Over the past few weeks, the hockey world was fascinated with NHL teams making mad rotisserie-team like scrambles to round out their rosters while listening to the drabble of pundits pounce on Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson who, as they described, sat idly by and watched Rome burn. However, the Sharks inactivity in the unrestricted free agent market was actually a by-product of having too many current players to sign to round out the Sharks roster. That's right folks, your Sharks are returning virtually the entire roster that went to the 2003-04 Western Conference Finals, with one, actually three, key twists that the experts have been overlooking.
Three key players who spent varying degrees of the season with the San Jose Sharks are expected to be in place with Team Teal when the first puck drops in Nashville on Oct. 5.
Forwards Marco Sturm, Milan Michalek and Marcel Goc, who all have very distinct memories of the 2003-04 season, form a potent hat trick of offensive talent that should pose an immediate threat to opposing teams.
All three played for San Jose in some limited capacity in 2003-04, but only in the first two regular season games did the Sharks have more than one these players on the ice at the same time. With the skill levels of these three individuals and the recent rule changes by the NHL - aimed at reducing the clutching and grabbing and allowing the skilled, finesse players the ability to operate - the opposition's job just got a lot tougher than when they last faced the boys in teal.
Sturm, the leading point scorer among all players selected in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft (257 points in 530 games), was well on his way to setting career-highs in goals, assists and points in 2003-04 when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury on March 5 at Colorado. The Sharks battled on to capture the Pacific Division Championship but the presence of the speedy, versatile Sturm was missed. The Dingolfing, Germany native has posted a dramatic boost in goal scoring in each of his last three full seasons played - 14 goals in 2000-01, 21 in 2001-02 and 28 in 2002-03.
Fully recovered from his injuries, Sturm spent last season with ERC Ingolstadt in the German Elite League, where he was second on the team in scoring (38 points in 56 games with a team-leading 22 goals) and represented Team Germany at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Michalek was taken by the Sharks in the first round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and was projected by many hockey analysts to be the player most ready for the NHL. The 19-year old native of the Czech Republic wasted no time validating those reports as he dazzled through training camp, earning a spot on the San Jose roster. In his first NHL game - the 2003-04 season opener at Edmonton - Michalek flashed his talents, scoring a goal against Tommy Salo. But the next night, Michalek suffered a torn ACL in his knee, which would sideline him for the next several months and, eventually, the rest of the season.
A full year of rest has him skating at 100 percent and ready to play, and Sharks fans should be excited about the opportunity to watch this highly skilled winger play 82 games for San Jose.
Cinderella stories do not come much better than the one owned by Goc. The talented, two-way forward was also a first round pick by San Jose (2001) and had steadily been working his way up the Sharks depth chart. Already experienced with several tastes of International Tournament play for Team Germany including the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, World Jr. and World Championship tournaments, Goc posted a strong first professional season in Cleveland in 2003-04 with 37 points (16 goals, 21 assists) in 78 games.
Called up by the Sharks for the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoff run with no previous NHL experience, Goc likely never expected to see any game action. But Head Coach Ron Wilson surprised everyone when he inserted him into Game Five of the Western Conference Quarter Finals against the St. Louis Blues. With the Sharks up three games to one and returning home to HP Pavilion, Goc found himself on the ice for a possible elimination game against the likes of Keith Tkachuk, Chris Pronger and Doug Weight.
And how did he respond? By assisting on the game-winning, series-clinching goal and then scoring the game-winning, series-clinching goal against the vaunted Colorado Avalanche (who were "handed" the Stanley Cup the previous summer when they signed Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne).
Now that's called making an entrance!
With the core of the 2003-04 Western Conference Finalists under contract, these three key returning players give the Sharks a new "line" that wasn't at their disposal at the end of the season. Firm believers in drafting and developing their own talent, Sturm, Michalek and Goc are set to help the Sharks to the next level and bring the organization closer to their goal of bringing the Stanley Cup to San Jose.