GAME: San Jose Sharks (43-21-12-6) at Nashville Predators (38-29-11-4).
TIME: Wednesday, 8 p.m. EDT.
The San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators have used different philosophies to build what they think are Stanley Cup-caliber teams. They'll get their first look in the season opener at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
The Sharks lost six players from a squad that won the Pacific Division title and fell one game short of the Stanley Cup finals in 2003-04. Mike Rathje, Mike Ricci, Curtis Brown and Todd Harvey left via free agency, Todd Damphousse retired and Alex Korolyuk opted to spend another season in Russia.
But management decided to plug those holes with younger players, hoping they can build a new foundation throughout the season as well as stay under the salary cap for the long term.
"I think management's doing a great job," Sharks center and team captain Patrick Marleau said. "They've kept the core guys together, and young guys are coming up. They're going to get a shot."
Marleau will have able helpers in Nils Ekman, who had a team-high 33 assists, and 20-goal scorers Jonathan Cheechoo, Marco Sturm and Alyn McCauley. The next generation will be represented by 22-year-old Marcel Goc, 20-year-old Milan Michalek and 23-year-old Ryan Clowe, who had 27 goals for Cleveland in the AHL during the lockout.
The defense again will be led by Brad Stuart and Kyle McLaren, while goaltender Evgeni Nabokov returns after setting a franchise record with nine shutouts in 2003-04. Nabokov also is the oldest player on the roster at 30.
The Predators are trying to build off their first-ever playoff appearance, and general manager David Polie opted to use the $39 million salary cap as an equalizer to find a marquee free agent.
His search turned up Paul Kariya, who was ready for a change after nine years with Anaheim and one in Colorado.
"He had a lot of places to go," Polie said of Kariya. "The fact (is) he chose Nashville, and I think in some regards that's got to be somewhat of a stunner that he chose here instead of going to some other bigger market where he could get more fanfare."
Kariya also must prove to the doubters he has something left after totaling just 36 points in 51 games with the Avalanche in 2003-04. The Predators also made a late signing Monday with veteran center Yanic Perreault, who has led the league in faceoff percentage the past five years and is eight goals shy of 200.
Offensively, the Predators are led by Steve Sullivan, who scored 30 points in 24 games after being acquired in a playoff push. Scott Walker will be counted on to at least match his career high of 67 points set before the lockout, and the team hopes David Legwand can deliver on the potential that made him the second overall pick in the 1998 draft.
2003-04 STANDINGS: Sharks - 104 points, 1st place, Pacific Division. Predators - 91 points, 2nd place (tied), 18 PB, Central Division.
2003-04 TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Marleau and Cheechoo, 28 goals; Ekman, 33 assists; Marleau, 57 points; Scott Parker, 101 PIM. Predators - Walker, 25 goals; Sullivan, 49 assists and 73 points; Jordin Tootoo, 137 PIM.
2003-04 SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 16.6 percent (56 for 337), 14th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.2 percent (272 for 319), 7th. Predators - Power play: 16.9 percent (72 for 426), 11th. Penalty killing: 81.7 percent (287 for 351), 24th.
2003-04 GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Nabokov (31-19-8, 9 SO, 2.20 GAA); Vesa Toskala (12-8-4, 1, 2.06). Predators - Tomas Vokoun (34-29-10, 3, 2.53); Chris Mason (4-4-1, 1, 2.18).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 2-2.
2003-04 LAST MEETING: Feb. 18, Predators 7-3. At Nashville, Sullivan had a hat trick while Walker added a goal and three assists for the Predators, who converted 5-of-7 power-play chances and scored five goals on 14 shots against Nabokov.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sharks - 19-13-5-4 on the road; Predators - 22-10-7-2 at home.