In the book of Matthew in the Bible, Jesus told a parable that ended with the aphorism, “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” The 19th century poet Percy Bysshe Shelley turned that into the slightly pithier, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”
The San Jose Sharks already had one of the best defence corps in the entire NHL, including a Norris Trophy winner in Brent Burns. So what did they do before the start of the season? They acquired another Norris Trophy winner in Erik Karlsson.
Rich getting richer, indeed.
The next team in the Pacific Division Preview of Pain is the Sharks, who should be the favourites to win the division, and could head back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
OFFENCE The Sharks were 13th in goalscoring last season with 247 goals. Logan Couture had 34 of those goals to lead the team, with Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, and Timo Meier all scoring 20+ goals. They also added Evander Kane in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres and he had 14 points in 17 games with the Sharks.
Guys like Kevin Labanc and Joonas Donskoi who can chip in some offence, not to mention the ageless wonder, Joe Thornton. That’s a decent amount of depth up front for the Sharks, giving them a well-rounded attack.
Of course, the drivers of the offence for the Sharks will largely come from the defence. Brent Burns led the Sharks in scoring last season with 67 points, while Erik Karlsson had 62 points for the Senators in what was, for him, a down year. With a better team, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Karlsson return to scoring 20 goals and 75 points.
The Canucks have top-end talent like Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat that compare favourably to the likes of Pavelski and Couture, but they lack the depth and the offence from the blue line.
DEFENCE Beyond Burns and Karlsson, the Sharks have one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has received some Norris Trophy votes himself. Vlasic will likely pair with Karlsson and the two should complement each other very nicely.
In fact, it almost seems unfair to the rest of the league. How is the other team supposed to every have the puck when Vlasic and Karlsson are on the ice together?
Young Joakim Ryan has been a good fit with Brent Burns on the top pairing for the Sharks, which leaves Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon to play on the third pair. Considering Braun is a pretty solid top-four defenceman himself, that third pairing should do just fine.
ESPN ranked the Sharks as number one on their list of the best defence corps in the NHL. It’s hard to argue with that ranking. The only team that might compare is the Nashville Predators.
GOALTENDING The Sharks have plenty of consistency in net, as Martin Jones has put up an above average save percentage over his three seasons as a starter in San Jose. While Jones hasn’t established himself as one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL, that kind of consistency while starting 60+ games should not be underrated.
Aaron Dell has been an excellent backup over the last two seasons for the Sharks, putting up a .920 save percentage in the 49 games he’s played. Being able to rely on a backup to that extent is a big plus.
SPECIAL TEAMS The Sharks had the second-best penalty kill in the league last season, led by Vlasic and Braun. They actually allowed the fewest power play goals against in the NHL, with just 34. The Sharks top forwards, like Couture and Hertl, also kill penalties, so the penalty kill was also a threat to score shorthanded.
The Sharks scored 8 shorthanded goals, giving them a goal differential of minus-26 on the penalty kill, the best in the league by a wide margin. By comparison, the Canucks’ differential was over twice as bad at minus-53.
The power play, on the other hand, wasn’t as strong, finishing middle of the pack at 16th in the league. The addition of Karlsson should help significantly, as will a full season of Kane.
OVERALL Since he just turned 39 years old, this might be Joe Thornton’s last shot at winning a Stanley Cup. If that’s the case, you have to give GM Doug Wilson a ton of credit for giving Thornton the best possible chance of winning, making a blockbuster deal for Karlsson that didn’t shred the rest of the roster.
If the Sharks are not the odds-on favourite to make it out of the West and into the Stanley Cup Final, they ought to be close. At the very least, they’re in the mix with the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and Vegas Golden Knights to be the best team in the Western Conference
Thornton might be the x-factor. Before a knee injury wiped out his season, Thornton had 36 points in 47 games. Unfortunately, that’s two significant knee injuries in two-straight seasons. If a 39-year-old Thornton with two wonky knees can somehow still put up 60 points, the Sharks are going to be nearly impossible to beat. If he fades or misses time with more injuries, the Sharks’ forward depth will take a tumble.
Either way, though, the Sharks are a sure bet to make the playoffs and should be good for a long playoff run.