"Chomping at the Bit" - Can the Sharks repeat as Western Conference Champs?

 Joe Thornton fires a puck on net during the 2016 Stanley Cup. (photo by Christian Petersen)

By John Honea

Late September means a lot of things for sports in the Bay. The Niners and Raiders are in full swing, either the Giants or the A’s (or both) are typically in the MLB post season, and everyone these days gets amped as a new Warriors season approaches. This year, however, the cold weather sport in the South Bay demands to be respected, as September means hockey season is nearly underway as well. The San Jose Sharks may not have grabbed the Stanley Cup last year, falling short to Pittsburgh in 6 games, but that doesn’t mean their return to the ice this year is any less exciting. In fact, for Sharks fans, this is possibly the most exciting preseason they’ve seen since the franchise’s inaugural season in 1991.

For the first time, the Sharks approach the season as Conference champions and as legitimate Stanley Cup competitors. No longer is the veil of nearly 20 combined years of fruitless playoff runs hanging over the franchise. Granted, the Sharks didn’t bring home the ultimate hardware yet, but they did take the Western Conference for the first time in history and they’ve broken past the glass ceiling that many were beginning to think could never be cracked. The question is now, can they keep it up? Their veteran core is getting long in years, but guys like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau showed no signs of slowing down last season, and a number of players have been recalled from the junior leagues for this week’s start of training camp as many players are still playing in the World Cup of Hockey.

The Sharks made some bold moves in the offseason, making it clear that their intentions were to eye another run at Lord Stanley's Cup. Looking to bolster the depth of experience on the roster, the Sharks added defenseman David Schlemko, a 29-year-old defenseman from the New Jersey Devils. After Schlemko, the Sharks grabbed Mikkel Boedker from the Colorado Avalanche, a Danish right winger who brings to the table 84 career goals in 8 seasons, which will be a great addition to the Sharks’ already stellar attacking line up.

Offensive players like Tomas Hertl, Joel Ward, and Logan Couture are all still in San Jose, which can only mean good things for the Sharks. Couture brings his leadership back to the ice as a captain, and even though he is coming off of one his his lowest scoring seasons in his NHL career, he is still young for a veteran player and is poised for a comeback year. Tomas Hertl has officially stepped away from his rookie years and become a seasoned player, bringing the Sharks 21 regular season goals in 2015-2016 and 6 playoff goals.

Franchise player and the less-than-pretty face of the Sharks, Brent Burns, returns to lead the defensive side of the ice for the Sharks, and will offer up all the same talent he has since 2011 which includes an average of 17 goals per season and 7 goals in last year’s post-season run.  

In in the net, Martin Jones returns from last year and leads the way for the starting spot at goaltender, but prospects like Troy Grosenick and Aaron Dell look promising as productive back ups, both coming up from the Barracudas for training camp. It will be a young goalie crew for San Jose, but Jones has the playoff experience nonetheless, and they have gotten away with young back ups with success in years past.

Lastly, but importantly, Peter DeBoer comes back for his second season as head coach with the Sharks. Leading a team to 46-30-6 and to the Stanley Cup Finals is not bad at all for a coach in his first season with a team. But if we’ve learned anything in the Bay, it’s the excitement of what can be done by a coach in his second season, so 2016-2017 will be a true test for DeBoer behind the wheel.

With a returning lineup of experienced, franchise players, along with new prospects and solid trade acquisitions in the building, it is certainly possible that the Sharks could be looking at their second run at the Stanley Cup in 2016-2017. In any case, the Sharks are certainly hungry. With training camp upon us, the time has come to see what the teal and black can do in San Jose, and if they have the legs to make another run all the way to the end.