Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the San Jose Sharks.
45-27-10, 100 pts. (3rd in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in six games to the Vegas Golden Knights, second round
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The San Jose Sharks proved that life will go on without Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.
The two had been mainstays in the Sharks lineup for years — and a big factor in their success and cohesiveness as a team — but Marleau departed for Toronto prior to last season and Thornton spent roughly half of the season nursing injury.
And still, the show went on.
The Sharks battled to a third-place finish in the Pacific Division with 100 points, securing a date with the Anaheim Ducks in the first round where they swept their California rivals in four games.
It was in the second round where the Sharks hit a road bump, namely Marc-Andre Fleury. They simply couldn’t beat the Vegas Golden Knights goaltender, suffering the same fate as the Los Angeles Kings before them and the Winnipeg Jets after.
But given what they were able to do (mostly) without two of the pillars of the team (at least up until Marleau left), it’s both impressive and assuring for Sharks fans that the talent they’ve developed is able to carry the torch into the future.
The big news of the season came on trade deadline day when the general manager Doug Wilson trade for Evander Kane, injecting the team with a former 30-goal scorer. Kane put up nine goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Sharks after the trade — including a four-goal game — and five more points in nine playoff games, the first time he had played in the postseason.
[Under Pressure: Kane | Breakthrough: Meier | 3 Questions]
The relationship blossomed and the Sharks handed Kane a seven-year, $49 million contract in May. That’s a lot of money for a forward who is now being paid like a franchise player and has yet to record a 60-point season in the NHL.
But there’s optimism.
For one, Kane feels accepted.
“The one thing about this team, this group and this organization is they allow you to be yourself,” Kane told TSN.ca. “They embrace you for who you are and it’s a very unselfish group that makes it super-easy to come into and mesh well with.”
And Kane now has a litany of talent that the Sharks have that can feed him the puck.
Speaking of that talent, the Sharks have made just one addition this summer, signing free agent center Antti Suomela to a one-year contract after he led the Finnish Liiga in scoring with 60 points in 59 games. The Sharks have chosen to focus re-signing their core pieces that are going to propel them for years to come.
Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, Dylan Demelo and Jumbo Joe, who is back for another season at 39 years of age, have all re-upped with the club.
Suomela will compete for a fourth line spot with prospect Dylan Gambrell.
The Sharks still have $4.3 million in cap space, so another late-summer move isn’t out of the question.
• Ryan Merkley, D, 18, Guelph Storm (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick
Merkley was drafted 21st over this past June and slides right into the top prospect ranking for the Sharks. Merkley is fast. Very fast. And he gets up and down the ice and side to side as quick as anyone. Merkley excels as an offensive defenseman. He had 13 goals and 67 points in 63 games in the Ontario Hockey League this season. He was on a lot of teams’ do-not draft lists but could become one of the best defensemen to come out of the draft.
• Dylan Gambrell, C, 21, University of Denver (NCAA) – 2016 second-round pick
Gambrell has a legitimate shot to make the Sharks as their fourth-line center this season, a spot that will be up for grabs come training camp. The three-year veteran at Denver signed an entry-level contract this past spring and played three games with the Sharks. If he doesn’t make the club, he’ll play with the Barracuda. But Wilson believes Gambrell has the IQ for the NHL.
“We believe his speed, combined with his high-end hockey IQ, make him ready to be an NHL player,” Wilson said when they signed Gambrell. “We are confident that, with his skill-set, he will make an impact with our team.”
• Antti Suomela, C, 24, Jyvaskyla (Liiga) – Free agent signing
Suomela comes into the fold on a one-year, entry-level contract with the Sharks after pacing the Finnish Elite League in points this past season. He helped lead Jyvaskyla to a Champions Hockey League championship and was named to the league’s all-star team. As mentioned with Gambrell, the Sharks have a need on the fourth line and both he and Suomela will be tasked with filling it.
MORE: PHT Time Machine: 1991 dispersal draft and birth of the Sharks
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck