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30 in 15: Sharks Must Balance Young Core, Old Guard

Wednesday, 09.25.2013 / 2:31 PM / News
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30 in 15: Sharks Must Balance Young Core, Old Guard
How will the Sharks balance their aging veterans with an emerging younger core? That\'s one of the issues San Jose is dealing with this season.

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

It's been a long offseason in the Bay Area.

The ball got rolling last season, when general manager Doug Wilson put in place his "reset/refresh" plan at the trade deadline.

Since then, he and coach Todd McLellan have added a couple attacking options, repurposed a defenseman to forward and locked in stars on extended deals. The San Jose Sharks own one of the best defenses in the NHL, and are backstopped by Vezina Trophy finalist Antti Niemi. At least one prospect is ready for the NHL limelight, and there are others coming soon.

But has San Jose done enough? The Sharks are chasing a 10th straight postseason berth, but there's also the decidedly more elusive prize of the Stanley Cup.

With realignment stretching San Jose's frequent-flier miles even further, the Olympics beckoning in February and a full season with an attacking philosophy on the horizon, the Sharks face more questions than answers as training camp marches on. Here are the three biggest:

1. Who will line up alongside Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau? -- The top line, with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, may be San Jose's most important heading into the 2013-14 season, so it's concerning that it's not a full line yet.

Couture and Marleau were immense in helping San Jose clinch a postseason appearance last season, and then combined for 10 goals and 19 points in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Even more impressive, the pair accomplished what they did with a rotating cast of forwards lining up to Couture's left.

The forward who skated with them most, Marty Havlat, will start the season on injured reserve while recovering from offseason surgery. Another occasional linemate, Joe Pavelski, will center the third line. The preferred winger thus far in training camp, Raffi Torres, will likely miss at least six weeks after sustaining an ACL injury in San Jose's second preseason game. That leaves Tommy Wingels, with whom Couture and Marleau didn't excel with last season, as well as newcomer Tyler Kennedy and top prospect Tomas Hertl to fight for that spot during training camp.

The most likely replacement for Havlat will be someone who, like the injured Czech, can move the puck and make plays from a natural wing position. With no one on the roster who exactly fits that description, it will be interesting to see how this situation pans out.

2. Will San Jose focus on the young core at the expense of the old? -- The Sharks invested this summer in young forwards Pavelski and Couture. Defensive centerpiece Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 26, is under contract through the 2017-18 season. The young core is intact, and Wilson couldn't be happier that his rising stars will be Sharks for the foreseeable future.

However, the veteran core of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle all can become unrestricted free agents after the season. Only Boyle, 37, has been rumored to be in talks for an extension. There's no reason to believe such cornerstones will be on the trading block anytime soon, but San Jose showed last season that it won't shy away from cutting ties with veterans.

One thing is for certain: San Jose will need all its stars, young and old, to be at their best if it hopes to go the distance. The Sharks will travel 57,612 miles this season, by far the most in the League, and will compete in a bigger, arguably more difficult Pacific Division.

Given Marleau's slip in production after an outstanding start to 2012-13, and Thornton possibly being asked to center a line between Burns, a longtime defenseman, and Hertl, a rookie, no amount of success is guaranteed for San Jose's aging stars.

3. Is San Jose's defense as airtight as it seems? -- San Jose's defense last season, in combination with Antti Niemi, consistently shut down some of the best attacks in the NHL. The current crop is a mix of youthful vigor and veteran savvy, one that combined brilliantly in 2012-13. However, questions remain as to whether the blue line can hold steady over the course of an 82-game season.

The tandem of Vlasic and Justin Braun is one of the most exciting in the League, as the pair established themselves during the second half of 2012-13 as capable of breaking up attacks as well as starting their own. In this way, the move to make Vlasic and Braun the top pairing helped the team during the "reset/refresh" as much as Torres' arrival or Burns' switch to forward. While Vlasic is a proven performer, Braun has played 135 NHL games in his career. If at some point this season he proves unable to play the critical shut-down minutes -- at full strength and on the penalty kill -- the Sharks will need a replacement.

So where do they turn? Boyle remains a top defenseman, but at 37 has no doubt lost a step when it comes to corralling the NHL's finest forwards. Matt Irwin projects well but has 38 NHL games on his resume. The remaining prospects, while perhaps future top-pairing defensemen, may not yet possess the NHL pedigree to jump in.

So while the organization lauds the drafting and prospect development that has yielded such a talented young crop of defensemen, uncertainty lingers.

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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