Once again, the San Jose Sharks are looking to defy expectations.
Last year, the Sharks had the fourth-worst record in the NHL. And now, they’re starting the 2023-24 campaign without 40-goal scorer Timo Meier and reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, both dealt in the last seven months.
In their place, San Jose has added forwards Mikael Granlund, Anthony Duclair, Mike Hoffman, and Filip Zadina. Defensively, they brought in Jan Rutta and Kyle Burroughs, and goalie Mackenzie Blackwood.
On paper, these aren’t necessarily upgrades.
Granlund, Duclair, Hoffman, and Zadina, who the Sharks are likely hoping will infuse 70-plus goals into the line-up, combined for less goals than Meier last season (29) because of injuries and so-so play.
Rutta and Burroughs are solid defensively, but they aren’t likely to make up for much of Karlsson’s 101 points last year.
And Blackwood’s .893 Save % wasn’t much better than who he’s replacing, James Reimer’s .890.
Certainly, sports bettors don’t believe in the Sharks, as Ohio sportsbook promos will show.
On the other hand?
Granlund (64 points) and Duclair (31 goals) are just two years removed from outstanding campaigns. From 2014 to 2021, Hoffman scored at a 30-goal pace. And Zadina, just 23, was the sixth-overall pick of the 2018 Draft.
The 26-year-old Blackwood was once considered a strong contender to be Team Canada’s starter for the next Olympics. Just three years ago, he was sixth in the Calder Trophy voting.
All this is to say, on paper, the 2023-24 San Jose Sharks have more than a ghost of a chance to surprise people.
It wouldn’t be the first time in franchise history.
With the help of the annual The Hockey News Yearbook, here are some Sharks squads that were a lot better than expected.
THN Prediction: 4th in the Pacific, Out of the Playoffs
Quote: “Not everybody was on the same page last season, reflected in the fact that former coach Todd McLellan left by mutual agreement.
“Expect [new head coach Peter] DeBoer and Wilson to see more eye-to-eye on how to get things done, but the key is getting players totally on board after a season in which Couture acknowledged the culture was ‘not great.’”
What Went Right: The 2014-15 Sharks had just missed the playoffs, so GM Doug Wilson just had to work around the edges, adding new starting goaltender Martin Jones, and key role players Paul Martin and Joel Ward, who all provided stability.
DeBoer turned defenseman Brent Burns from a key cog of the offense to its No. 1 option. The 30-year-old defenseman recorded 10 more goals and 108 more shots than the previous season and finished third in the Norris Trophy voting.
Veterans Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Patrick Marleau continued to be important contributors.
Wilson’s tweaks resulted in the Sharks’ first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
What 2023-24 Sharks Can Copy: These Sharks don’t appear to have a weapon of Burns’s potential, and they’ve just lost Karlsson on the blueline, so they’ll need to score by committee.
It’s imperative that veteran 30-something’s Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, like Thornton and company in 2015-16, don’t lose a step. Hertl could use a bounceback campaign.
Perhaps talented newcomer Blackwood can provide the same kind of reliability that then-newcomer Jones did so long ago.
THN Prediction: 14th of 15 teams in the West
Quote: “San Jose goes into this season with a weaker roster than the one that tanked a year ago. Improvement will be minimal.”
What Went Right: Instead, the San Jose Sharks advanced to their first Conference Finals in franchise history.
They gave up 56 less goals, going from 27th in the league in Goals Against to fourth in 2003-04.
Unproven youngsters Jonathan Cheechoo and Alyn McCauley blossomed, 23-year-old Cheechoo tying for the team lead with 28 goals and 26-year-old McCauley getting a Selke Trophy nomination.
20-something Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart continued to establish themselves as top-four defenders.
San Jose’s mix of young stars like Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm, and veterans like Vincent Damphousse, Mike Ricci, and Mike Rathje, also enjoyed strong campaigns.
What 2023-24 Sharks Can Copy: 2003-04 was Ron Wilson’s second behind the San Jose bench. 2023-24 will be David Quinn’s second.
Can Quinn blend the Sharks’ mix of young and old like Wilson did?
THN Prediction: 24th of 26 teams
Quote: “Earning a playoff berth would be a monumental achievement.”
What Went Right: A battalion of veterans helped the Sharks eke out a post-season spot.
Newcomers like starting goalie Mike Vernon, defenseman Bill Houlder, and forwards John MacLean, Mike Ricci, and Murray Craven led the way with their play and a professional attitude. Houlder paced Sharks defensemen in ice-time and points, while reliable two-way forwards MacLean, Ricci, and Craven were second, third, and fifth in playing time up front.
Meanwhile, 1994 first-rounder Jeff Friesen surpassed 30 goals for the first time, and young defensemen Marcus Ragnarsson and Mike Rathje both played big minutes.
Rookies Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm stuck around all season and used this campaign as a springboard for very successful careers.
What 2023-24 Sharks Can Copy: Newcomer vets like Granlund and company will need to lead the way both on and off the ice.
Hopefully, this will be the first full season of many for rookies like William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, and more.
THN Prediction: Out of the playoffs
Quote: “Whether the Sharks can improve on their dismal record of last season remains to be seen. But with Constantine one thing is sure: The Sharks won’t go down quietly.” (Mellen, Greg. “Constantine takes hardliner approach.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 2 October 1993.)
What Went Right: Behind new head coach Kevin Constantine, the San Jose Sharks enjoyed the greatest turnaround in NHL history, going from an 11-71-2 record and 24 points to 33-35-16 and 82 points, a record 58-point improvement.
The hard-nosed Constantine’s emphasis on team defense paid off, as the Sharks gave up a whopping 149 goals less than the previous season, going from 414 goals allowed, an NHL-worst 4.93 per game, to 265 goals allowed, 3.15 per game, good for 14th in the league.
In concert, 30-something Soviets Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov injected much-needed offensive creativity to the line-up.
In much the same way, super-sophomore Sandis Ozolinsh (26 goals) and veteran Jeff Norton (40 points) added firepower from the blueline.
Irbe was a rock, appearing in 74 games.
The eighth-seeded Sharks would upset No. 1 Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs and was within a Johan Garpenlov crossbar of advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
What 2023-24 Sharks Can Copy: Last year’s Sharks surrendered 315 goals, 30th in the NHL. They don’t have to give up 149 less goals, at least! They’ll need to lop off about 60 of those goals against to be a league-average defensive squad.
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