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Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Review: The Sharks are trying to survive their off-season exodus

Welcome to OilersNation’s Pacific Review in which we take a team-by-team look at the other seven teams in the Pacific Division. Today, we have the San Jose Sharks. 

Last season: 46-27-9 (101 points) – 2nd in Pacific Division 

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Notable Additions: Tom Pyatt, Dalton Prout, Jonny Brodzinski

Notable Subtractions: Joe Pavelski, Justin Braun, Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Ryan.

The San Jose Sharks have been an incredibly impressive pillar of consistency over the past decade-and-a-half.

Since the 2004-05 lockout, San Jose has made the playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons, navigating from the Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau era to the Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture era to the Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson era. Time and time again, the Sharks retool and remain competitive with new players taking on key roles and old players remaining in the mix.

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That said, last year really felt like The Year for the Sharks. With some veteran players on the verge of hitting free agency, they went out and acquired Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators right before the beginning of the season and then traded for one of the top rental options, Gustav Nyquist, at the trade deadline. Unfortunately for San Jose, they got dropped in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the St. Louis Blues, in the Western Conference Final.

San Jose now heads into 2019-20 as less of a Stanley Cup contender and more of a team battling to make the playoffs.

I mean, as St. Louis proved last year, anything can happen. The Blues were one of the league’s worst teams in January but then found a hot goalie and went on a tear all the way to their first-ever Stanley Cup. The league is incredibly wide open, and if you’re in the playoffs, you have a chance to win the whole thing.

But the Sharks went all-in last year and had a fairly substantial exodus in the off-season when it was all said and done. We’ve seen the Sharks manage to defy time and reinvent themselves time and time again over the past decade-and-a-half, but it won’t be easy to do in 2019-20 in what’s shaping up to be a very competitive Western Conference.

When San Jose acquired Erik Karlsson last September, it appeared as though it was going to be a one-and-done type situation. The Sharks would get their superstar defenceman to help push them over the hump but they wouldn’t be able to afford to keep him around long-term and he would head back East.

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Instead, Karlsson inked an eight-year deal worth $11.5 annually. San Jose managed to squeeze him into their top-heavy cap situation by dumping Justin Braun’s contract, getting Kevin Labanc signed to an absurdly low one-year deal worth just $1 million, and letting veterans Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi walk in free agency.

Signing Karlsson came at a substantial price, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s also a tremendous amount of upside. At a glance, Karlsson had a ho-hum season last year. He was limited to just 53 games due to injury and it took him a while to get settled on his new team. But when he got rolling, he looked like a two-time Norris Trophy winner.

Between December and when he got injured in mid-February, Karlsson had a run in which he looked like the best defenceman in the NHL. He put up 30 points over a stretch in which the team won 17 of 25 games, playing some of their best hockey of the season. Then, in the playoffs, Karlsson produced 17 points in 20 games, playing a massive role in San Jose’s shocking third-period comeback against the Golden Knights in Game 7 of the first round.

As amazing as Karlsson is when healthy, you can’t easily replace what San Jose lost this summer. Nyquist was a good deadline acquisition and Donskoi was a nice depth player, but captain Joe Pavelski was a key heart-and-soul player who drove a lot of the team’s offence. Pavelski put up 38 goals last season, the most of anybody on the team. The Sharks still have 30-goal scorers in Evander Kane, Timo Meier, and Tomas Hertl, but somebody else will have to step up and fill Pavelski’s role.

The other big issue the Sharks have is goaltending. Both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell struggled last season, posting a combined .894 save percentage. If the tandem could have a bounce-back season, it would go a long way in helping the Sharks mitigate the substantial loss of offence they suffered in the off-season. If they have a similar showing to last year, it’ll make Pavelski’s 38 missing goals even more dire to replace.

The Sharks have navigated through the departure of a key veteran before, as Patrick Marleau left the team in free agency after a 27-goal season, but the loss of Pavelski feels like a massive one. It’ll be interesting to see if this top-heavy San Jose group can continue to maintain their impressive level of consistency.

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