Sharks’ 2020 Offseason is Similar to Their 2015 Retooling

A bunch of guys stand around, wondering when their first skating lesson shall begin.

A bunch of guys stand around, wondering when their first skating lesson shall begin.

BY JOSH FROJELIN The Hockey Writers

The San Jose Sharks have rarely missed the playoffs, only twice since 2003-04. However, the 2019-20 season saw them miss out on the playoffs emphatically. Many fans hope this situation will be similar to 2015-16, when the team rebounded from missing the playoffs to making the Stanley Cup Final.

The Sharks responded similarly in the past retool, and possibly the newest one: signing a new coaching staff, trading for a goalie, and adding forward depth. So, let’s look at how the 2015-16 season went for San Jose, and see how the club and their new additions compare to these standards.

2015 vs 2020 Offseason

The Sharks’ 2015 offseason saw numerous additions, the most notable being the acquisition of Martin Jones from the Boston Bruins for a 2016 first-round pick and Sean Kuraly. The team also signed former fourth-round pick and Finnish hockey veteran Joonas Donskoi, veteran Joel Ward, and left-handed defenceman Paul Martin. Obviously, we have the benefit of hindsight now, but the tea, ended up knocking it out of the park, adding a starting goalie, first pairing defenceman, top-six forward, and a middle-six forward.

The Sharks added similar pieces this offseason, minus the defenceman. They traded for Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Donato, and signed veterans Matt Nieto and franchise legend Patrick Marleau. The impact of these acquisitions are unknown, however. So, let’s look at the key aspects to the team’s 2015-16 season, and see if the current squad can emulate similar stats.

Five 20-Goal Scorers

The club had five players tally 20 goals in the 2015-16 regular season: Joe Pavelski with 38, Brent Burns 27, Marleau 25, Tomas Hertl 21, and Joel Ward 21. Also, Logan Couture was on pace to do so, scoring 15 goals in 52 games.

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Joe Pavelski, former San Jose Shark, Nov. 28, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This would be quite a difficult task for the Sharks to achieve. San Jose has four forwards who are consistent 20-30 goal scorers in Couture, Hertl, Timo Meier, and Evander Kane. After that, large goal scoring totals are unknown. Newly acquired Donato scored 14 goals, and was on an 18 goal pace for the 2019-20 season. All Donato’s goals were even strength last season, so giving him power play time and increased playing time would likely increase his scoring.

Kevin Labanc has never hit 20 goals before, the closest he’s been was in 2018-19, scoring 17 goals. Burns and Erik Karlsson would be unlikely to hit 20 goals again. Burns hit 29 goals in 2016-17 and Karlsson scored 21 in 2014-15 but neither has done so since. It would be unlikely either of those defencemen, nor any of the depth forwards such as Marleau or Marcus Sorensen score 20 goals.

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Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This task would be difficult for San Jose to reach, however not unrealistic. Hertl, Meier, Couture, and Kane will definitely hit this mark. Then, it would likely be on Donato to be the fifth, if the team is to recreate the mark they hit in 2015-16. Which would replicate the Sharks’ 2015 offseason of bringing in a 20 goal scorer, which the team did with signing Ward.

League Average Goaltending

While this may seem like something every team should expect, that is not necessarily true with the Sharks. In 2014-15, the team’s save percentage was slightly below average, with the team’s save percentage at .907, under the .911 league average. The club’s last season however, was .895, which in comparison to the league average .905 is not great.

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Martin Jones signed a six-year extension with the Sharks on July 1. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Sharks responded in the offseason after below average goaltending the same way however, by trading for a goaltender. Although, the magnitudes of the trades vary. In the 2015 offseason, the Bruins flipped newly acquired Martin Jones to the Sharks, and it paid massive dividends. That next season, Jones played 65 games and had a .918 save percentage.

This offseason, the team acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Minnesota Wild. From the 2015-16 season through the 2018-19 season, Dubnyk was great. He was always clearly over league average and playing 60 or more games. Last season however was a completely different story. Dubnyk had an .890 save percentage last season. His goalie partner Alex Stalock posted a .910 save percentage behind the same defence. There are many reports that off-ice family issues greatly affected Dubnyk, and according to him have since been resolved, and feels ready for the upcoming season.

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                           Former Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

The Sharks need to bank on a rebound season from one of, if not both their goaltenders. Jones had an .896 save percentage last season and the season prior. These numbers are below average, however there is some reason to be optimistic.

These two goalies have been burnt out, playing 75% if not more of their team’s games until 2019-20. The recent time off and decreased workload should help both netminders, Additionally, the club’s goaltending as a whole saw improvement under head coach Bob Boughner and goalie coach Evgeni Nabokov. Hopefully less playing time, a large break in action, and new coaching helps goaltenders.

Elite Power Play

The Sharks’ power play was electric in the 2015-16 season. The unit was third in the league and had a 22.55% power play percentage. The unit was headlined by possibly the franchise’s all time best scorers in Thornton, Pavelski, Couture, Marleau, and Burns. Burns and Thornton led the way with both having over 20 power play assists, and Marleau and Pavelski each scoring over 10 power play goals. The club’s second power play also had a strong impact, mainly from Ward, Hertl, and Joonas Donskoi.

The current team’s power play is far less impressive. Last season Evander Kane had a stellar 14 power play goals, however, the next highest player was Burns with five. Additionally, Burns and Karlsson were the club’s only players with double-digit power play assists. Next season’s Shark’s power play unit probably consists of Karlsson, Labanc, Kane, Hertl, and Couture, with Burns, Meier, and Donato being the best of the second unit.

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San Jose Sharks’ Erik Karlsson celebrates with Timo Meier and Joe Pavelski (AP Photo/Josie Lepe, File)

Most likely, the Sharks will be unable to recreate the success the power play had in the 2015-16 season. The team’s power play will improve from its 17.46% last season, which was well under league average, with the addition of Donato, and Hertl and Karlsson being healthy.

My Opinion

The magnitude of the team’s moves this year are still unknown. The Sharks’ 2015 offseason was pivotal in their regular season performance, as well as the run to the Stanley Cup Final. However, I do not see a similar calibre in the moves made this offseason.

Donato would likely play first or second line wing, which would be huge for a club that was really missing a final top six forward. Dubnyk would need to return to a resemblance of his past form, which at 34 seems unlikely.

As noted previously, the team is yet to add a new defenceman this off season, unlike in 2015. San Jose has a looming gap at right defenceman, with no NHL-calibre players after Burns and Karlsson. Signing a free agent defenceman would greatly help the franchise possibly return to the post season. As of now, the Sharks have added similar players to those that were added in 2015-16, however the impact is likely not to be as great.