As I write this training camp has finally opened and the Sharks are about to travel to Vancouver for a pre-season game as part of Kraft Hockeyville. Hockey is around the corner once again.

It’s been an off-season of big changes. Todd McClellan is out, Peter DeBoer is in, Antti Niemi is out, Martin Jones is in. Joe Thornton and Doug Wilson have officially buried the hatchet (but interestingly enough, nobody seems to be asking that of Patrick Marleau) I said over the summer I feel this team is capable of making the playoffs but it’s pretty clear it won’t be easy out here in the West.

The Sharks saw a significant and troubling drop in season ticket renewals to 85% where the team’s renewal rates have been more traditionally around 95% or higher. I think that drop is even more significant than it sounds because this is the 25th anniversary season and that’s the kind of year where I would expect people to be more likely to hang on for one more year just to experience the anniversary. One wonders what the renewal rate would have been if it wasn’t the anniversary.

The Sharks have a lot of work to do; they need to learn DeBoer’s system, they need to start winning back the trust and enthusiasm of the fans — they need to win. They need to get back into the playoffs. Doug Wilson feels the team is better today than it was last season, and I agree. But is it good enough?

Is Martin Jones really a #1 goalie? I think so, but he has to prove it. Will Patrick Marleau rebound from what can only be described as a terrible season last year? Will Tomas Hertl recover from his sophomore slump? (He seems to be doing the right things). Five of the defense are set but who fills out that crew? Will we see the return of Raffi Torres, and will he have an impact? If he starts out healthy, will he stay that way?

This team is full of question marks. I admit to being nervously hopeful.

At this point, I’m happy I can start talking about hockey again, instead of other things, such as, well, the next item. I’m ready to drop the puck. Are you?