For many NHL teams, sweeping a division winner in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and taking the defending champion to a seventh game in the second round would be an unquestioned accomplishment. For the San Jose Sharks, who have been searching for an elusive trip the Stanley Cup Final, it was another season with a successful regular season but a too-early postseason exit.
The Sharks have reached the conference final three times in the past nine seasons; only the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers can make that claim. But each of those teams has reached the Cup Final, and all except the Flyers have won a championship.
San Jose was not far off in 2012-13, pushing the Los Angeles Kings to the limit. Given the collective health of the two clubs, the Sharks may have given the Blackhawks a tougher challenge in the next round. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson did not have a particularly busy summer beyond locking up core forwards Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski to long-term contracts.
Tyler Kennedy arrived in a draft-day trade from Pittsburgh, and TJ Galliardi was shipped to the Calgary Flames a few days later. Backup goaltender Thomas Greiss signed with the Phoenix Coyotes, but Alex Stalock might be ready for a full-time opportunity at this level.
Offseason surgery could leave Martin Havlat unavailable at the start of the regular season, and it is possible a top-six forward could be atop Wilson's in-season wish list if Havlat cannot return.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Sharks:
NOTES: The Sharks could play Pavelski on one of the top two lines, and almost certainly will at times, especially if Hertl or Wingels isn't able to handle that type of role. Kennedy saw time in Pittsburgh's top six when others were injured and could be an option.
After moving Burns to forward and trading Douglas Murray, the Sharks' defense parings were settled and meshed quite well at the end of the season and in the playoffs. Niemi quietly had a great season and will be looking at 65-plus starts again (his career high was 68 two seasons ago).
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: SHARKS
Under-valued: Antti Niemi - An argument could certainly be made that Niemi was the most valuable fantasy goalie last season, posting career-bests in GAA (2.16) and SV% (.924%). His playoffs were even more spectacular (1.87 GAA, .930%), leading us to believe he's a top-five goalie next season -- with ease.
Over-valued: Patrick Marleau - Was one of the hottest players in the NHL early on last season, but cooled considerably and ended up averaging .65 points-per-game (his lowest since 2007-08). Is age finally catching up to Marleau? We think so. Draft in the sixth round or later -- anything earlier is a mistake.
Sleeper: Brent Burns - The former defenseman should be a mainstay among San Jose's top-six forward group, and that could mean big things for Burns. As a forward, he finished last season strong with nine goals and 11 assists in his final 24 games playing mostly with Joe Thornton. Expect more of the same next season.
Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes
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