Three questions facing San Jose Sharks

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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.

1. What happens to Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton after this season?

Both players have been the face of the franchise for years now, but they’re both well into their thirties which means they might not be around for much longer. Thornton and Pavelski are both heading to unrestricted free agency at the end of the season. That’s familiar territory for Jumbo Joe, who has signed one-year contracts the last couple of years, but it’s going to new for Pavelski.

In Thornton’s case, he’s coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss every game after January 25th, including the playoffs. The 39-year-old managed to put up 13 goals and 36 points in 47 games when he was healthy. Those are respectable offensive totals, but you’d have to think that the Sharks would want to get younger at a certain point.

Also, we don’t know what he’ll look like on the ice after dealing with a serious knee injury. Will he lose another step? Will he be as productive? There’s a bit of a risk for the Sharks here heading into the season. They pursued John Tavares, but struck out. So that means Thornton, who is earning $5 million this year, will have to give them some type of offensive output.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Kane| Breakthrough: Meier]

Pavelski, 34, isn’t young by hockey standards, but he still put up a healthy 66 points in 82 games last season. Looking at the bigger picture though, his point totals have decreased in each of the last three years (78, 68, 66). That’s not a significant drop but given his age, there could be more dropping in the near future.

If Pavelski puts up another 60-point season, it’ll be difficult not to give him a multi-year extension. But GM Doug Wilson will have some tough decisions to make if the production of these two veterans dips even just a little bit. We know that Thornton is willing to sign one-year contracts, but is Pavelski going to do the same thing?

2. Are the Sharks good enough to win the Western Conference?

Sure, the Sharks have some older bodies on their roster like Thornton, Pavelski and Brent Burns, but they also have Logan Couture, who’s just under 30, Evander Kane (27), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (31), Timo Meier (21), Tomas Hertl (24), so they’re balanced in that department.

They could’ve used another boost in scoring during the off-season, but the group of forwards they have isn’t bad at all. They’ve got guys who can score, guys who can skate and guys who can be physical when necessary. The addition and extending of Kane should do wonders for the Sharks this season.

They’re also fairly deep on the blueline, too. Burns, Vlasic and Justin Braun are a solid top-three, while Brendan Dillon, Dylan DeMelo, Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed are depth players. If San Jose can added another depth piece on the back end before the trade deadline, they’ll be in business.

And between the pipes, Martin Jones showed that he can play at a high level. After going through some rocky stretches during the season (Aaron Dell took over at one point), Jones bounced back down the stretch and in the playoffs. He’s already been to one Stanley Cup Final with this team, so why wouldn’t he be able to do it again?

The Sharks aren’t getting any younger, but the window to win is still open. How open it is is still very much up for debate, but, on paper, this is a team that’s still good enough to go head-to-head with the other teams in the Western Conference.

3. Are Brent Burns’ better days behind him?

Burns has been one of the top offensive defensemen of the last five years, but he saw his goal totals drop to 12 (that’s awesome for a regular defenseman). By the 33-year-old’s standards, that’s a significant dip. Over the previous four seasons, he had scored 22, 17, 29, 27, so you can see why 12 is a big drop off for him.

The truth is, Burns got off to an incredibly slow start last season. He didn’t score his first goal until the 21st game of the season and he had just one goal in his first 26 contests. Thankfully for San Jose, he turned it on in early December, as he scored five goals in five games. He also notched 21 points in 15 games between Dec. 7 and Jan. 13.

In the end, Burns finished with 12 goals and 67 points in 82 regular-season games. He also added another seven points during San Jose’s run to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So, are his better days behind him? Yeah, probably. But that’s totally normal. He’s logged a lot of minutes over the last few seasons, so it’s only normal that he’s going to slow down at a certain point. But is he totally finished? Absolutely not.

Any defenseman that can score 12 goals and 67 points in a “down” year is a player totally worth keeping. He’s still an incredibly valuable piece of the puzzle for the Sharks, and they’ll need him if they want to see this core group of players win a Stanley Cup.

MORE: PHT Time Machine: 1991 dispersal draft and birth of the Sharks

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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