The second half of the 2016-17 NHL season is underway. The following are the five most notable San Jose Sharks predictions for the season’s end…
The 2016-17 NHL season is more than half over. Before it ends April 8, the five most significant San Jose Sharks predictions listed below will come to pass.
1. Patrick Marleau Exceeds 500 Career Goals…with the Sharks
The 500-goal plateau was no certainty for Patrick Marleau coming into the season. Neither was him staying in San Jose.
He entered the season with 481 goals. CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz still had Marleau potentially on the way out in September.
Moreover, Marleau started slowly. He was on pace for 21 goals with seven a third of the way into the season. However, he was demoted from the top power play led by points machine (most seasons—see below) Joe Thornton.
Marleau now has 493 and there is little reason to believe he will not finish out his current contract with the contending Sharks. Since he is one of the game’s iron men (over 500 consecutive games), it seems safe to assume he will get seven more goals in the remaining 40 contests.
The bigger question is when will Marleau reach that plateau. It is almost certain to come after St. Patrick’s Day but before April.
2. Joe Thornton Finishes Season as Top-20 All-Time Scorer
Thornton is 31 points behind Jari Kurri for 20th in career NHL scoring with 40 games left. Finishing ahead of the Finnish forward requires scoring six more points in two fewer games than so far this season.
Last season, Thornton scored more than a point per game for the last four-plus months to finish with 82. However, it is not only already later in the season than that run but the top power play is not showing that kind of deadly efficiency.
Thornton will score more down the stretch than he has thus far—two fewer games or not. However, tying Kurri requires a 25 percent improvement over his current pace. That is a tall order even for Jumbo Joe.
What makes it more attainable is the return of Tomas Hertl. The forward should rejoin the top-line wing. Thornton is also likely to find more opportunities as more defenders become devoted to San Jose’s improving secondary scoring.
3. Brent Burns Wins Norris Trophy
As of right now, Brent Burns is the runaway winner of the Norris Trophy. He is the 2016-17 NHL season’s blue-line leader in goals, points, shots, attempts, beard length and missing teeth. (Actually, Duncan Keith might have him in the latter.)
Burns is also a good defender. He is second on the Sharks in blocks (74) and takeaways (28)—the blue-line leader in the latter and third on the unit in hits (46). More than that, his unique talent with the puck changes the game.
There is no reason to believe Burns will dip much from his team-leading pace (17 goals and 27 assists). Scoring more than 30 goals and close to 80 points should be enough to clinch the vote for best defenseman in the league.
4. San Jose Finishes Top-10 in Goal Differential, Power Play, Penalty Kill
San Jose’s scoring is down from past seasons. However, an offensive turnaround has tallied 71 scores over the last 24 games.
Still, over half the league is scoring better. That is not likely to change much because the Sharks are devoted defensively.
Moreover, fewer goals are often scored when fewer are required. Thus, San Jose is not currently even among the top-10 goal-differential teams.
However, the aforementioned offensive turnaround and the expected return of Hertl will matter. Thus goal differential will join both special teams as areas where the balanced Sharks rank in the top third of the league.
Right now, the penalty kill is barely inside a top-10 ranking. It should be able to hold or even improve as a depleted blue-line unit heals.
Thornton’s predicted resurgence will come at least partially on the power play. A deadly and familiar unit as well as Hertl’s placement on the second unit should propel it to a top-10 ranking, too.
5. Sharks Win Seventh Pacific Division Title
The final prediction is that San Jose wins the Pacific Division. Right now it is on pace for about one more point than the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot.
The Sharks should widen that gap and hold off the three other legitimate contenders: Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. It will be their seventh division title—all in the last 16 seasons.