After another strong season ending in playoff failure, the Sharks made the biggest move of the summer acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Senators. The move catapults the Sharks’ ‘D’ core into elite status, leaving the Sharks in a great position to go after their first Stanley Cup.
The Sharks put up “A’s’ and ‘B’s’ across the board finishing in the top-15 in all categories listed above. All in all, a nice year from a good team that will contend for top spot in the Pacific.
What went right:
San Jose had a strong season across the board. Defensively, they clogged passing lanes better than anyone, allowing their opponent to complete only 64.5% of their passes while in the Sharks’ zone, the best mark in the NHL. They had similar success getting in shooting lanes, allowing the 3rd-lowest percentage of shots to reach the net in part because they blocked the 5th most shots. In short, it was hard to get anything done efficiently in San Jose’s zone, as evidenced by the 3rd best overall takeaway rate and 2nd best shorthanded unit in the league. Offensively, the Sharks generated a lot of offense right in front of the net. They were second in deflections, fourth in offensive rebounds recovered and eight in inner slot shots. They also were very efficient with the puck, recording the fourth-lowest turnover rate
What Went Wrong:
Losing Joe Thornton for a big chunk of the season and all of the playoffs was a big blow for San Jose. Jumbo Joe may have been 38 during the season, but he was still one of the best passers in the NHL. Among forwards who played 675+ minutes at even strength, he was 5th in passes completed in the offensive zone per game and 7th in accuracy, still showing the elite vision that’s made him so successful throughout his career.
Key Additions: Erik Karlsson, Five minutes of Mike Hoffman
Key Departures: Paul Martin, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Mikkel Boedker, Dylan DeMelo, Chris Tierney
Other key moves: Extended Logan Couture, Evander Kane, re-signed Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton, Chris Tierney.
The Sharks made it to Tavares’ Final 6 but ultimately couldn’t reel in the biggest fish in the free agent pond. They then turned their focus to locking up their core long-term with new contracts or extensions to Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and deadline acquisition Evander Kane. They now have these three plus Burns, Vlasic, and Jones locked up for at least the next four seasons at nearly $40m/year combined. Essentially, the Sharks will live and die with this core, and they must win now as key players such as Burns (33), Pavelski (34), and Thornton (39) are getting long in the tooth. Also, bonus points for essentially swapping Mikkel Boedker for Mike Hoffman, then flipping Hoffman for picks to the Florida Panthers. They managed to shed salary while also getting a better return than the Senators did.
Then, the Sharks pulled off the biggest blockbuster of the offseason by acquiring All-World defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Senators, giving up a conditional first round pick, a second round pick, Dylan DeMelo, Chris Tierney, as well as prospects Josh Norris and Rudolfs Balcers, a pretty cheap price for a player of Karlsson’s caliber. The former Senators captain led all defensemen in per-game possession driving plays, possession time, and stretch passes. He now joins Burns and Vlasic to form one of the best defensive corps in the NHL.
Next season preview
What could go right?
The Sharks will have a full season of Evander Kane after signing the winger to a seven-year extension his offseason. He has had some character issues through his career, but he seemed to really click with the roster after he was acquired at the deadline. In his time with the Sharks, he led the team in goals, controlled entries, and shots on net, finally looking like the player many thought he could be. It could be an effect of him being in a contract year, but if last season’s performance is anything close to the new normal for Kane, he will bring a lot more offensive firepower to a team that was already in the top half of the league in goals.
They still have all the key pieces of a defense that allowed the 9th fewest goals in the NHL and they added Erik Karlsson on top of it all. Paul Martin is gone, but he only played 14 games, so it doesn’t change much. Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic ranked 8th and 15th in the NHL, respectively, when ranking the strength of opposition they faced. They both have the ability to eat up the toughest minutes and shut down the opposition’s top players. This allows Peter DeBoer to make Brent Burns start 40.1% of his shifts in the offensive zone, the 9th highest ratio in the NHL among defensemen.
What could go wrong?
Honestly, with the acquisition of Erik Karlsson, injuries are the biggest threat to the Sharks. They were above average across the board without him and will only get better as he settles into their lineup. In fact, Karlsson had more points (62 points) than Tierney (40) and DeMelo (20) combined and they were the only two roster players the Sharks gave up in the trade. If they stay healthy, they should be considered among the favorites to come out of the Western Conference.