After failing to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the San Jose Sharks had a busy offseason. The club parted ways with head coach Todd McLellan, brought in former New Jersey Devils bench boss Pete DeBoer, cut ties with goaltender Antti Niemi, acquired Martin Jones from the Boston Bruins, and signed veterans Paul Martin and Joel Ward in free agency.
That’s a lot of turnaround in a short period of time, and it has Sharks fans excited for what’s to come. But with that excitement comes trepidation and uncertainty. General manager Doug Wilson seems to have made all the right moves this summer and has certainly been aggressive in filling holes in his roster, but what if that all backfires? With so many new faces in the fold, who’s to say things won’t get worse as opposed to better?
If the Sharks are going to bounce back from a dismal 2014-15 campaign, here’s what needs to happen.
5. Improved penalty killing
Last season, San Jose’s penalty kill ranked 25th in the league with a success rate of just 78.5 percent. In the two seasons prior, the Sharks ranked 6th in that category. A strong penalty kill has always been paramount to the team’s success. It’ll need to improve this season if the Sharks hope to contend.
4. Increased scoring depth
Only five Sharks hit the 40-point mark last season. None of them played in the team’s bottom six. The best clubs in the league have players up and down the lineup who can contribute on the score sheet and provide secondary offense. San Jose’s star-studded top six can’t shoulder the entire burden, especially with aging forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on the decline.
The Sharks will need more offense from the likes of Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels, who are all expected to play key roles on the team’s bottom two lines.
3. Consistent defense pairs
Thanks in large part to injuries, trades and poor play, San Jose’s defense corps was a spinning wheel of mediocrity last season. Brent Burns was the lone bright spot, enjoying a career year with 60 points and suiting up for all 82 regular season games.
The rest of the team’s rearguards didn’t fare quite so well. All of them missed time due to injury and had to frequently adjust to playing with new partners. Justin Braun and mid-season acquisition Brenden Dillon both regressed, Scott Hannan looked his age, and Matt Irwin and Matt Tennyson failed to take that next step to become NHL regulars. Now that they’ve had a few months to heal and have added Martin to round out the top four, the Sharks have an opportunity to ice a solid defense this season.
2. Quickly adjust to new coaching staff
The McLellan era is over in San Jose, and the age of DeBoer is set to begin. The hiring of a new coach often signifies a period of transition or even a rebuild, but that’s not the case here. The Sharks are in win-now mode and plan to contend this season, and management is confident DeBoer is the man to get them over the hump.
A quick and smooth transition from one coaching regime to the next is critical if the Sharks aim to compete this season. DeBoer and his staff need to hit the ground running, and the players on the roster have to follow suit. The Stanley Cup waits for nobody.
1. Martin Jones needs to establish himself as a No. 1
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Sharks will go as far as Jones takes them this season. His play between the pipes is the single biggest key to the team’s success. Wilson rolled the dice by dealing Niemi’s rights to the Dallas Stars and coughing up a first-round pick for Jones, who has just 29 starts under his belt. Now it’s time to see if the gamble pays off.