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Pacific Division Overview: San Jose Sharks move on without Patrick Marleau

Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones signed multi-year extensions this offseason, but the team lost forward Patrick Marleau in free agency.

2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

San Jose’s 2016-2017 Season

After reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history in 2016, San Jose entered last season hopeful to build on that success. Though San Jose did not experience the so-called Stanley Cup hangover, the season was a bit of a mixed bag as the team went 46-29-7, good for third overall in the Pacific Division. A first-round postseason exit at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers capped off a disappointing year for the Sharks, who went 16-11-3 against division opponents.

2016-2017 Roster Highlights

It’s hard to reflect on the Sharks’ 2016-2017 season without marveling at the performance of Brent Burns, which earned him the Norris Trophy as defenseman of the year. He scored 29 goals (including 27 in the first 59 games) and 76 points in 82 games, becoming the first defenseman since Brian Leetch to record 75-plus points in back-to-back seasons. However, as he faded down the stretch, so did the Sharks.

Captain Joe Pavelski had another solid season, chipping in 29 goals and 68 points along with 22 power play points and seven game-winning goals. However, it was a drop from his 78-point performance the year before. It's unclear if this is a sign of things to come for the aging star or whether it was a side effect of the team's overall regression.

Joe Thornton took a substantial step back in production last year, scoring just seven goals and 50 points compared to the 82 he recorded in 2015-2016. Part of that can be attributed to age, though Jumbo Joe (now 38) averaged 18:04 of ice time per game, the second highest among forwards on the roster.

Goaltender Martin Jones put together a second consecutive 35-win campaign but saw a decline in his peripheral stats, seeing a drop in save percentage from .918 to .912 and a rise in goals against average from 2.27 to 2.40. He was arguably the Sharks' most valuable player in the postseason, however, finishing the six-game series against Edmonton with a 1.95 GAA, .935 SV% and one shutout.

But the most concerning performance of the season was the play of newly-acquired winger Mikkel Boedker, who managed just 10 goals and 26 points. A lot more is expected of the 27-year-old Dane this year.

Most Significant Offseason Moves

The Sharks' offseason was defined by two overall storylines. The first of which was the fate of Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both of whom were set to hit unrestricted free agency July 1. In the end, the Sharks were unwilling to offer Marleau the three-year term he was seeking (he turned down a two-year deal). As a result, Marleau signed a lucrative three-year, $18.75 million contract with Toronto, a deal that carries a $6.25 million cap hit. Thornton also wanted a three-year term, but ultimately accepted a one-year, $8 million extension. Losing Marleau and his 27 goals from last season will be a tough break for the Sharks, though it may help avoid potential cap complications down the line.

The other major offseason storyline saw the Sharks re-sign Jones and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to massive extensions. Jones, who has one year remaining on the three-year, $9 million contract he signed in July 2015, signed a six-year, $34.5 million extension. The deal carries a $5.75 million cap hit, which will be the eleventh-highest cap hit among goalies when it kicks in starting in the 2018-2019 season. Vlasic, considered one of the most underrated defensemen in the game, agreed to an eight-year, $56 million deal, which carries a $7 million cap hit. The Sharks now have both players locked up for at least the next seven seasons.

General manager Doug Wilson also re-signed forwards Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson and Chris Tierney. Wilson traded defenseman Mirco Mueller to New Jersey for two draft picks, and the team lost defenseman David Schlemko in the expansion draft.

San Jose’s 2017-2018 Lineup

The Sharks kicked off the 2017-2018 season with a 5-3 loss Wednesday night against Philadelphia. Kevin Labanc, who skated on the top line with Pavelski and Thornton, scored two goals but took three costly penalties that led to three power play markers for the Flyers. Logan Couture also scored for San Jose, with Pavelski, Thornton, Burns and Brendan Dillon collecting apples on the night. The team’s line combinations were as follows:

Forwards

Labanc—Thornton—Pavelski
Boedker—Couture—Donskoi
Hansen—Hertl—Meier
Karlsson—Tierney—Ward

Defensemen

Martin—Burns
Vlasic—Braun
Dillon—Demelo

Goalies

Jones
Dell

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the Sharks will ice a roster that's almost identical to the one from April, but missing the veteran savvy of Marleau (who scored twice in his Maple Leafs debut Wednesday). A fan favorite throughout his 19 years in San Jose, Marleau will be sorely missed. But for a team with an aging core in an increasingly competitive division, other players throughout the lineup will have to step up in order for this team to find success. Almost everyone on the team (with the possible exception of Burns) will have to be better this season, from veterans like Joel Ward and especially Boedker to young talent like Donskoi and Meier. Health will be an important factor, especially for forwards Couture and Tomas Hertl, who can't seem to catch a break. But despite past playoff disappointment and the aging core, if the young players find a way to contribute offensively, this team has to be included in any playoff conversation.