2013-14 Division Rivals: Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks

The Sharks are the last of the Oilers’ new division rivals to qualify for the playoffs last year, and they’re one of three teams (along with Los Angeles and Vancouver) I see as real quality in the new Pacific Division. How does Edmonton stack up?

Again, I’ve included one basic statistic at each position on the depth charts below. For forwards, I’ve used points from last season projected over an 82-game schedule, for defencemen time on ice per game in 2012-13, and for goalies their 2012-13 save percentage. Players in italics did not play a significant number of games in the NHL in 2012-13; red indicates numbers come from the AHL or Europe while green indicates a previous NHL season. And again, the same caveat: these depth charts are my best approximation of each team and the line combinations should not be seen as definitive

Forwards

Less than six months ago, the story was that the Sharks had blown their window to win and needed to rebuild. Looking at their forward corps, it’s difficult to get behind that theory. Sure, Joe Thornton just turned 34 and Patrick Marleau is 33, but Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are the next generation – Couture has his whole career ahead of him and Pavelski’s still in his prime.

More than that, this is just a deep, balanced group. The center depth one through three is fantastic, Marleau is a top-end winger and Brent Burns sure looked like one last season. Martin Havlat’s injuries and top prospect Tomas Hertl’s experience are question marks, but with Torres, Kennedy and Wingels the Sharks have solid depth options that can move up if necessary.

In the top-six, Edmonton compares decently. That Sharks’ top line outplayed the Oilers’ version last year, but depending on the youth’s development curve and how Thornton/Marleau decline they’ll probably catch up in the next year or two. On line two, I prefer the Yakupov/Perron combination to Hertl/Havlat and I think it’s enough to saw off the difference between Gagner and Couture and put those lines on semi-even footing. Beyond that, the quartet of Torres, Pavelski, Kennedy and Wingels is significantly better in my view than the Oilers equivalents of Hemsky, Gordon, Jones and Smyth, and both teams have a couple of iffy guys and no real standouts in the minor league forward group after that.

Defence and Goaltending

In recent years San Jose has chosen to split up their two top-end defencemen – Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic – in order to add some dimension to their defence corps; that has allowed them to use younger players like Matt Irwin and Justin Braun in key roles. That top-end talent is the difference – from three through eight the Sharks and the Oilers match up well but Vlasic is a superior defenceman to Ladislav Smid and the Oilers simply don’t have a player like Dan Boyle, even at his age.

The Sharks will need to replace Boyle in the next few years (he turned 37 this summer), but given that Brent Burns can always be moved back to defence that wouldn’t seem to be a major problem.

In net, Antti Niemi has emerged as a pretty good start, near the bottom end of the NHL’s top-third the last few years, and he’s likely a little ahead of Devan Dubnyk. In the regular season, the Oilers probably knot up the goaltending battle by having a massively superior two and three goaltender (Stalock and Sateri are one of the weaker 2/3 combos in the NHL) but in a playoff series Niemi should give the Sharks the edge.

Overall

Reports of the death of the Sharks have been greatly exaggerated; they retooled on the fly last year by moving out underachieving veterans (Douglas Murray, Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus) in favour of draft picks and while there are some older players in key roles San Jose has a young group ready to step in and replace them as soon as the need arises.

They look to be likely outside the Oilers’ reach next year, though Edmonton can always hope than Antti Niemi spends drinking beer and playing video games.

Recently around the Nation Network

Ross Smith looks at the greatest players of all time – his choice for the top title may surprise – but for Oilers fans this Jets Nation piece is worth looking at for the first picture alone.

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  • DSF

    I trashed all replies to DSF and all DSF’s replies. It gets to be like a playground argument with.

    I don’t mind him posting and my ignoring his comments. It just gets ridiculous at times with all the back and forth taking over the thread.

    • G Money

      Yes, I’m not sure why it is that people keep feeding the troll.

      DSF posts are like a fake plastic turd in a swimming pool – they get a reaction, but they’re always the same and there is no substance (good or bad) there.

      I find San Jose a really tough team to assess (both my sisters and a lot of my friends live in Silicon Valley, so SJS are one of my ‘third tier cheer for’ teams).

      They went 25-16-7 which makes them a decent mid-upper-tier team.

      However, 14 of those wins came in two 7-game winning streaks, which I suspect makes them one of the streakiest teams in the league (no stats, just a hunch). The Oilers of course had the good luck to play them twice during the first of those streaks.

      So which is the “real” team, the one that went 14-0 or the one that went 11-16-7 the rest of the time?

      I’m inclined to believe the cliff for Thornton and Marleau is quite close at hand (just from watching the team last year). The hot streaks will get shorter, the mediocre streaks longer.

      I doubt this is the year that the Oilers are better than the Sharks, but I think its getting close.

