It’s been three weeks since the start of July, and the hockey world has quite predictably pushed the shift into a lower gear. Perhaps some of the most exciting things happening in the world of hockey are development camps around the league, rumors about remaining free agents, predictions around line combinations, and teams’ chances of making the playoffs.
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With the additions of
along with several promising prospects, theSan Jose Sharks
are becoming relevant again. The Western Conference is tough, and it’s not going to be easy for the Sharks. While it is true there may be further changes coming the Sharks’ way, they will most likely be slight corrections rather than changes. The core of the players and staff are already in place, so we can take a sneak peak at how the Sharks may look in the 2015-16 season, starting with the forwards.
Nov 6, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture (39) and center Joe Pavelski (8) celebrate after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
After another great individual season, Joe Pavelski will likely continue to lead the Sharks on and off the ice, and quite possibly, becoming the team captain. Pavelski will be 31 years old when the 2015-16 seasons begins, which means this is the time for the Big Pavelski to shine.
The old guard of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will get potentially one of their last legitimate chances to win the Cup with the Sharks. It is very hard to predict what will happen if the Sharks fall short of reaching the Finals again. What we can hope for is that the closing window of opportunity and the disappointments of the past two seasons will keep those legs pumping and those hands scoring.
Both Thornton and Marleau remain valuable players, and should provide enough support for the emerging duo of Pavelski and Logan Couture. Speaking of Couture, he will be looking to finally break the 70-point mark. He has accumulated enough experience, and at 26, he is entering the prime of his career. The expectations are definitely high for Couture, as he is one of the core players that should lead the Sharks into a better season.
Joel Ward is a gritty, hardworking player. Many hailed this North York, Ontario native as one of the bright spots on the Washington Capitals roster during their last playoff run earlier this year. There are many places in the line-up where Peter DeBoer may play Ward. On the one hand, Ward can provide a physical presence on one of the top two scoring lines. On the other, perhaps the more likely one, Ward may play alongside Tommy Wingels, therefore creating a really tough forechecking combination. At 27, Wingels is a consistent and reliable player, capable defensively and a decent secondary scoring option.
Dec 4, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Thomas Hertl (48) celebrates his goal against the Boston Bruins at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY. Sharks won 7-4
Tomas Hertl recovered well from the injury sustained during the 2013-14 season, and played in all 82 games last season. Unfortunately, he hit a sophomore slump, and produced at almost half the pace of his rookie campaign. There is an expectation that the next season will be a bounce back season for Hertl and Matt Nieto – both are in the last year of their contracts. Unlike Hertl, Nieto did not have a sophomore slump, but he did not improve on his rookie season either. Nieto is capable of scoring more than 10 goals per season, and the contract year should be a good enough reason to really bring his game up a notch.
Chris Tierney is the only other player who is set to become a restricted agent next summer. Tierney performed admirably in the AHL, racking up 29 points in 29 games, and also held his own when playing for the San Jose Sharks. He will be looking to become a regular this coming season. With so much potential, he is certainly one of the players that many fans and experts will be keeping an eye on.
It’s really interesting to see what impact Raffi Torres will have once he is cleared to play. Torres has been a Sharks player since April 2013, but has featured in only a handful games due to constant problems with his ACL. When healthy, Torres can be a menace for the opponents.
In his first full year with the Sharks, Ben Smith will hopefully get back to his 2013-14 form. His hard work should earn him a spot on one of the checking lines, but with several youngsters emerging – he might be challenged for a spot. Mike Brown will also be challenged for time on the ice, but his aggressiveness can help against some of the heavier teams in the West.
Competition for spots is usually a good thing, as it brings out the best of players, and makes them shift into the next gear. For Melker Karlsson and Barclay Goodrow, who both had modest but solid rookie campaigns last season, the next season could be the step in the right direction, and both have the necessary skills to grow into their own roles within the team.
As per the war-on-ice website, the Sharks have $40,539,167 in cap space committed to the group of 14 forwards above. In theory, the group also has some continuity as almost all of the players have at least two seasons under their current contracts. Out of the group, only Torres and Smith will become unrestricted free agents come July 2016. As mentioned above, the trio of Hertl, Nieto, and Tierney will become restricted free agents, and will no doubt get a substantial increase on their current deals.
Stay tuned with Blades of Teal as we continue our early peak at the 2015-16 season with a focus on the Sharks defensive corps.