2022-23 NHL Team Preview: San Jose Sharks


LAST SEASON

The Sharks, like many declining former contenders, have struggled to forge an identity for themselves in 2021-22.

Of course, the Sharks roster still had plenty of pieces that helped the team consistently make the playoffs for much of the 2010s, including Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl (who signed an extension of eight during the season), Timo Meier, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. But even with those players still in San Jose, the Sharks missed the playoffs by 20 points last season — and that was before they sent Burns to the Carolina Hurricanes this summer.

Last year’s Sharks were utterly mediocre (except for their oddly excellent penalty kill). Their goalkeeper was average, their defense was unspectacular and they could barely score. Head coach Bob Boughner struggled to make his team worth watching in every way and paid for it with his labor at the end of the season, with new general manager Mike Grier choosing to replacing him with former New York Rangers head coach David Quinn.

After emerging from a lackluster season as the No. 11 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, the Sharks opted to trade way up to No. 27. Although they also added picks No. 34 and 45 in the deal, the Sharks are a team that could misuse an infusion of high-end talent. The Arizona Coyotes ultimately picked center Conor Geekie with the No. 11 pick, and Frank Nazar, Rutger McGroarty and Jonathan Lekkerimaki were still there for the taking. Time will tell if the Sharks made the right decision by dropping 16 spots in the first round.

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MAJOR ADDITIONS AND DEPARTURES

Arrivals
Oskar Lindblom, AG
Luke Kunin, RW
Nico Sturm, C
Matt Benning, D.
Markus Nutivaara, D
Steven Lorentz, AG
Evgeny Svechnikov, AD
Aaron Dell, G.

departures
Brent Burns, D (Car)
Adin Hill, G (VGK)
Rudolfs Balcers, AG (Fla)
Jonathan Dahlen, LW (Sweden)
Ryan Dzingel, C (Car)
Nicolas Meloche, D (Cgy)
Alex Stalock, G (chi)

OFFENSE

Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier are both excellent front-line forwards in the National Hockey League. Logan Couture is a solid top-six center who turned 33 in March and is gradually declining. Beyond those three players… well, the Sharks are having a bit of a hard time. It’s no coincidence that they finished 30th in the league with just 214 goals last season.

Top prospect William Eklund is not enough ready for the spotlight in San Jose; 2022 first-round pick Filip Bystedt is still years away and projects himself more as a center of the last six. Alexander Barabanov is in the NHL and scored 39 points last season, but struggled to drive play at either end of the ice. At 28, he’s unlikely to be a long term hunk.

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The Sharks added forwards Luke Kunin, Oskar Lindblom and Evgeny Svechnikov this summer, but huge question marks accompany the three forwards. Lindblom probably has the best chance of becoming a key player, having followed well in Philadelphia before a diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma in 2019 sidetracked his career. Look for Lindblom to potentially buy time on the Hertl wing at some point this year.

DEFENSE

Brent Burns’ departure from San Jose marks the end of an era that began in 2011. The Chewbacca-looking defenseman won the Norris Trophy with the Sharks in 2017 but has shown signs of decline in recent seasons , and his heavy contract did not square with the new direction taken in San Jose. It will be interesting to see what Burns can still do on a contending team in Carolina.

Without Burns, the Sharks’ defense looks a little sterile, with Erik Karlsson (still very effective but often injured) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (very expensive, significantly less effective) the older statesmen at fullback. It also looked like promising youngster Nikolai Knyzhov would return at the start of the 2022-23 season after missing the entire 2021-22 season with a groin injury, but suffered a torn right Achilles. in a training session in August and will would have be on the shelf for about six months.

Grier made a few small additions to the Sharks defensive lineup this summer, the most notable being Matt Benning on a four-year deal and Markus Nutivaara on a one-year « show me » deal. Benning, 28, has long been an analysis darling and should consolidate things on the right side behind Karlsson and Vlasic; Nutivaara, also 28, missed all but one game with the Florida Panthers last season due to injury and will be looking to rebuild his value in San Jose.

GOALKEEPER

With Adin Hill leaving for the Vegas Golden Knights to solve their goaltending conundrum, the Sharks will look to James Reimer and Kaapo Kahkonen to hold the fort this season.