  • Citizen David

    San Jose looks better than Vancouver to me. I still remember that thrashing they gave us last season. We looked like scrubs.

    As for us passing them in 2014-2015, the sharks may indeed be good at adding players through trade or free agency but it will be very unlikely they’ll land any elite players. They Oilers have the most insane cluster of developing superstars in the league. To have three first overall picks! Nobody has that. Throw in Eberle, Gagner, Shultz, Klefbom, and Nurse and we are going to be a force to be reckoned with very soon.

  • DSF

    Just further to my earlier post, some thoughts on Wilson’s team building strategy from NHL.com:

    “In the NHL, some teams draft and others deal.

    For the past few seasons, the San Jose Sharks have fallen primarily into the latter category, trading picks for established professionals.

    Logan Couture, drafted in 2007, represents the most recent NHL star taken by the Sharks.

    Since then, San Jose’s development program has ranked near the bottom of the League even as the Sharks clinched their ninth consecutive postseason appearance in 2012-13.

    That’s still the case heading into the 2013-14 season as the pool of future NHL stars looks shallow, but San Jose is making strides.

    The organization continues to be one of the best at drafting and developing NCAA prospects, and this year’s batch features a healthy mix of two-way centers, physical defensemen and a couple of explosive forwards, many of whom have the tools to make an impact for San Jose in 2013-14.

    http://sharks.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=679664

  • Rocket

    JW is the truth. Once again letting us all know how difficult it will be for The Oilers this upcoming season. I can only hope they start strong before some of the contending teams really wake up.

    Teams like Anaheim & Vancouver are slow starters so maybe that will help The Oilers early. Then again, that also depends on RNH’s shoulder.

  • Lexi

    I realize the Sharks have been a really well-run team, but I can’t help thinking they will be falling off a cliff in the next two or three years.

    In the games between the two teams in 2011-12, it looked like the Oilers were already close to passing them, but last year it look like every move Wilson made was a smart one. That said I can’t help but think that Pavelski’s contract will become to the Sharks what Horcoff’s was to the Oilers, and Courture will become a lone wolf in three years like Hemsky was here in the late 2000s. Other than Hertl, they have nobody under 24 who remotely projects as a top 6 forward, and when Thornton and Boyle either decline or leave there is no easy way for them to replace how valuable they have been.

    The Oilers probably will not pass them next year, but I can’t see any way that they are not better than the Sharks in 2014-15, other than catastrophic injuries.

    • Rob...

      The only thing that could save the Oilers from the Sharks this season is consistent and accurate reffing, something I doubt the league will ever achieve.

      I believe in what the Oilers top 6 can do, but only if the league clamps down on interference.

    • DSF

      Wilson, typically, has used trades and free agency to build his team rather than rely on the draft.

      As evidence of this, these players were acquired through that process:

      Thornton, Burns, Burish, Desjardins, Havlat, Kearns, Kennedy, Sheppard, Torres, Boyle, Hannan*, Irwin, Stuart*, Tennyson, Niemi.

      He has also been very successful finding players later in the draft.

      Your assumption that the Oilers will be “better than the Sharks” in 2014/15 has to be predicated on the assumption that Wilson will sit on his hands and watch his team go onto a death spiral.

      There is no evidence to support that kind of thinking.

      Thornton($7M), Marleau ($6.9M) and Boyle ($6.7M) become free agents that season freeing up huge amounts of cap room for Wilson to work with.

      By that time, the Sharks will be Couture’s team and you can count on Wilson making some very smart moves to fill out his forward roster.

      There is more than one way to run a railroad.

    • Good points here.

      I think a lot depends on the Sharks’ ability to replenish their young forward group. Assuming Burns slides back on D when Boyle leaves, they’ve got a nice framework on defence, but outside of Couture/Pavelski there aren’t a lot of sure things up front.

      Then again, Marleau and Thornton could have five years of good second line production left in them – if you figure that, it buys San Jose time to improve that group.

      There’s no question they don’t have the kind of emerging talent Edmonton does, though – I think the Oilers will pass San Jose and a lot of other teams once they get the top side of their defence sorted.

  • RexLibris

    San Jose, Anaheim, Vancouver…

    Just a guess here, Jonathan, but you wouldn’t be saving Calgary (ie: the best) for last would you?

    That is a comparison that I eagerly await – in one corner we have a 1967 Aston Martin, in the other a 1980 Dodge Aries…

    😉

        • DSF

          I believe you live in Calgary Rex.

          Is there any indication in the local media what is going on with Kiprusoff?

          Everyone is expecting him to retire but I haven ‘t heard anything official.

          Also, how will you react if the Flames finish ahead of the Oilers in the standings?

          Considering they were only 3 points apart last season even after the Flames blew things up, it’s not inconceivable that things might be pretty close again.