2017-18 NHL Team Preview: San Jose Sharks

San Jose Sharks defenceman Brent Burns has a shot at joining some elite company. (Chris Carlson/AP)

Life after Patrick Marleau begins in San Jose this fall, and it is pretty clear this club needs some young players to raise their level in support of the proven veterans at the top of the lineup. After 19 seasons of Marleau’s leadership, it is time for the Sharks to turn a historic page in their franchise history.

Brent Burns won the Norris Trophy last season. Martin Jones is more than enough goaltender to win with. Joe Thornton will count his 1,400th point this season. Joe Pavelski is one of the best players in the game, still, at age 33. Logan Couture is 28 and right in his prime.

So there’s your core. The problem last spring was that core was so beat up by the time the Edmonton Oilers arrived for Round 1, the Sharks simply couldn’t perform at the younger, faster Oilers’ level and pace. If we can agree that the road to the Pacific Division title goes through Alberta now, then it’s up to the younger Sharks to begin to take this team over.

UP-AND-COMING PLAYER TO WATCH

While Edmonton focused down on the Sharks’ top two lines in Round 1 last spring, Timo Meier’s fourth line was giving the Oilers’ depth players fits.

He’s a Swiss Army Knife, a Swiss-born utility forward drafted ninth overall in 2015 who averaged 0.7 goals per game in his last two junior seasons. Then he scored another 14 more in 33 AHL games last season, his first year pro.

He is listed as a left shot right-winger, but Meier can play all three forward positions. Hitting on draft picks is how the Sharks have remained relevant in the West for all these years. Meier just could be the next guy, and might be given some of the ice time Marleau leaves behind this season.

WHAT A SUCCESSFUL 2017-18 WOULD LOOK LIKE

San Jose is another team that can see the finish line for some of its core players, yet the Sharks are still good enough to remain a playoff team if the next group catches up fast enough. This club has missed the playoffs just once in 13 seasons — and played in the Stanley Cup Final two years ago — so any semblance of success begins with a berth in the post-season tournament.

Big picture though, success in San Jose would be to return to being a Western powerhouse without having to go through the pains of a rebuild like so many others. Thornton can’t have much left at age 38 and coming off a serious knee injury, and Pavelski is 33. They’ll need to develop a couple more Top 6 forwards and Top 4 defencemen to avoid becoming fodder for the Alberta teams in the Pacific.

BIGGEST REMAINING QUESTION

Is San Jose’s window finally closed?

A lot of fan bases would be OK with being competitive every year. In San Jose however, getting ousted in Round 1 embodies stark failure for a club that has nosed around the Conference Finals for much of the past decade.

The problem is, after years of dominance by the California teams, the Pacific pendulum is swinging towards the Alberta teams. San Jose lost in six games to Edmonton last spring, and even though they were severely handicapped by injury, it is fair to question if the Sharks will be able to beat Calgary this spring.

They’re not done being competitive in San Jose. But at the same time, no one is calling the Sharks a Stanley Cup contender anymore.

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