SAN JOSE -- One year after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the San Jose Sharks made the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 25-year history.
The Sharks lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Cup Final, but under coach Peter DeBoer they proved to themselves and the rest of the NHL that they have the skill and mental toughness to go deep in the playoffs.
After playing a full regular season and four rounds in the playoffs under DeBoer, the Sharks won't have to spend training camp and the early part of next season learning new systems, as they did this season. That should make for a faster start and an easier path back to the playoffs for another potential run at the Cup.
WHAT THEY SAID: "It's a tough day because there's so many mixed emotions. The one that resonates though is how proud we are of them. We shared that with them as a group, what they've accomplished, the work they've done, taking care of each other to get to this point, players, coaching staff, trainers, everybody. And our fan support's been off the charts, as always. A lot of pride, a lot of proud feelings toward people, but it stings. It may lessen as the summer goes forward, but sitting here right now I'd lying if I said it didn't sting." -- General manager Doug Wilson
THE BURNING QUESTION: The Sharks have never before played this deep into the playoffs. After working so hard for so long yet denied of the ultimate prize, the question is how they'll respond physically and mentally after a short offseason. A number of Sharks, including Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, will play in the World Cup of Hockey in September, making their offseason even shorter.
INJURIES: Forward Tomas Hertl missed the final four games in the Final with a right-knee injury. He said he was injured in a collision with Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist late in the third period of Game 2. Hertl is wearing a brace, but he said he won't have to undergo surgery. No other Sharks missed an entire game in the playoffs because of an injury.
WHO COULD GO: Forwards Dainius Zubrus, Nick Spaling and Micheal Haley, defensemen Roman Polak and Matt Tennyson, and backup goaltender James Reimer can become unrestricted free agents July 1. Reimer could attempt to find work as a starting goalie elsewhere, but available jobs are limited. Spaling had a solid playoffs and has the versatility to play center and wing. He could well have earned himself another contract. Polak's spot might go to one of San Jose's young defensemen in the organization. Hertl and speedy forward Matt Nieto are impending restricted free agents, as is defensemen Dylan DeMelo. Hertl did enough this season to earn a long-term contract, and the Sharks need all the speed they can get, and that works in Nieto's favor. Forward Patrick Marleau, the longest-tenured San Jose player, and Thornton each is approaching the final year of his contact. Thornton was one of the Sharks' top players, centering the top line. Marleau had an up-and-down season. Each has a no-trade clause.
BIGGEST NEED(S): Last summer, the Sharks traded for goaltender Martin Jones and signed two key free agents, defenseman Paul Martin and forward Joel Ward, as well as forward Joonas Donskoi, a rookie free agent from Finland. This year, they might fill most of their needs internally from a large crop of recent draft picks. Right wing Timo Meier, the ninth pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, could break through to the NHL at some point next season. Defensemen Jeremy Roy, the 31st pick in 2015, and Mirco Mueller, the 18th selection in 2013, should battle for jobs. So should defenseman Julius Bergman, chosen in the second round in 2014. If Reimer leaves as a free agent, the Sharks will need new a backup goaltender for Jones. Aaron Dell, an impending unrestricted free agent, was their top goaltender for the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League. Dell's AHL teammate, Troy Grosenick, has another year on his contract. The Sharks also signed free agent goaltender Mantas Armalis, a Lithuanian who had been playing professionally in Sweden.
2016 DRAFT PICKS: The Sharks have six picks, but none in the first or third rounds. They traded their first-round pick to the Boston Bruins for Jones.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM: Reaching the Cup Final for the first time in their history was a huge step in the right direction. The majority of the core group should be intact for 2016-17, so the Sharks should be a formidable group again next season.
by Eric Gilmore / NHL.com Correspondent