San Jose's Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo each took home a trophy last season. The Stanley Cup, though, was not one of them.
Thornton and Cheechoo hope to ultimately bring hockey's top prize to California for the first time when the Sharks meet the new-look St. Louis Blues at HP Pavilion on Thursday.
Acquired on Nov. 30 from Boston in a blockbuster trade, Thornton immediately led the Sharks on a six-game winning streak, scoring at least two points in each game. Overall, the top pick in the 1997 draft had three goals and 11 assists during the run, and it was just the start for him.
Thornton finished with 20 goals and 92 points in 58 games with San Jose while leading them to a 36-15-7 record. Overall, he had 125 points and beat out Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers for his first Hart Trophy as league MVP.
Thornton also scored 17 points in his final seven games to beat out Jagr for the Art Ross Trophy as league scoring leader.
Cheechoo benefitted most from the addition of Thornton, tallying five hat tricks and 49 of his league-high 56 goals en route to winning his first Rocket Richard Trophy. Cheechoo had just 37 goals in 147 games over two seasons before his breakout year.
Thornton knows no opponent will be surprised by what San Jose can do on offense.
"We're not going to catch anybody by surprise any more," he said. "We'll just keep working hard and pushing each other, because we've got some great talent. We've got a legitimate shot to win the Stanley Cup, and that's our biggest goal, every day we come to work."
After beating Nashville in five games in a Western Conference quarterfinal, San Jose took the first two games of a semifinal matchup with Edmonton before dropping four straight.
While offense doesn't appear to be a question, goaltending does. Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov split time last season and are expected to do so again as no clear-cut starter and a trade may occur.
"Everybody playing in this league wants to be a No. 1 goalie," Toskala said. "There are lots of rumors flying around, but it's not in my control what's going to happen. I'm happy to be a Shark, and I hope I stay here."
Toskala had a 23-7-4 mark with a 2.56 goals-against average in 33 starts and became the playoff starter, going 6-5 with a 2.45 GAA. Nabokov went 16-19-7 with a 3.10 GAA in 44 regular-season starts
After seeing their streak of 25 straight playoff appearances come to an end, the Blues made major changes - starting with a new ownership group led by Dave Checketts, the former head of the NBA's New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden.
Checketts, whose purchase of the team and its arena became final in June, named former player and broadcaster John Davidson as president.
"It's a gigantic move, and it's one that had to be perfect for me," said Davidson, who spent the first two years of his decade-long playing career with the Blues. "It is because the owners are people I know and have known for a long time. And I know St. Louis."
He has quite a challenge. St. Louis set league lows with 21 wins, 57 points and just 197 goals scored. Davidson's first major move was to sign former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee to a four-year, $16 million deal.
"The organization is excited to add a quality defenseman and excellent leader in Jay McKee," Davidson said. "He was very instrumental in Buffalo's playoff run last season."
The Blues used Patrick Lalime, Curtis Sanford, Reinhard Divis and Jason Bacashihua in net last season. The addition of former Red Wings star Manny Legace should bring stability.
He was 37-8-0 with a 2.19 GAA and .915 save percentage in the regular season with Detroit, but faltered in the playoffs, going 2-4 with a 2.65 GAA and .884 save percentage as Detroit went from having the best regular season record to being ousted in the first round.
To boost the offense, St. Louis brought back longtime center Doug Weight, who was sent to Carolina where he won a Stanley Cup. Bill Guerin also joins the team after a 40-point season with Dallas a year ago.
Keith Tkachuk also will try to bounce back after an injury-plagued season that saw him net just 15 goals and 36 points in 41 games.
San Jose was 3-0-1 last season against St. Louis.