Despite finishing at, or near, the top of the Pacific Division nearly every year, the San Jose
Sharks have never been to a Stanley Cup
Final. They have made the playoffs nine straight seasons – three of those to the Conference Finals – but haven't been able to climb that last mountain to La Coupe Stanley.
This year could be different.
The Sharks front office retained most of the core players that crawled their way to the playoffs last season. Future superstar Logan Couture
? Check. Consistently reliable Joe Pavelski
? Check. Even former Shark-slayer Raffi Torres
was signed to a 3-year contract in June.
That's the good news. The Achilles heel in the Sharks' chances of a 2014 Finals appearance is their lack of offensive production. Last season, the Sharks finished 24th out of 30 teams in overall scoring and 18th in even strength situations. This season, they have no choice but to get that puck in the net more often if they want to make a serious run for the Cup. Logan Couture
can only do so much!
The key in 2014 may be Raffi Torres
. Though Torres joined the Sharks last season with only 11 regular season games remaining, his addition helped the team lock down a playoff berth and was crucial the 4-game sweep of the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. If Torres hadn't been suspended for an illegal hit in the first game of the Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks could have sailed into the Finals.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson took a risk with re-signing Torres. His aggressive style has landed him a couple suspensions in his day, but Torres' contributions in such a short period and his reputation as a loyal and hardworking teammate convinced the front office they wanted him on their side. It doesn't hurt that his bruising style draws opposing defensemen off the other forwards in his line, creating more scoring opportunities.
The Sharks also need some help in goal. No, not bashing the fearsome Finn, Antti Niemi
. After receiving little respect for helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup
in 2010, Nemo posted save percentages over .917 during his 3 years with San Jose
. Were it not for his seemingly impossible saves in 2013, there's a good chance the Sharks wouldn't have pulled out of their mid-season slump (only 6 wins in 23 games – yikes) and made the playoffs. No doubt he deserved to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season.
Nemo can't do it all, however. His backup, Thomas Greiss, was signed by the Phoenix Coyotes this summer. Not a huge loss for San Jose
, with Greiss proving to be underwhelming in six appearances in goal. In response, the Sharks signed Worcester Shark Alex Stalock
to a one-year deal in the offseason. He will likely compete during camp with prospect Harri Sateri
for the backup spot.
Overall, the future looks bright for San Jose
. With core players being retained, Doug Wilson hinting at a restructured defense and two eager goalie prospects willing to battle for the backup position, the Sharks are making the right moves to be successful this season. If they stay aggressive and healthy along the stretch, they have a strong chance of breaking the barrier that is the Western Conference
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Tags: Alex Stalock
, Antti Niemi
, Harri Sateri
, Joe Pavelski
, Joe Thornton
, Logan Couture
, Raffi Torres
, San Jose
, San Jose Sharks
, Stanley Cup
, Western Conference