One of the most successful NHL franchises since entering the league in the 1991-92 season, the San Jose Sharks took a major step back in a wildly disappointing 2019-20 season.
In the 29-year history of the franchise, the Sharks missed the postseason last year for just the seventh time. However, it was just the second time over the last 16 seasons that the Sharks did not play postseason hockey.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the season was the fact that the Sharks went all the way to the Western Conference Final in the 2019 playoffs, only to finish as the worst team in the conference one year later.
It was quite the shocking turnaround for a franchise so used to playing meaningful hockey, although one that has never reached its ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup championship despite its success in getting to the dance.
All the sudden, we have a team seemingly caught in the middle. While the Sharks appear to be non-contenders, they have some well-compensated veterans, especially on the back end, so whether we call this a transition or a rebuild, these Sharks are in uncertain waters.
With that in mind, let’s go ahead and look into the 2020-21 San Jose Sharks, their season preview and odds before landing on some predictions on how things could shake out in Northern California.
2020-21 San Jose Sharks Season Preview & Odds
- Last Season: 29-36-5 (8th in Pacific Division)
- Key Additions: C/LW Ryan Donato, G Devan Dubnyk, LW Matt Nieto, LW Patrick Marleau
- Projected Salary Cap Space: $2,353,333
- 2021 Stanley Cup Odds: +4700
- 2021 Western Conference Final Odds: +2500
The Sharks fell apart at the seams across the board last season, and their offense was no exception.
Just one year after tying the the Calgary Flames for second with 3.52 goals per game, the Sharks’ offense plummeted all the way to a share of 27th alongside the Columbus Blue Jackets with just 2.57 goals per game. In the span of just one year, the Sharks lost nearly a goal per game from their offense, a bad omen in a league where one-goal games are the norm.
The club saw captain Jose Pavelski depart prior to last season, which certainly didn’t help, however the offense was also ravaged by injuries as both Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl missed significant amounts of time, as did defenseman Erik Karlsson.
When we bake in some regression from Brent Burns and the loss of a secondary scorer in Joonas Donskoi and the team just wasn’t given much of a chance to break out of their offensive slump as the season moved along.
Timo Meier led the club with 49 points a season ago, but those 49 points also tied for 71st league wide. Only four Sharks hit or surpassed the 40-point mark last season, and the fact that two of them were defensemen in Burns and Karlsson and it becomes clear that the forward group just struggled to produce, especially when two of their top offensive players missed a combined 40 games in a shortened 70-game season.
Couture to Hertl for the shorthanded goal 🤝 pic.twitter.com/rvJkfqtO5Z
— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) October 14, 2019
The team added to the forward group by way of a deal with the Minnesota Wild, acquiring center/left winger Ryan Donato for a third-round pick. The 24-year-old figures to get an increased opportunity on the Sharks’ depth chart after notching just 23 points in 62 games last season, albeit with a healthy 14 goals as well, doing so in just 10:38 of average ice time in the process. He’ll surely see far more ice with the Sharks next season.
The team added some depth with winger Matt Nieto while Patrick Marleau returns for his third stint with the team. Marleau departed prior to the 2017-18 season to play two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, before returning back to San Jose for the 2019-20 season, although he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline, only to return once again this time around.
The Sharks’ legend won’t reunite with long-time teammate Joe Thornton who has also departed for the Maple Leafs in free agency, but at this point in his career, Marleau’s value will come more from his experience than his on-ice production.
Nonetheless, with a healthy Couture and Hertl alongside the likes of Meier, Evander Kane and Kevin Labanc, the top six isn’t in terrible shape. There’s certainly superior top-six groups across the league, but those names have histories of above-average production in this league.
The problem will be in the bottom six. Aside from Donato who could open the season as the team’s third-line center, the likes of Marleau, Marcus Sorensen, Nieto, Dylan Gambrell and Stefan Noesen won’t be offensive threats, for the most part.
Improvement can certainly be had with preferable injury fortunes, but this is no longer a high-octane San Jose Sharks offensive unit.
The Sharks’ work at the other end of the ice wasn’t much better.
Once known for their stout defensive ways, the Sharks also ranked 27th on defense while surrendering 3.21 goals per game. Only the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings posted an inferior average goal differential than the -0.64 figure San Jose put forth a season ago.
Was the defense as bad as it appears on the surface? Not quite, at least according to the advanced stats at even strength as the team posted the NHL’s best penalty kill at 85.7%.
At 5v5, the Sharks ranked eighth in shots against per 60 minutes, 20th in expected goals against/60, 19th in scoring chances against/60 and 24th in terms of high-danger chances against/60. Those certainly aren’t the best numbers in the league, but they don’t paint the picture of a 27th-ranked defense, especially when we factor in the elite penalty killing group.
