While they didn’t win the Stanley Cup last year, the Sharks shook a serious monkey off their backs by turning in consistently solid efforts throughout the playoffs. While their first round series with Colorado was a bit too close for comfort, but they overpowered Detroit and played the Cup champion Blackhawks tough in the Conference Finals. After losing longtime netminder Evgeni Nabokov, they went out and grabbed the Cup-winning goaltender, Antti Niemi in the summer. A few small tweaks to the roster here and there, but by and large, this is the same basic Sharks team that has been considered a Cup contender for some time now.
*Offense:’ The addition of Dany Heatley made this offense too much for just about anyone to handle. If there’s anyone who will still want to improve on their post season performance, it will be Heatley’s linemate, Joe Thornton. Despite leading the team with 89 points during the season, he was a team-worst -11 in the playoffs. Jumbo Joe has always taken flak for not performing in the clutch, but the rest of his team’s performance last spring, mainly that of the 2nd line of Clowe-Pavelski-Setoguchi, helped the Sharks make a legitimate Cup run. With a top six that will rival anyone’s around the league, San Jose also has a very good core of checking forwards and energy guys that complement the scorers, leading to the Sharks ranking 4th overall in goals per game, powerplay and penalty kill efficiency last year. Logan Couture also looked like he was more than ready to put in steady time at the NHL level.Grade: A>Defense:While the loss of Rob Blake to retirement certainly doesn’t help anything, the Sharks probably won’t be too worse off on the blueline this year. Youngsters Jason Demers and Derek Joslin have both shown promise, and with Andreas Lilja added for depth in the offseason, the Sharks have plenty of NHL-caliber defensemen. A top pairing of Dan Boyle and Doug Murray also adds a mix of both scoring and checking to complement the Sharks’ top scoring lines.Grade: B+’'’Goaltending:’’’ With Evgeni Nabokov at the end of his contract and looking for big money at age 35, the Sharks opted to do what many teams have done recently and found a much cheaper replacement in the talented young Antti Niemi. Thankfully for them, Niemi was unable to come to terms with the broke Blackhawks, because if they hadn’t grabbed him, they’d probably be looking at Antero Niittymaki as their starter on Opening Night. If Niemi is the real deal he looked like last year, the Sharks will be in very good shape for another playoff run.*Grade: A-‘