It seems the cat was let out of the bag Sunday, August 3. Harrison Mooney of Puck Daddy reported that Ticketmaster temporarily put tickets on sale for the San Jose Sharks to host the Pacific Division-rival Los Angeles Kings at Levi's Stadium Feb. 21.
That is just one of several pictured features of the 2014-15 NHL season that should be sources of great anticipation for the Sharks. That list summary is worth being examined further.
The most important is the apparent confirmation that the Bay Area will indeed get to host an outdoor game (a view David Polack of the San Jose Mercury News detailed as well as anyone in June), that the Kings would be the opponents (a logical conclusion) and this date would be chosen (assumed because of limited options). It also finally gave an indication of which venue—the larger, newly-constructed Levi's Stadium in nearby Santa Clara or the more picturesque AT&T Park miles further north where the team played its first two years.
Having the Stanley Cup champions visit the region of their 2014 Pacific Division semifinals comeback gives the game a little more intrigue. Considering San Jose has now been eliminated by Los Angeles in consecutive postseasons, both teams are still going to be contenders playing in a venue that will host Super Bowl 50 (they did away with the Roman numerals for this one...and "L" is not a symbol associated with champions anyway) within 12 months of the area's first-ever outdoor game in a brand new stadium and this is the top highlight of the 2014-15 NHL season.
It is also not the only highlight of the Pacific Division rivalry. The Kings are likely to be celebrating winning the 2014 Stanley Cup when they host the Sharks to start the season.
The 2014-15 NHL season also ends in Los Angeles. Pacific Division seeding may be at stake, though San Jose has proven that makes little difference once the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
That very fact is why the Sharks should look more at what happens during the 2014-15 NHL season than where they finish it. There is very little chance they do not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, so it is all about how they finish—just ask their Pacific Division-rival Kings.
That makes the most compelling thing about the 2014-15 NHL season the development of San Jose's young talent. If enough players are ready to step up, this team might not even see a drop from contention.
The Sharks have some young talent that is already proven at the highest levels but may continue to rise: Logan Couture, Tommy Wingels, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Jason Demers are nearing their peak, the only question with Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto is how much they improve, more is expected out of Brent Burns, Matt Irwin, Alex Stalock and James Sheppard while there is potential for significant contributions from Mirco Mueller, Matt Tennyson, Tye McGinn, Freddie Hamilton and several more.
If Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau can maintain close to the level of play from last season, modest improvement from over half of those 15 aforementioned young talents will mean putting a better team on the ice come the Stanley Cup playoffs. Ultimately, that is what San Jose must look forward to more than anything—seeing the next generation work toward the goal previous teams could not reach.