The San Jose Sharks only finished second in the Pacific Division in the regular season, but here’s why they’ll win it all in the NHL postseason.
Years of playoff disappointments and an aging core might have had fans thinking the Sharks’ window is closed, but a youth movement and a group of resurgent stars have given the team its first 100-point season since 2013-14.
After San Jose missed the playoffs in 2015, it would’ve been completely reasonable for them to rebuild considering the past playoff losses and the age and contract status of some of their stars. In an alternate reality, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton could have been traded or allowed to leave in free agency.
General manager Doug Wilson’s decision to rebuild on the fly instead of tearing it all down paid off with the Sharks’ third consecutive playoff appearance. Here are five reasons why it may turn out to be their best one yet.
5. Joe Pavelski
Veteran center and Sharks captain Joe Pavelski will be key to any Cup run by San Jose. His 65 points this season tied for the Sharks’ team lead. Pavelski has scored the fifth-most goals in the NHL since the 2013-14 season.
In last year’s first round playoff loss, Pavelski’s ice time rose 2:05 from his regular season average. He had 0:58 more ice time in the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago.
Coach Peter DeBoer is not shy about getting Pavelski extra shifts when the games count. Expect more of the same when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
In the last 20 years, every Stanley Cup winner made the playoffs the previous season. Only three didn’t make the playoffs the two years prior. Out of this year’s field, these are the teams who qualified for the playoffs each of the last two years: the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose.
If winning and playoff experience matters, then San Jose has to be considered a Cup favorite. No team has won as many games as San Jose since Doug Wilson was named general manager in 2003. San Jose is the only franchise in the top five in wins in that span to not win a Stanley Cup.
If there’s a such thing as a franchise being due, this is it.
3. Brent Burns
Brent Burns is the best defenseman in the playoffs. The reigning Norris Trophy winner backed up his award-winning season with another strong year in in teal. He finished one point behind John Carlson for the league lead in points by a defenseman, and once again paced all blue liners in shots.
In the past two seasons, no defenseman has scored more points (143), goals (41) or had more shots (652) than Burns. The next closest defender in shots, Dougie Hamilton, has 160 fewer shots on goal than Brent Burns in the same timeframe. He’s a beast, figuratively and literally.
Burns has become a shot-generating machine for San Jose. A large portion of the Sharks’ offense runs through him. If you take one look at the Sharks heat map, his impact is unavoidable.
Burns has 324 more shots on goal than any other Sharks player in the last three years. He’s one of two defensemen in the league to lead their team in points since 2015-16. There might not be a more valuable player to his team in the playoffs than Brent Burns.
Playoff games are always tight, so a power play goal can be the difference between winning or losing a series. The Sharks penalty kill is tied for first in the NHL. San Jose allowed the lowest number of shots against among Western Conference playoff teams as well. Oh, and if that’s not enough, they boast arguably the game’s best defensive defenseman.
If NHL players had been allowed to go to the Olympics, it’s entirely possibly San Jose has two defensemen in the top four (Vlasic, Burns) of the Gold Medal favorite. The high-end of this group is as good as any in this league.
It’s not just Brent Burns producing offense on the backend, either, for the Sharks. San Jose’s defensemen combined to score 199 points in the regular season, the third highest mark among playoff teams.
On past teams it’s been more of a one man show. The Sharks’ defensive depth is the best it’s been in years.
The NHL hasn’t had a team three-peat since the New York Islanders won their third of four championships in a row from 1980-83 in 1982, and it’s only been done five times ever. The Penguins have won the last two championships. It’s possible they win again and complete the three-peat, but unlikely given how rarely it has happened in the history of the game.
The top team in Western Conference, Nashville, won the Presidents’ Trophy, and if that wasn’t enough bad luck their captain touched the trophy.
There will be a new Stanley Cup champion, and it probably won’t be one of the favorites. So why not the Sharks?
With history on their side eliminating some of their biggest threats, the Sharks have a good chance to win it all in 2018.