In terms of personnel, the Sharks will return a similar group to the ice this season as they finished last year with, and they’re contractually tied to a trio of veterans on the back end.
The team signed Karlsson to an eight-year, $92M contract prior to last season. At 30, Karlsson remains productive to be su re, however in a flat-cap era, that is about an untradeable a contract as there is in this league.
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) November 17, 2019
Burns is declining at age 35, and he’s under contract for five more seasons with an $8M cap hit. Add in 33-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the six years and $42M left on his deal and the Sharks’ top three blueliners aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The team inked Radim Simek to a four-year, $9M deal in March, giving the Sharks their top four for at least four more seasons.
Twenty-two-year-old Mario Ferraro graduated on a full-time basis last year and it appears 24-year-old Jacob Middleton will do the same in 2020-21, giving the Sharks their top-six blueliners for next season.
The bottom-pair of Ferraro and Middleton will endure their growing pains to be sure. Additionally, no one is going to mistake Karlsson and Burns for elite defenders. They are excellent at the offensive end, but we’ve witnessed defensive issues on both of their parts throughout their careers, and it’s not going to get prettier with age.
Vlasic remains a solid defender and the best one the Sharks have, bar-none.
That said, this is a unit that is going to have its issues. They weren’t ad bad under the hood as they were on the surface, however don’t be surprised to see this Sharks defense finish in the bottom 10 once again next season.
The Sharks were recipients of some brutal goaltending last season, and it’s difficult to see it getting a whole lot better.
For the second straight season, Martin Jones struggled in the Sharks’ crease and for the second straight season he posted an .896 Sv%, only this time his 3.00 GAA was a career-worst figure.
The 30-year-old was previously quite good, although his quality numbers through the first five years of his NHL career came behind elite defenses between the Kings and Sharks before San Jose stumbled defensively over the last two seasons.
Martin Jones with an amazing paddle save pic.twitter.com/i5yloj732J
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 21, 2020
With backup Aaron Dell posting a 3.01 GAA and .907 Sv% last season, the Sharks ranked 30th with an .895 Sv% last season, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings (.886). At 5v5, Jones and Dell combined to rank dead last with a .901 Sv% a season ago.
With Dell hitting free agency and subsequently signing with the Maple Leafs, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson went out and made another deal with the Wild, this time for veteran netminder Devan Dubnyk.
As good as Dubnyk was in his Wild tenure, he was atrocious last season, posting a 3.35 GAA and .890 Sv%.
Of NHL goaltenders that played at least 30 games last year, Dubnyk ranked last in both GAA and Sv%. Of those 45 netminders, Jones finished 43rd in save percentage and 36th in GAA.
In other words, the Sharks have two of the worst goaltenders from last season set to share the crease in 2020-21. Out of respect to Dubnyk, he spent time away from the Wild to care for his ill wife, so perhaps his mental game was affected, and no one would blame him.
Now, both Jones and Dubnyk have been quality NHL netminders in years past. Is it unrealistic to believe either of these netminders can bounce back and return to form, or close to it? Absolutely not. Jones is still just 30 years old and Dubnyk posted a 2.54 GAA and .913 Sv% as recently as the 2018-19 season.
At the end of the day, one thing is clear: the Sharks will need far better goaltending to even have a chance.
2020-21 San Jose Sharks Predictions
The Sharks are devoid of superstar talent up front. I mean, Couture is a star and Kane, Meier, Hertl and Labanc are quality NHL producers. But once you begin to stack up the Sharks’ top six with other clubs not only around the Pacific Division – probably the weakest in the NHL – but from around the league, it’s clear they will fall behind the pack.
Add in a bottom-six that largely leaves plenty to be desired and the Sharks’ offense is going to be in tough again next season, even if they benefit from far-improved fortune in the health department.
The defense will struggle. As noted, Karlsson and Burns are not defensive defensemen by trade and the young, inexperienced duo of Ferraro and Middleton will take their lumps.
The goaltending is a wild card. There’s very little doubt that Jones and Dubnyk were two of the worst goaltenders in the NHL last season. However, that certainly doesn’t guarantee that will be the case again next season. That duo could very well re-discover previous forms that pitted both of them against the best in the business, and that possibility cannot be ruled out. Clearly, GM Wilson is banking on it.
It just doesn’t look pretty for this Sharks club in the immediate-term. The offense won’t be able to pick up the defense, and vice versa. The goaltending will certainly need to be not only far better than it was last season, but darn-near elite for this team to think about turning back the clock and getting back into contention.
At the end of the day, the choice here is easy. There are only so many playoff spots to go around, and the Sharks won’t be grabbing any of them this season, despite playing in a favorable division if you’re a bubble team. San Jose isn’t even there, and it will be back-to-back years of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96 through 1996-97.