The 30 Teams in 30 Days series on the NHL website landed on the San Jose Sharks Friday, Aug. 29. The league featured the five pictured summaries of the article with varying degrees of accuracy.
The most questionable of the articles was written by the normally solid Dan Rosen. In looking at the 2014-15 NHL season, he saw more turmoil than San Jose could overcome to even reach the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He even acknowledged that the team in a rebuild would feature few changes. Losing Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart plus having new Sharks wearing letters is going to take the fifth-best team in the NHL down to the minority of teams that do not get to play for the Stanley Cup? Between development and healing of young players, they gained far more than they lost.
San Jose will only have three active players that have turned 33 and are likely in decline. Three times as many not even old enough to earn their first unrestricted free agent contract could dress for most of the 2014-15 NHL season.
That means more Sharks improving than declining. Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto, Raffi Torres and Adam Burish are almost sure to play more than they did in the 2013-14 NHL season, more than making up for losing Brent Burns to the blue line to make up for losing Boyle from it. Stuart may be replaced by a talented prospect pool (at that one position, anyway) led by Mirco Mueller and further development of Jason Demers, Justin Braun and Matt Irwin.
This is not a roster with so many question marks as the 30 in 30 analysis suggests. The Western Conference is certainly deep enough to make earning a postseason bid tough, but there are only two Pacific Division teams likely to be better.
There is no way Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau are going to be a big enough distraction for losing a letter to derail an 11th consecutive Stanley Cup playoff appearance. They are both professionals and they would not have wanted to stay in San Jose if losing that letter made them that upset.
That captaincy and the net were listed as the biggest questions facing the Sharks in the 2014-15 NHL season in another article. However, both goalies are capable and one is likely to handle the job better than Antti Niemi has since November. Their other questions were two that are obviously yes (can Logan Couture bounce back from an injury-plagued season and will Tomas Hertl build on his rookie season?), but how the team bounces back from their Stanley Cup choke is the big question.
New leadership could help or hurt that, so there is the chance San Jose general manager Doug Wilson gets a true rebuild if his team does not look like a Stanley Cup contender at the trade deadline. That is the only scenario other than critical injuries that will derail another postseason berth.
However, the questions raised could stop the Sharks from being successful one more time once they get there. The move of Burns back to the blue line could take some adjustment and the prospect list the website opined was thin (and clearly put out of order) after the promotions of Hertl and Nieto probably will provide no more than reserve help.
After all, a Stanley Cup playoff berth has not been an accomplishment for San Jose. The hurdle it must clear is to still be fighting two weeks after the 2014-15 NHL season is over—something that may have to wait for another year of young player development.