Are the Sharks a Playoff Team? Teal Sunglasses for July 26, 2015

Are the Sharks a Playoff Team in 2015-2016?

The dust has settled and we’re starting to gear up for training camp. The drafts is one, the free agency period complete, the key free agents signed, and so now we can take a step back and ask… Are the San Jose Sharks a playoff team in 2015-16?

I have to say I’m happy with the team as it stands today, and so I’ll go on record and declare that I think it’s a playoff team again next season. Will they win the Western Conference or the Pacific Division? Unlike some I’m not so sure. Will they go deep in the playoffs? Let’s ask that question again around the start of the season — it’s far too early to predict rationally and I think there’s a good chance there’ll be at least one more roster move by Doug Wilson before October.

I really like the addition of Martin Jones and allowing Annti Niemi move on. Niemmi would be at best as good as he was last season and possibly into the inevitable decline of an aging goalie, and last year, he was merely adequate, which wasn’t good enough in front of a not-deep-enough defense. Jones isn’t fully proven but I love the game he plays and I think he has a significant upside. There’s some risk here but I feel it was one of the best possible choices the Sharks could have made. Not insignificant: Jones’ age places him within the age of the new core group the Sharks are building around Couture and Pavelski, and that means we have the chance of building out a new team that will stay together for a number of years as the older veterans age out.

I also really like the Joel Ward signing; he brings a character and presence the team needs and some great depth and hustle on the third and fourth lines. He also removes the worries about whether Raffi Torres will be able to play and be effective — if Torres can, he’s now a bonus player and not a critical piece of the puzzle. Ward brings a work ethic and an understanding of what it takes to win I like having around the younger players and a sandpaper edge this team really needs. Great signing here.

I also like the addition of Paul Martin; the Sharks desperately needed to add defensive depth and they got it with Paul Martin. He’ll suck up a lot of minutes, add a minor power play presece and give you 25 points along the way.

Let’s not forget the coaching and management changes: Peter DeBoer is in as head coach, and he’s added Bob Boughner as a coach, and the Sharks have hired Johan Hedberg as coach and goaltending coach. These are all good, solid hires and I like the idea of having Hedberg pushing Jones in goal; I think it sets up for our goalies to really step up and play better. As much as I liked Todd McLellan, it’s become clear it was time to shake up the people in the mix, and I expect he’ll have success in Edmonton, but these changes make me think the Sharks have improved themselves as well.

The loss of Tarasov to the KHL is disappointing but not surprising. I don’t see it as a significant impact on the Sharks now and it’s unclear if Tarasov would ever turn into an impact player for San Jose. We’ll see if he chooses to return to North America later; the Sharks retain his rights.

As of right now, the top five defensemen look to be Martin, Brent Burns, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Brendon Dillon, with Mirco Mueller and Matt Tennyson in the depth chart chasing the 6th and 7th spots. Kevin Kurz argues that Mueller would be best served starting the season as a Barracuda and I agree, and this is a place where we might see another depth defenseman brought in to allow that.

Looking at forwards (and again cribbing a bit from Kurz), the roster looks something like this:

Top six: Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Couture, Karlsson and Hertl.

Second six: Joel Ward, Tommy Wingels, Ben Smith, Mike Brown, Matt Nieto, Chris Tierney

That leaves two roster spots to fill out. Barclay Goodrow and Nikolay Goldobin seem on the short list, but this is something that’ll sort itself out during training camp. The status of Raffi Torres is unknown but also has to be an option here if he’s healthy.

The point I take from this is that the roster, even if there are no changes from the obvious choices, seems to be in good shape and we could open the season tomorrow with this crew and I think we’d do okay.

And that’s why I think this team is a playoff team.

Can we start the season yet?

The NHL in Las Vegas and other expansion thoughts

The initial deadline for expansion has passed, and two cities have submitted applications and written checks to be considered.

Las Vegas has an owner with money, a new arena almost built, and they ran a test to see how many people were willing to commit to season tickets and had a strong response. An expansion team in Vegas now looks to be a no-brainer unless something unforseen crops up.

Quebec City also joined the party, again with a new building, enthusiastic ownership and a long NHL history with the Nordiques to build from.

Missing in the expansion were the city of Seattle, which has multiple possible buildings and owners and a lot to sort out before they’re ready to commit to joining the NHL, and the Greater Toronto Area, which, if you listen to hockey writers who live in the Greater Toronto Area, is the biggest no-brainer and the NHL are idiots for not donating a free franchise to the area next week. Lost in the discussion is there’s no clear owner, no building, territorial rights with the Leafs (and possibly Sabres) to work out and how to share the media dollars spread through the area. Other than that, the idea is perfect. (seriously, I saw someone suggesting, and they seemed serious, that the second team just share a building with the Leafs. Ask the LA Clippers how much fun it is being the N+1 tenant in a building; the logistics of this are a lot more complicated that it seems)

It’s pretty clear the league wants to expand by two teams. It’s also pretty clear that the league would really like those cities to be Vegas and Seattle. They seem uncomfortable with Quebec City for various reasons including regional politics but we’ll see how this sorts itself out.

One wild card in all of this is that the league (protestations notwithstanding) there is a strong possibility the league is going to have to broker a team move sometime in the next few years. The gang war that’s been going on between the City of Glendale and the Coyotes has just been put on hold for a couple of years but that two years is merely a delay in the final reckoning for the franchise; it gives both sides time to figure out if they can live together, or to decide they can’t and negotiate an amicable divorce. I’m betting on divorce.

So the league needs three cities to host NHL teams over the next 3-5 years. The deal in Arizona means the league won’t have to scramble to find a place to take the Coyotes, but I do expect sooner or later the experiment in Arizona will end.

So — Vegas will get an expansion team. Sooner or later Seattle will sort itself out and decide which building to build and which ownership group to manage it, and then it’ll join the party. Will it get the second expansion team or will Quebec City? I don’t know, and I don’t think it matters. Sooner or later, I think all three cities will end up with teams and be happy with being in the league.

If for some reason Seattle isn’t ready when the Coyotes have to move, the league has a usable fallback by placing them in the Rose Garden in Portland for a season or two until the building is ready. If for some reason Seattle falls through completely, then you might see Kansas City or Houston brought up as options, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiam in or for those cities right now.

All in all, I think now is a reasonable time for the league to consider expansion. I don’t buy the talent dilution complaint, and I think all three cities have what it takes to be successful.

Overall, I think this is a positive for the league, but we need to wait and see how the other two cities sort out. I am going to schedule a trip to Vegas to see that team once it starts playing; having watched hockey in Vegas back in the ancient past of the IHL’s Las Vegas Lightning, one can only imagine the show they’ll put on in that place.

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Teal Sunglasses is written and produced by Chuq Von Rospach. Chuq was a 20 year season ticket holder with the Sharks starting with the franchise’s first season and one of the operators of the Plaidworks Sharks mailing list and many other sports mailing lists on the internet.

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