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Photo Credit: Graphic by Mike Gould

2021 FlamesNation Pacific Preview: San Jose Sharks

The Calgary Flames are back in the Pacific Division this season. To get everyone reacquainted with the new divisional foes, we’re previewing every team.

There are three National Hockey League teams in the state of California. Two of them have won the Stanley Cup. The odd team out is the San Jose Sharks, who haven’t hoisted Lord Stanley (despite a trip to the final series in 2016) and look to be a team in transition as the NHL returns to its traditional divisional structure this season.

Let’s take a look at the Sharks, my cousin’s favourite hockey team.

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2020-21 recap

The Sharks were a streaky team last season whose averageness was dragged down by a few specific aspects of their team. They went 21-28-7 and finished with 49 points, missing the playoffs in the West Division by 14 points. They were a win-one/lose-one two for most of the season, with a handful of longer winning and losing streaks sprinkled in along the way – an eight game losing skid over two weeks in April basically killed any chance they had of playing post-season hockey.

The players on the team themselves were also various shades of average, albeit with a few strong performances sprinkled in here and there. Evander Kane – a good hockey player but apparently sub-par human being – led the team in scoring with 22 goals and 49 points. Four other players hit double-digits in goals: Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc.

No Shark had a plus/minus rating above +1, but they weren’t a horrible possession team. 19 Sharks played more than 200 even strength minutes last season: 10 of them had expected goals percentages north of 50% and collectively the team was 15th league-wide in expected goals. The team, in general, was just hamstrung by bad puck luck and the second-worst goaltending in the league.

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Changes

It should be no great shock that the team that had the second-worst goaltending in the league changed up their goaltending. Gone are Martin Jones (bought out) and Josef Korenar (traded to Arizona), and in their place are Adin Hill (from Arizona) and James Reimer (from free agency).

Aside from that, most of the changes the Sharks made were along the fringes. Gone are Alexander True and Christian Jaros, while Jonah Gadjovich, Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano are arguably their biggest additions. They have arguably more depth than they did a year ago. (It’s looking like 2021 first round pick William Eklund will make the team, too.)

The Sharks also made a change to their coaching staff, as associate coach Rocky Thompson couldn’t receive the COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons. He’s replaced by John Maclean, a veteran assistant coach who won a Stanley Cup while on New Jersey’s staff a few years back.

2021-22 outlook

There’s good news and bad news for the Sharks, folks.

The good news is their goaltending will probably be better due to their changes. The other good news is that basically everybody they relied upon last season is back. Captain Couture? Back! Meier? Back! Hertl? Back! Labanc? Back! Brent Burns? Back! Erik Karlsson? Back! Marc-Eduoard Vlasic? back!

The challenges are two-fold. The first one is relatively straightforward: new starting goalie Adin Hill, a product of Calgary, has never been an NHL starting goaltender before. He has played 49 NHL games in his career, and his high in a season is 19 games. His results have been good, but it’s reasonable to be bearish about their goaltending tandem: Reimer is a quality secondary goalie, but Hill is an unknown as a starter.

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Then there’s the Kane of it all. He’s their best player and most consistent offensive weapon, but he’s a player that’s had baggage following him around the league – from Atlanta to Winnipeg to Buffalo to San Jose. In San Jose, while he’s been quite good on the ice, he’s become a bit of a distraction off of it. He’s reportedly currently going through a really messy divorce, dealing with creditors, and under investigation by the NHL for violating the NHL’s COVID protocols.

He’s not with the club right now and it’s not clear when he’s going to be. Considering he’s their best offensive weapon, that’s a big challenge for the Sharks. At some point, they’ll need to decide if Kane is going to be a cornerstone for them for the long-term… or headed elsewhere.

Folks to follow

There are a lot of good folks to follow for Sharks content on Twitter:

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  • Kevin Kurz of The Athletic – @KKurzNHL
  • Curtis Pashelka of Bay Area News Group – @CurtisPashelka
  • Bill Arnold of Sports Features Group – @sfgwire
  • Sheng Peng of San Jose Hockey Now – @Sheng_Peng
  • Chelena Goldman of Field Level Media – @ChelenaGoldman
  • Josh Dubow of the Associated Press – @JoshDubowAP
  • Fear the Fin – @fearthefin
  • Blades of Teal – @BladesofTeal
  • Teal Town USA – @TEALTOWNUSA

Head-to-head

These two clubs didn’t meet last season due to the division-only schedules. The Sharks beat the Flames in two of three meetings back in 2019-20.

Here’s their scheduled meetings for 2021-22:

  • November 9: at Calgary
  • December 7: at San Jose
  • March 22: at Calgary
  • April 7: at San Jose

Odds and outlook

Based on the odds from our pals at PointsBet, the Sharks aren’t expected to make a big splash in the NHL in 2021-22.

  • To win the Pacific Division: 51:1 odds (seventh of eight teams, only Anaheim has worse odds)
  • To win the Western Conference: 41:1 odds (14th of 16 teams, only Anaheim and Arizona have worse odds)
  • To win the Stanley Cup: 81:1 odds (26th of 32 teams)
  • Their points over/under: 83.5

The betting markets suggest that the Sharks will be respectable, hovering around the .500 mark, but won’t be making a serious push for a playoff spot.