played well together at the end of last season. The Sharks outscored their opponents 13 to 6 at 5v5 when both of them were on the ice. Pavelski played considerably better away from Thornton last season, averaging 33 scoring chances per 60 without him compared to 26 scoring chances when together. Centres Thornton and Logan Couture are notably injury prone, so don’t be surprised if the more durable Pavelski gets forced back to the middle at some point.
Couture, Meier, and Hertl round out the Sharks’ top-six. Couture will be relied on to do the heavily lifting on this second line. The 29-year-old is coming off a 34-goal, 27-assist campaign last season. It was only the fourth time he played more than 75 games in a season, so staying fit will be a key for Couture in 2018-19. It’s a huge blow to their offense whenever he misses time but the Sharks have the depth and the versatility to handle it. Meier secured himself a top-six role this season after registering 21 goals and 15 assists a year ago. The No. 9 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft fired 210 shots on goal despite playing under 15 minutes a night. He could be poised for a breakout year if he gets the appropriate ice time. Hertl has never fulfilled the potential he flashed in his rookie season, but he’s a consistent 20-goal scorer and rounds out this second line nicely.
While it was undoubtedly worth it, the trading of Tierney is a notable blow to the Sharks’ bottom-six. Tierney picked up 17 goals last season while bouncing between the third and fourth line. Without that depth down the middle, the Sharks might not be able to keep Pavelski on the wing for long. Antti Suomela and Dylan Gambrell are promising but unproven players; going into the year with them as your third and fourth centres is dicey. You never hesitate to move a guy like Tierney to get Karlsson, but the Sharks might be getting greedy by not starting Pavelski down the middle. Kevin Labanc and Joonas Donskoi are a pair of strong wingers to have on your third line. Both are capable of moving into the top-six if necessary and have proven to be proficient on the man advantage, too. Given the elite puck movers they have on the back end, the Sharks could have as many as seven or eight forwards top 20 goals this year.
The acquisition of Karlsson instantly puts the Sharks in contention with the Nashville Predators for the best blueline in the league. Given that they are both right-handed defensemen, expect Karlsson and Burns to play apart from one another at even strength. Joakim Ryan played over 750 minutes at 5v5 with Burns last season, and they are set to start 2018-19 on the same pair once again. Ryan is a solid defensive-defenseman and complements Burns perfectly, who can be a little risky in his playmaking at times. Karlsson and Burns are expected to play together on the Sharks’ top powerplay, instantly giving them one of the deadliest units in the league. Karlsson and Burns should both threaten for 70 points this season.
Karlsson has seen a myriad of defensive partners throughout training camp and the preseason, but he was playing with Marc Eduoard-Vlasic as recently as September 27. The two are a perfect fit and project to be together on opening night. Karlsson is no slouch in his own end, but there is a level of risk-taking in the way he creates offense. There is no better player to mitigate those concerns than Vlasic, one of the best defenders in the game. He is an excellent penalty killer and will continue to log plenty of shorthanded minutes, freeing up Burns and Karlsson to do what they do best. Vlasic chipped in offensively with 11 goals last year and should see his production improve while skating alongside Karlsson.
Justin Braun and Brenden Dillion round out an incredibly strong blueline. Braun was second on the Sharks last year in short-handed minutes, behind only Vlasic. He might be stronger defensively than Ryan but his right-handedness kills his chances of skating with Burns or Karlsson. Dillion posted a 51.3 CF% in 81 games for the Sharks last season. He had a notable offensive contribution, registering 22 points while playing under 18 minutes a night. He is locked in as the Sharks’ sixth-defenseman heading into the 2018-19 season.
Martin Jones started 60 games for the third-straight season in 2017-18, posting 30 wins and a respectable .915 SV%. His skillset falls short of the elite goalies in today’s NHL, but he has proven to be durable and consistent. He has maintained a level of production that is slightly above league average, which is all this stacked Sharks’ team needs from their goalie. Assuming he’s healthy, he’s a lock for a fourth-straight 30-win season. Aaron Dell enters his third season as the Sharks’ backup. With a .920 SV% in 49 appearances, Dell is as solid as any backup in the league. Given the consistency of Jones, there’s no reason to expect Dell to threaten him for playing time. The chance to prove himself as a number-one might never come for Dell in San Jose.
|Evander Kane (29)||Erik Karlsson (55)||Brent Burns (72)||Logan Couture (10)|
|Joe Pavelski (28)||Brent Burns (50)||Erik Karlsson (71)||Joe Pavelski (8)|
|Logan Couture (27)||Joe Thornton (43)||Joe Pavelski (64)||Brent Burns (7)|
Sharks in the DFO Top 300
- 20. Brent Burns — D1
- 22. Erik Karlsson — D2
- 60. Joe Pavelski — RW13
- 85. Martin Jones — G13
- 95. Logan Couture — C26
- 107. Evander Kane — LW19
- 193. Timo Meier — LW29
- 206. Tomas Hertl — LW32
- 225. Joe Thornton — C50
- 236. Aaron Dell — G41
- 264. Marc-Edouard Vlasic — D68
- 281. Kevin Labanc — RW57
Predicted Pacific Standings
1. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks added a world-class talent in Karlsson to what was already a contending core. Add in the deadline-acquisition of Kane and the Sharks are as strong as they’ve ever been in the Joe Thornton-era. The Golden Knights did an admirable job reinforcing their roster, but a deep forward corps and a historically talented blueline give the Sharks the edge on paper over the NHL’s newest team. We seemingly say it every year, but this could finally be the Sharks’ year. Doug Wilson has done everything he can to give his team the best possible chance of lifting a Stanley Cup. They’ll have to battle through a stacked Western Conference to get there, but the Sharks have the makeup to be World Champs in 2019.