Kahkonen, 26, is the more promising of the two. Expelled from Minnesota after the Wild acquired Marc-Andre Fleury at the 2022 trade deadline, Kahkonen found success with the Sharks down the stretch. Despite winning just two of his 11 games after being acquired by San Jose, Kahkonen – the 2020 AHL Goaltender of the Year – posted a .916 save percentage with his new team. .

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Reimer, 34, has been around the block and is a possible candidate to be traded at some point during the 2022-23 season. The longtime Toronto Maple Leafs starter remains more than serviceable, having gone 19-17-10 with a .911 save percentage in 48 appearances with the Sharks in 2021-22.

The goalie isn’t expected to sink the Sharks this year, and Kahkonen might be able to steal a few games in his first real run as a starter.

FRAMING

Quinn is back behind an NHL bench. The 56-year-old from Cranston, Rhode Island previously served as head coach of the New York Rangers from 2018-2021, guiding the team to the expanded playoff qualifying round in 2020 (where they were swept by the Hurricanes of Carolina).

Quinn enjoyed success as head coach of the Boston University Terriers from 2013 to 2018, leading them to a five-season record of 105-69-21 and the NCAA National Championship Finals in 2015. He also served as the head coach of Team USA at the 2022 Winter Olympics, although the team failed to reach the medal round.

The Sharks fired head coach Boughner and assistants John Madden and John MacLean in July. While the Sharks’ power play struggled under MacLean, Madden helped the Sharks post the second-best penalty kill percentage (85.2) in the entire league. After being fired, Madden joined the Arizona Coyotes as an assistant coach. the Sharks then hired Scott Gordon, Brian Wiseman and 2022 Calder Cup champion head coach Ryan Warsofsky as assistants under Quinn.

RECRUITS

He’s not on our projected roster, but Thomas Bordeleau could play a huge role for the Sharks this season. The 20-year-old center got off to a great start to his NHL career last year, registering five assists in eight appearances and scoring a dazzling shootout winner in a huge season-ending game with massive playoff implications for the Vegas Golden Knights.

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The Sharks originally selected Bordeleau in the second round (38th overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft. If he can become a top-six center, things could turn around faster than expected in San Jose.

On defense, Artemi Kniazev is coming off a strong first AHL season with the San Jose Barracuda and could push for a spot with Knyzhov who is expected to miss the opening months of 2022-23 with his torn Achilles. Kniazev, a 2019 second-round pick, played one NHL game with San Jose last season; the 5’11” left-hander from Kazan, Russia, scored seven goals and had 28 points in 60 AHL games with the Barracuda.

BURNING QUESTIONS

1. Can Luke Kunin live up to his stock project? The Sharks acquired Kunin from the Nashville Predators in July in exchange for John Leonard and a third-round pick. When Minnesota selected Kunin with the 15th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, they expected him to be a mid-six or even top-six forward in the NHL. But he only scored 22 points in 82 games with the Predators last year. Can Kunin find a house in San Jose?

2. Can Erik Karlsson stay healthy? Karlsson looked a lot like himself when he was healthy last year, but he still missed 32 games. With five years left on his huge deal, the Sharks will no doubt be hoping Karlsson has more to give. If the 32-year-old Swede can stay healthy and reach 50-60 points in a full season, there are sure to be teams interested in acquiring him – although part of his $11.5 million cap will be preserved.

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3. What can Steven Lorentz do? The 26-year-old forward was the main element Carolina sent to the Sharks as part of the Burns deal. He scored eight goals and had 13 points in 67 games for the Hurricanes last season, but spent most of the year in a deep role and averaged just 10:53 a night. Could Lorentz step up with a bigger opportunity to shine in the Bay Area?

PREDICTION

The Sharks are still in a transition period. Even their shiny new uniforms – a significant improvement over the old ones, by the way – are called the « Evolve » jerseys.

The Flames, Oilers and Kings are clearly better positioned to make the playoffs this season, and there’s a strong case to be made for the Canucks and Golden Knights as well. Ultimately, it would be a little surprising if Grier even waits his Sharks team to get closer to the playoffs. They might even finish last in the Pacific Division.

We’ll hedge our bet and say the Sharks finish seventh in the Pacific, but with a caveat: Bordeleau will kickstart the process to make hockey fun in San Jose. List him as a threat to the Calder Trophy.

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