San Jose Sharks 2020-21 NHL season preview

San Jose Sharks 2020-21 NHL season preview
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The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we preview the San Jose Sharks.

San Jose Sharks 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 29-36-5 (63 points); eighth in the Pacific Division; last in the Western Conference.

Leading scorers: Evander Kane (26 goals), Timo Meier (49 points)

It’s no secret that a team’s competitive window can shut violently in sports. Yet, even by Father Time’s already harsh standards, the 2019-20 season was shockingly brutal for the San Jose Sharks.

Many of us chalk that up to one too many key players suffering from the pitfalls of the aging curve. Erik Karlsson — one of those players — merely hopes that it was an aberration. But, truly, it’s tough not to be haunted by what we saw from the Sharks.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t surprising that the Sharks struggled to keep pucks out of their net. Between leaky goaltending and some lax defense, we’ve seen signs of issues before. It just seems like everything got that much worse last season.

The more troubling thing was that the Sharks’ offense dried up. Even in an abbreviated season, it’s jarring to note that there wasn’t a single Sharks player who cracked 50 points. Simply put, the organization believed that Timo Meier and others could take a big step up as Joe Pavelski left town. That belief was shaken, if not shattered.

If nothing else, the pandemic pause and a lack of play-in should at least allow this veteran Sharks squad to be refreshed. They’re going to need a lot of energy to shake off their critics and the terrible season that’s just behind them.

Additions

Subtractions

Joe Thornton (free agency), Aaron Dell (free agency), Melker Karlsson (free agency).

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3 Most Interesting San Jose Sharks

• Bob Boughner

Quite a few NHL teams surprisingly stuck with interim coaches, and the Sharks fall in those ranks.

Frankly, I’m not totally sure why the San Jose Sharks stuck with Bob Boughner. While it became that much clearer that Boughner wasn’t the sole cause of the Panthers’ problems after they struggled in the same way without him, it’s hard to see him as a positive difference-maker.

No, he didn’t get a huge chance as interim Sharks head coach. They were already injured and hopeless.

It would make more sense to stick with a “calming presence”-type choice if you were rebuilding. Unfortunately for the San Jose Sharks, they’re probably stuck with the messes they’ve made — at least for now. With that in mind, wouldn’t you want to roll the dice on a more proven coach in hopes they can pull off a miracle or two? At face value, it seems like this would be a more sensible job for, say, Bruce Boudreau or Gerard Gallant.

That said, Boughner really didn’t get much of a chance in 2019-20. Maybe this will be a year of redemption for Boughner and the San Jose Sharks?

• Devan Dubnyk

Despite all of the quibbles mentioned above, the Sharks bringing back Bob Boughner was reasonable enough. The real head-scratcher involved the Sharks believing that Devan Dubnyk could solve their scary problems in net.

Frankly, it’s tough to overstate just how disastrous Dubnyk’s 2019-20 season was. Even the simple stats are ugly; Dubnyk went 12-15-2 with a hideous .890 save percentage.

Context only makes those numbers look worse. The Wild have quietly grown into one of the staunchest defensive teams in the NHL. So, rather than Dubnyk being able to blame porous defense, he instead stagnated in a nurturing cocoon. Imagine that same wobbly goalie trying to keep his head above water behind a turnstile Sharks defense?

Maybe the logic revolves around pretending the 2019-20 season never happened. That certainly would be comforting for Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks.

If you throw out the utter collapse of last season, Dubnyk ranked between steady (.913 save percentage in 2018-19) to stellar in Minnesota (.918 save percentage or better from 2014-15 to 2017-18).

Goalies are strange beasts, so for all we know, Dubnyk – Martin Jones could stun us all and become one of the best duos of 2020-21. The smart money is on this situation being far less appetizing for the San Jose Sharks, though.

• Erik Karlsson

Here’s an opinion: Erik Karlsson takes a little too much blame for the Sharks’ struggles.

Here’s another opinion: his $11.5 million cap hit (through 2026-27) remains utterly terrifying. Again, he’s not the only problem contract on that Sharks defense (Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s up there, and Brent Burns has his issues, including somehow already being 35 [!]). Still, when you get paid the biggest bucks, you absorb the largest chunks of criticism when your team fails.

Even after losing a few steps, Karlsson remains captivating to watch. His cerebral style and skill may even make you stop scrolling on your phone. And, yes, his occasional misadventures in his own end add to the fun at times, too. (As long as you’re not a Sharks fan.)

Beyond all of the storylines, Karlsson and his fellow Sharks veterans could also be intriguing because they should come into 2020-21 as rested as possible. COVID and other factors could derail that, of course, but it’s possible they might be revitalized. (If memory serves, Mike Modano and Teemu Selanne seemed sharper after the abomination of the full-season lockout let them take a breath.)

Best-Case Scenario

It’s not that difficult to envision a bounce-back season for these Sharks. As stated, those aging players didn’t deal with a grueling postseason. Players like Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl may enjoy better luck (Hertl, for one, hopes to be healthier). And, for all we know, Jones + Dubnyk could surprise us and provide capable goaltending. The dream for the Sharks is that they erase the memory of 2019-20 by coming back strong this season.

Worst-Case Scenario

The scary truth is that 2019-20 might just be a taste of what’s to come for a team that went all-in one-too-many times. There really isn’t an overwhelming reason to believe that the Sharks’ defense will just correct itself. Dubnyk + Jones could easily repeat abysmal performances, leaving the Sharks with a fairly expensive duo of below-average goalies. Hey, at least if things really fall apart again, they won’t be giving the Senators their first-round pick this time.

Pointsbet – San Jose Sharks Stanley Cup odds

Sharks +5000 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

James O’Brien is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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