CSN Washington Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley ran a preview of the San Jose Sharks for the 2014-15 NHL season Friday, August 1. Examiner's pictured summary of where he was on target and where he went wrong deserves further detail.
It should be noted that most San Jose games end after 1:00 a.m. ET, and it is hardest for fans in the Eastern Time Zone to see games that late. Their teams have gotten at most two head-to-head games a season and that makes it especially hard for even any journalist like Gormley to be on-target when also called upon to give in-depth analysis of his own team he surely knows more about than some Bay Area columnist.
That peripheral view is the prime reason the impression of the Sharks is so focused on their failure to reach a Stanley Cup final. For many years, their image was of a team that choked in the first round even though their record in Western Conference quarterfinals was 7-2, with three lower-seed wins (2006, 2007, 2013) to just one higher-seed loss (2009).
In the first year with a new format, San Jose gave that reputation all the validity it needed in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Choking a 3-0 lead acquired with two blowout home wins and an overtime road win in the 2014 Pacific Division semifinal series in grand fashion, all four games to close it out were lost by at least three goals.
Gormley correctly pointed out that the Sharks did get rid of three players with their 33rd birthdays in their rear-view mirror. Dan Boyle was finally showing signs of age, Brad Stuart was proving that his decline was not just a bad year and their first-ever buyout Martin Havlat proved that sometimes it is better to pay someone to leave than ride out a contract.
What he does not know is that San Jose will not miss any of them. Brent Burns will more than adequately replace Boyle, and his spot among the forwards can be replaced by the deep, developing young talent at that position. Do not expect Mirco Mueller to make the team beyond the first 10 games of the 2014-15 NHL season (when he can be examined without committing to a full season) as Gormley suggests, but there are several other young candidates with at least the potential to fill Stuart's skates by season's end: Matt Tennyson, Taylor Doherty and Taylor Fedun.
As for Havlat, the Sharks are better off without him. By all accounts, he did not give his all—lingering injury time, virtually no defensive commitment and an inability to even make a lineup over minor-league reserves are consistent with poor dedication. That is not something general manager Doug Wilson wants around a team he is turning over to youth.
Of course, Gormley also talks of signing John Scott and trading for Tye McGinn as key additions. Neither is any more significant an addition than loss of John McCarthy or others that remain unsigned that were appropriately not even mentioned in the preview, but they were the two biggest additions Wilson made in the entire NHL free agency period.
Signing Scott after already re-signing Mike Brown was a way that Wilson could make a statement: San Jose will not be bullied anymore. Adam Burish and Raffi Torres also provide a mean streak, though probably often only two will be on the ice at a time.
McGinn was just another forward to battle for ice time with a plethora of NHL-level reserves: Freddie Hamilton, Eriah Hayes and Michael Haley already have experience at the top level. Chances are, all four are in the minor leagues for most of the year unless there are significant injuries at the position.
The lines and pairs were also not likely to be as Gormley projects them. James Sheppard has played better in the middle and Tommy Wingels is no longer at his best there, but has earned a spot on the second line. The Sharks are filled with blue-line presence throughout the system, and would not be comfortable putting average defender Jason Demers with a shaky defender in Matt Irwin. Examiner projects lines and pairs accordingly:
- Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski are a two-way line used to being together, with Marc Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns also two-way players comprising the top pair.
- Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Tommy Wingels is a two-way line that can skate, while young but experienced Matt Irwin and Justin Braun compliment each other well.
- A non-traditional line of Matt Nieto-James Sheppard-Tyler Kennedy would be too dangerous not to put on the ice third-most, and Matt Tennyson and Jason Demers can develop together as the season wears on.
- A fourth line that can handle checking line duties is Torres-Andrew Desjardins-Brown, and Alex Stalock should beat out Antti Niemi while the two form a tough tandem in net.
- Scratched reserves like Scott, Burish and Scott Hannan give this team quality veterans to fill in, while McGinn, Hamilton, Hayes and Fedun provide minor-league reserves with NHL experience, and Taylor Doherty might be ready.
On an individual level, Scott was an unnecessary signing and Hannan may get in the way of developing young players. Both are over 30, and Brown—one of three players that might have been overpaid a little—is 29. Beyond that and without knowing what other moves not made could have been, Wilson deserves an above-average grade.
Gormley's analysis was that San Jose would make the playoffs, but gave it an off-season grade of D. If the goal was to close the gap with the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, that would be accurate. The correct and stated goal of Wilson—turning the team over to its younger talent—will be achieved while keeping the team at least almost as good as it was in the 2013-14 NHL season.