On May 28, 2013, the San Jose Sharks were one of five NHL clubs still in the running to win the Stanley Cup. The other four teams were the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles Kings, the Boston Bruins, and the Pittsburgh Penguins – the four previous Stanley Cup champions.
Now, as a new regular season gets going, the Sharks have only one expectation, and only one goal: to be one of the elite teams all season long, and to bring the Stanley Cup to Silicon Valley.
On Monday, the team made its roster decisions to get to the 23-man limit, and assigned John McCarthy, Bracken Kearns, Matt Tennyson, Taylor Doherty, and Harri Sateri to the AHL’s Worcester Sharks. They released Anthony Stewart from his tryout, and assigned Matt Pelech to the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls.
Here are a few factors to consider when thinking about the team:
The most important travel news has nothing to do with the fact that the Sharks are going to log more air miles than the other 29 NHL teams. In fact, the travel title has normally been divided between most of the Pacific area teams, depending on the times that places like Chicago, Nashville and Dallas are visited.
The most important travel factor this season lies in the fact that the other teams have to travel a bit more than they are used to doing. All 29 opponents will have to get on the plane and fly to San Jose, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and the like. These teams will have to deal with what pushed Detroit and Columbus to the Eastern Conference this season, so while it’s no big deal for those two teams, it will be a noticeable change for the other Eastern Conference clubs. They’ll have a little less practice time, they’ll sleep in hotel rooms a bit more, and they’ll have to deal with the jet lag and travel fatigue that is more common in the Western Conference.
Will that translate into an advantage or disadvantage? Will it be better for the teams going from Western Conference to Eastern Conference? Time and mileage will tell.
The Sharks won’t be playing Detroit 4 times a season any longer, and they won’t play in a Division that crosses three time zones, either. The remodeled Pacific Division has San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver in it, and because of the imbalance to the divisions, that means that the Men in Teal will play divisional opponents either four or five times instead of the six or eight that dotted their schedule in seasons past.
There should be lots of excitement over the addition of the Western Canadian clubs. The atmosphere in these hockey cities ratchets up in intensity as the season is long. The arenas are all excellent, the rivalries will be enhanced, and some of the great stars in the game play for these teams.
One game will be given away against the Central Division clubs, so there will be 3 games against most of these teams, with Colorado being one club with 4 meetings this year. But the best part lies in the fact that games against the newly-minted Metropolitan Division and the Atlantic Division will feature one home and one road game against each team. That’s a distinct and exciting improvement for the fan base.
On Monday, hybrid icing was approved for the regular season after the experiment with the process during the pre-season. While the desire to minimize dangerous situations is laudable, it is still going to take some time for (a.) the players to get used to it; (b.) the officials to get used to it; (c.) the fans to get used to it; and (d.) the broadcasters to get used to it. I’ll miss the race to the loose puck, but I won’t miss the sight of players getting seriously injured in such situations.
Alex Stalock is beginning the year as the backup goaltender to Antti Niemi, but don’t assume that you won’t see Harri Sateri this year. With Niemi likely to play perhaps 7 or 8 of every 10 games, that would give the number one goaltender 65 games played and the backup goaltender 17 games played, knocking on every piece of wood possible. Therefore, Sateri goes to Worcester to play a lot, and there may be some stretches where he and Stalock could switch off in order to get Alex some solid playing time. The other part of the story is the shuttle for goaltenders JP Anderson and Troy Grosenick, who will also need time to develop. All are talented. It’s a good situation for an organization to have.
On defense, Matt Tennyson and Taylor Doherty will play a ton of minutes in Worcester, and they’ll continue to develop their talents for the next level. If the need arises, either could come to help at the NHL level. Meanwhile, with Brad Stuart expected to be ready for Thursday’s opener, that leaves the NHL club with seven defensemen: Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Matt Irwin, Jason Demers, Scott Hannan, and Stuart. That’s a pretty solid group, and when you throw in the guys currently assigned to Worcester, things are looking good.
Up front, the Sharks will definitely miss Raffi Torres, out with ACL knee surgery, for an extended period. It seems as if Adam Burish is taking a bit longer to come back from his injury, so we’ll see if he’s ready for the Canucks on Thursday. Martin Havlat also continues to work on rehabilitating his injuries, which have kept him out of the lineup for a maddeningly long period.
But while the absence of Torres last year was somewhat devastating, this season’s edition will not push Joe Pavelski to the wing, at least not according to plan. The arrival of Tyler Kennedy and the emergence of Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto and Freddie Hamilton allows for “The Big Pavelski” to shape his talents in between two linemates, most recently Tommy Wingels and the speedy Nieto.
Hertl looks very solid when playing alongside Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, and every time he’s on the ice, something interesting happens. He’ll have his developmental moments, but lots of people are very excited about his prospects in North America.
In the middle of it all, the main guys are still here: Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Antti Niemi, among others. It all adds up to something that should be awfully exciting for hockey fans in the Bay Area to enjoy all season long.
Welcome to 2013-14, Sharks fans! Jamie Baker and I look forward to bringing you all the action on KFOX (98.5/102.1) and the Sharks Radio Network.