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30 in 30: Refreshed Sharks Chase 10th Straight Berth

Tuesday, 08.06.2013 / 12:10 PM / News
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30 in 30: Refreshed Sharks Chase 10th Straight Berth
When the San Jose Sharks open their season, they will look mostly unchanged from the team that clinched a playoff berth for nine consecutive seasons

When the San Jose Sharks open their 2013-14 season Oct. 3 versus the Vancouver Canucks, they will look largely unchanged from the team that clinched a Stanley Cup Playoff berth for the ninth consecutive season in 2012-13.

However, that continuity doesn't mean it's been a quiet offseason in the Bay Area. Since the April 3 NHL Trade Deadline, which, if you're talking to general manager Doug Wilson, is when his preseason planning actually began, San Jose has added or converted four forwards, shored up its prospect pool, and locked up franchise faces Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski on extended contracts.

All of the moves were calculated steps in what San Jose calls its "reset/refresh" philosophy. No personnel or philosophy decisions are made without first analyzing what came previous. By late March of 2012-13, the analysis was grim. After a 7-0-0 start, the Sharks were struggling, scoring at a glacial pace and dropping out of postseason position. With the trade deadline looming, Wilson and coach Todd McLellan started the strategizing usually reserved for the offseason.

The resulting "reset/refresh" system hinged on the coaches' recommendation that San Jose recommit to a north-south, attacking philosophy. Longtime Sharks who didn't mesh with the style were shipped out, including forwards Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus, and defenseman Douglas Murray. The Sharks added forward Raffi Torres and defenseman Scott Hannan, and moved Brent Burns from defense to the wing.

The moves paid dividends, especially the decision to bump Burns to forward for the first time in his NHL career, and San Jose clinched yet another postseason berth. Despite an impressive run as the Western Conference's sixth seed, taking the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings to seven games in the semifinals, Wilson knew the work was just beginning.

San Jose's first offseason moves showed confidence in its prospects, namely 19-year-old Czech phenom Tomas Hertl. The Sharks took him 17th in the 2012 NHL Draft, and the center is poised to make an impact in San Jose in 2013-14. Prognosticators have slotted Hertl to start on the second line alongside prodigious passer Joe Thornton and bruising Burns.

"This is a guy who's played in the World Juniors, he's played in a men's league (the Czech Extraliga) against men for several years, he's played in the World Championships," Wilson said. "He's 6-2, 210 already. We saw him in our development camp and we have very high expectations."

San Jose re-signed goaltending prospects Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri to one-year contracts. Wilson said he expects the pair, who split starts in Worcester of the American Hockey League last season, to compete in training camp to back up Antti Niemi.

"We've got a great history of developing goaltenders, and we feel very comfortable with our own guys we have in house, starting with Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri," Wilson said.

If little-used backup Thomas Greiss, who left this offseason for the Phoenix Coyotes, is an indicator, whoever eventually occupies the backup slot shouldn't expect too much playing time. That's because Niemi is quickly becoming one of the League's best goalies. The Finn started 43 of 48 regular-season games in 2012-13, clocking more ice time (2,580:46) than any NHL goaltender, and his 2.16 goals-against average and .924 save percentage earned him his first Vezina Trophy nomination.

"To me, he's just coming into his prime," Wilson told NHL.com. "Believe it or not, he's still a young goalie in this League. … Last year was the first year he came into camp healthy and ready to go. He played outstanding hockey for us."

Niemi backstopped the League's sixth-best defense, a formidable combination of speed and strength, youthful energy and veteran savvy. The top pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, each 26, routinely shut down the best combinations opponents had to offer, and as a group the blue line killed penalties 85 percent of the time and conceded 2.33 goals per game.

"I think the inclusion of Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson to our coaching staff made us a much better team in our own zone, how we killed penalties and how we played," Wilson said, referring to the Sharks' improvement in overall defense from 2011-12 to 2012-13. "So I think it's a combination of, one, Antti finding his place and his game is only going to be better, but also how we played as a team around him."

At the draft, Wilson moved to add the final piece to his forward puzzle, acquiring Tyler Kennedy from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for San Jose's second-round pick. The Sharks hope Kennedy, along with re-signed Torres, can bolster San Jose's attack-challenged lower lines.

"We acquired Raffi because he does play that north-south game," Wilson said. "Picking up Kennedy was the same thing: He played with high-end players, he can skate and he's got a competitive side.

"If you look at it from trade deadline on and playoffs, the four forwards that we've added to it, Torres, Kennedy, Burns and Hertl, gives you the depth of offensive attack that comes from rolling four lines."

Despite Wilson's insistence he's comfortable with that forward quartet heading into training camp, San Jose likely would have been more active in the free-agency window if not for Martin Havlat. The Czech forward had surgery this summer for a groin injury he sustained in the postseason and will be sidelined indefinitely. That means the Sharks weren't able to use one of two compliance buyouts on the final two years of his six-year contract.

Without Havlat, big contributions from Couture and Pavelski will be vital to San Jose's success.

"They've established themselves as important players," Wilson said of the pair, who each signed a five-year extension over the summer. "You know, they play all three zones, they do all the things needed to win. The most important thing we do is to try and make this a place players want to play. And for players to step up and commit to being with our team and allow us to keep the rest of the team together, we really appreciate that."

SHARKS OFFSEASON OUTLOOK

Additions: C Tyler Kennedy, D Rob Davison

Subtractions: C/RW TJ Galiardi, G Thomas Greiss

Promotion candidates: C Tomas Hertl, G Alex Stalock, D Matt Tennyson, C Travis Oleksuk

Author: Davis Harper | NHL.com Staff Writer

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 82 41 38 23 79
J. Thornton 82 11 65 20 76
P. Marleau 82 33 37 0 70
L. Couture 65 23 31 21 54
B. Burns 69 22 26 26 48
T. Wingels 77 16 22 11 38
D. Boyle 75 12 24 -8 36
J. Demers 75 5 29 14 34
T. Hertl 37 15 10 11 25
M. Nieto 66 10 14 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Stalock 12 5 2 .932 1.87
A. Niemi 39 17 7 .913 2.39
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