As October creeps closer, another NHL season creeps with it.
In the 21st of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
San Jose Sharks
Forced to overcome a bitter end to their 2015-16 campaign, a trip to the Stanley Cup Final against the now-repeat champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Sharks didn't waste much time reasserting themselves in the Pacific Division, dominating at home (26-11-4) with a top-five defense headlined by familiar faces like Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns and Martin Jones, who logged 35 wins for the second straight year. An abrupt crash in March, however, including a 1-7 stretch on the road, threw San Jose (46-29-7) off kilter entering the postseason, and it was in the opening round of the playoffs where the Sharks couldn't hold leads against their rival Edmonton Oilers, dropping out of the Stanley Cup race thanks to a 4-2 series defeat.
Left with a summer to think about their late-season collapse, perhaps as painful a fall as the team's sour finale a year earlier, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and coach Peter DeBoer tweaked a little here and there in advance of another run at the playoffs. In the Pacific, however, it's fair to wonder whether San Jose could -- or should -- have done more since their April elimination.
Key additions: None
Re-signing Joe Thornton counts as something for San Jose, because even at the steep price of $8 million, it made sense for the Sharks to bring back their ageless center, especially on another one-year pact. The durability questions aren't going to go away for Thornton, 38, but even if he gives the team another 50 points in 2017-18, the accompanying leadership is well worth the team's investment. That said, it's concerning that the Sharks, who couldn't find the net during their pre-playoff plummet in 2016-17 and said goodbye to a 25-goal scorer -- and franchise icon -- in Patrick Marleau, didn't make a single notable addition this offseason.
Fine. Throw the first-round pick, Michigan's Josh Norris, into the mix. And give credit to Wilson for locking up some of the most important pieces of San Jose's stout defense -- Jones got a six-year extension and Vlasic got an eight-year deal of his own. Those are smart moves to ensure the pillars of a postseason-experienced Sharks blue line remain in place. But in terms of this season, this next run at a playoff spot out of the Pacific, how is Wilson's lineup any better? The sexiest thing about the Sharks' offseason Antoine Bibeau and Brandon Bollig were the team's only NHL-proven signings over the summer.. Minimum-salary pickups
In all the talk about what the Sharks didn't do this offseason, don't lose sight of the fact that San Jose is a good team. It wasn't long ago they were in the Stanley Cup Final, after all, and even in 2016-17, despite a horrendous close to the regular season, they boasted a threatening blue line. Between Burns, Jones and Vlasic, they've got an enviable core of defensive standouts, and their top line on offense, even without an aging Marleau, has Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Mikkel Boedker. That's a group that offers everything from proven, solid production and incomparable experience to, in Boedker's case, a prime and increased opportunity for a statistical step forward.
Depth was a concern during the Sharks' last go-round, however, and it should be even more of a concern now that Marleau is out the door, no concrete replacement has arrived and Thornton is a year older. Maybe Burns and Co. will do even more from the blue line, and maybe San Jose will get some contributions from up-and-comers, but it's hard to look at this team and say with any shred of confidence that it is improved. Couple that with the competition that should come out of the Pacific Division, where at least the Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames should all be vying for good playoff spots, and 2017-18 looks like another step downward. In a few years' time, with some more youth on offense, maybe the Sharks will have a little more bite.