The seventh worthwhile prediction for the 2016-17 San Jose Sharks concerns the SAP Center returning to its former Shark Tank glory…
An odd thing happened to the San Jose Sharks on their way to a first-ever Stanley Cup finals appearance: SAP Center became downright comfortable for the opposition.
Officially named the HP Pavilion early in the franchise’s existence, the “Shark Tank” as it continues to be known had long been one of the toughest places to play. It was always a loud, sold-out venue.
San Jose had been one of the best home teams in the NHL for years. This was especially true during the time of the naming transition.
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When Hasso Plattner bought the team, another technology firm had naming rights. The ninth-wealthiest man in the world was able to secure the full purchase of the team just after the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season started and thus had to leave it the HP Pavilion.
The Sharks finished that campaign tied for the most home points in the league. They followed it with the best home record in the Western Conference during the 2013-14 NHL season—the first year its name was changed to the SAP Center. That gave them the best home record over those two seasons.
Then in late April of 2014, something changed. The once-dominant home team won just 37 of its next 85 games on home ice.
It started with dropping the last two home games against the rival Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. That was part of the epic 3-0 series choke.
Considering San Jose’s postseason history, that was not especially alarming. The thought of it becoming a trend probably never entered into the minds of most.
Even struggling to win 19 of 41 during the 2014-15 NHL season did not set off any alarms. The Sharks missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time under general manager Doug Wilson that April.
It was certainly not ordinary. Only five teams had a worse home record. Meanwhile, the Sharks were better on the road (21-16-4) than a couple postseason teams.
Still, they had the ninth-worst record overall and their slide started in February when most of the games were at home. The home-ice narrative was not going to change over one aberrant season.
However, that season did change one important thing about the SAP Center—ticket sales. Fans were unhappy with poor postseasons, poor home performances and/or poor front-office moves. The result was an end to a three-digit run of consecutive sell-out crowds.
The home struggles really stood out over the 2015-16 NHL season: 18-20-3 was again the fifth-worst home record. Empty seats became a focus of management and players lamented their inability to provide their fans excitement.
Meanwhile, San Jose was a league-best 28-10-3 on the road. The 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings are the only team in league history to win more road games in a season (31).
That is just plain strange. Rarely do teams have that dynamic a drop in their success at home without becoming bad everywhere.
Prediction No. 7 for the 2016-17 NHL season: SAP Center returns to being a packed and intimidating place to play. The Sharks will have one of the top-10 home records in the league, and it will be better than their road record. In fact, they will not even be the top road team in the Western Conference.
Things turned around in the Stanley Cup playoffs. San Jose lost its first postseason home game out of a combination of habit and the frequent pattern of home-ice disadvantage in the first round of the playoffs. After that, the St. Louis Blues had the only road win at SAP Center through the rest of the Western Conference (seven of eight).
The Pittsburgh Penguins won two of three in both venues in the Stanley Cup finals because they are the new model team to emulate. It was not because of a letdown by the Sharks at the SAP Center.
San Jose has already taken the next step in its growth. This team should be able to put its recent Shark Tank struggles in the past.
Fans will return to the SAP Center because of the excitement generated by the franchise’s maiden Stanley Cup finals run. They will go home having seen a point earned in about 30 of 41 home games during the 2016-17 NHL season.