Tha Sports Junkies 101

San Jose Sharks: 2017 West Favorites

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Last season saw the San Jose Sharks celebrate their 25th season in the NHL. And it sure was a memorable one for the franchise and its fans as the team reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in its history. Even though they fell in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Sharks proved that they could go far in the postseason.

The confidence from that run should surely carry into the upcoming season. And as things sit right now, don’t be surprised if they do it again in 2017. In fact, I would put them as the favorites in the West to get to the Stanley Cup Final.

Their roster has pretty much remained intact from the one that made the Final this past spring. The only regular they’ve lost is defenseman Roman Polak, who chose to sign with Toronto. So, for the most part, the team will be familiar with each other and coach Peter DeBoer‘s system.

Their core players should also be re-energized to have another long playoff run. Veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau had the experience of playing in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their careers and you know they’re going to want to avenge that loss.

San Jose’s core is getting up there in age (Logan Couture is the youngest at 27 years old), but they can still produce.

Thornton proved that he is still one of the league’s premier passers. The 37-year-old had 63 assists and 82 points in 82 games last season. He added 18 assists and 21 points during the Sharks’ run to the Final.

Even though he only had 48 points in 82 games, Marleau showed he can still score, getting at least 25 goals for the 11th time in his 18-year career. The 36-year-old added five more in the playoffs.

Captain Joe Pavelski continued to put his name among the league’s best goal scorers. The 32-year-old Wisconsin native netted 38 goals last season, his third straight year with 35+ goals. He would lead the Sharks in playoff goals with 14.

Couture had a rough regular season as injuries kept him out of the lineup for 30 games. However, he showed his offense skill in the playoffs as he posted a league-leading 30 points in 24 games.

In fact, Couture, Pavelski, Thornton, and defenseman Brent Burns made up four of the NHL’s top-five leading scorers during the playoffs.

Burns, another of San Jose’s core players, is the team’s defensive catalyst. He led the Sharks blue line with 27 goals and 75 points in 82 games last season, finishing second in defensemen scoring league wide. The 31-year-old would add 24 points during the Finals run.

One would expect that their numbers shouldn’t fall off too much this upcoming season, if it all. The forward group got a bit of a boost this summer as the Sharks signed free agent winger Mikkel Boedker to a four-year contract on the first day of free agency.

Boedker brings some more size to an already heavy San Jose lineup. He also brings speed, something the Sharks struggled with in the Final. He should easily find a place in the team’s top-six and don’t be surprised if he surpasses his career highs in goals (currently 19) and points (currently 51) next season.

Their defensive corps, probably their strongest attribute, remains extremely solid despite losing Polak. The team signed free agent defenseman David Schlemko to a four-year deal on July 1 to offset Polak’s loss. He should solidify one of the Sharks’ spots on the third pair.

Probably the Sharks’ biggest question right now is their backup goalie situation. Down the stretch and in the playoffs they had veteran James Reimer backing up starter Martin Jones. However, Reimer, who became a free agent on July 1, chose to sign with the Florida Panthers instead of returning to the Bay Area.

Currently, San Jose has prospect Aaron Dell as Jones’ backup. Dell has yet to play a game in the NHL and only played in 26 games last season with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate.

Then again, if Dell can do what Matt Murray did for the Penguins last season, then the Sharks won’t have a problem.

Regardless of what happens with their backup goalie situation, though, San Jose won’t have an easy path to getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Despite losing top free agents David Backes and Troy Brouwer, the St. Louis Blues will still be a tough team to beat. They will also be looking for revenge as they fell to the Sharks in the Conference Final.

The Dallas Stars can also be expected to contend to represent the West in the Final next spring. Dallas got to within one win of the Conference Final despite not having goal scorer Tyler Seguin for all but one game during the postseason. A healthy Seguin should make Dallas San Jose’s biggest threat.

The Nashville Predators could give the Sharks a run for their money, as well. The Predators pushed San Jose to seven games in their second round series this past spring and not much is as motivating as avenging a playoff series loss.

Then, there’s the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite losing in the first round this past postseason, the Blackhawks will surely contend this year as their core players should be well rested heading into the season.

Those are the biggest threats outside the division. Within their division, though, San Jose still has some tough competition.

Even though they may not be as deep as years past, the Sharks’ two interstate rivals, Anaheim and Los Angeles, will still put up a major fight. Arizona has gotten better over the off-season and could make a run for the top of the division. However, I would expect them to challenge more for a wild card spot than the division title.

As mentioned earlier, it won’t be easy for the Sharks to repeat was Western Conference champs. In fact, the NHL hasn’t seen a repeat conference champion in either conference since Pittsburgh and Detroit did it in 2008 and 2009.

However, they seem to have the deepest roster in the West and they did it last year. So, until someone knocks them off or they don’t get in the playoffs, the Sharks are my favorite from the Western Conference to get to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.