Their head coach: Peter DeBoer. Pretty impressive to take your team to the Stanley Cup Final and win the conference in your first year as the head coach. And it’s not even the first time he’s done that! He did the same thing in his first year at New Jersey in 2011-12 before they lost to the Kings. Those are his only two playoff appearances, ironically. He started off in Florida and failed to get the Panthers into the postseason in three years there. After the Eastern Conference title in 2012, the Devils couldn’t get back to the playoffs, and he was fired three and a half years holding that role. So if DeBoer has learned a thing or two in his first couple jobs, Sharks fans should be excited. This seems to be a guy who knows what he’s doing. But if he hasn’t learned anything? San Jose won’t see the playoffs again until he leaves.
Their captain: Joe Pavelski who just went OFF in the playoffs last spring. 14 goals and 9 assists in 23 playoff games. Wow. That’s like, sort of good. Pavelski has been on two US Olympic teams, the Vancouver and Sochi squads and has a silver medal because of those Vancouver Games. He’s 32 years old and been with the Sharks since his rookie year of 2006. We’ll see what he’s got in store ten years later.
Their 15-16 season: After years of torture, the Sharks FINALLY won the West and advanced to the Cup Final. They lost in 6 games to Pittsburgh, but it was still quite the ride for the Sharks. Even with a 3rd place finish in the Pacific, the other two California teams exited far sooner than expected, which includes the Sharks’ first round triumph over LA. Series wins over Nashville and St. Louis were to follow, and even though they’re still looking for the ultimate prize, the Sharks aren’t quite as snakebitten now.
How did they do against the Avs? The lone Avs’ hat trick last season came in North California, when Nathan MacKinnon got three in a game last December. The Avs won that game rather comfortably, and another in a shootout, but the Sharks won two games themselves in the season series, resulting in a 2-2 split.
When do they play the Avs this season? In San Jose on January 21st and at Denver on January 23rd (home and home series).
Will they be good? They will, but it’s hard to read what they’ll do. As odd as it is to say since they just won the Western Conference title, they’re the worst team in California and the third best in their division. That does mean playoffs, however, and with Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton, and Joel Ward around to help, you can’t count them out. Martin Jones in goal as the starter proved to be a great move last season, we’ll see if he can do it for a second straight year as a starter. My guess for this team as a whole: first round playoff loss. But if you told me they go on to win the Cup, I wouldn’t be shocked.
3 Questions with their SB Nation blog, Fear the Fin:
-No, the Sharks didn’t win the Cup last season, but you got to the Finals for the first time. How much of a relief is it to be able to say you guys have at least gotten there now? It feels pretty good, but until the Sharks win the Stanley Cup those demons won't truly be vanquished. I'm thrilled they made it as far as they did in 2016, but that emptiness remains until we get a parade in San Jose.
-So now that you have made it to the Finals, there’s only one other hurdle left to climb. What’s the key to getting that 16th playoff win, and is this the year it happens? Right now it's all about staying healthy for another deep run before Joe Thornton is gone. This is the last guaranteed year of the window so it's imperative that the Sharks do something very difficult — win the Cup the year after losing it. This team is deeper than last year's, I think, and could theoretically do it again.
-What exactly changed from 2015 to 2016 to go from missing the playoffs to being the West’s best team? The team on the ice was just a whole lot better. Several very bad decisions were made after the 2014 playoff collapse and it showed on the ice. Doug Wilson made some great signings during the 2015 offseason in Joel Ward and Paul Martin and Martin Jones ended up being a godsend. Having a better team helps!
Thanks to Jacob Sundstrom for taking the time to answer!