Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.
You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.
Added: Tyler Kennedy, Scott Hannan
Subtracted: Thomas Greiss, T.J. Galiardi
The Sharks are going to be good
The Sharks are an absolute top-to-bottom force. They’ve got the type of elite talent teams drool over in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (both in the league’s top-30 in points-per-game over the past three seasons). And hell, it goes way further than that with the Sharks these days: Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are among the league’s best at what they do too. Brent Burns is a monster on the forecheck who can chip in offensively, and Martin Havlat still has some of the niftiest hands in the league. The best part is, their depth forwards are legitimately great when compared to other teams. They’ve added Tyler Kennedy from the Penguins, and they still have one of the more underrated players in the league in Raffi Torres (people forget because of his suspension history that he can actually play).
Dan Boyle is a great puck-mover on the back-end who’s still one of the league’s most prolific offensive defenseman, Brad Stuart is skilled and reliable, and they have one of the most exciting new d-pairs in the league in Canadian Olympic camp invitee Marc-Edouard Vlasic and young Justin Braun. Put them all in front of elite talent and Cup winner Antti Niemi, and it’s not unreasonable to think this is one of, if not the best team in the West.
The Sharks are going to be bad
Ugh, where to start. They’re the beautiful building structure that’s rotting from the inside out. Martin Havlat is such a useless band-aid at this point the Sharks would’ve happily bought him out this summer…had he not been injured. He’s still not back from his latest hip thingy. Thornton and Marleau both broke into the NHL over 15 years ago and have clearly started sliding down the far side of the “value” graph. There will be some rookies in the league defending them for the first time thinking “Huh…I expected more.” Raffi Torres is a criminal with a torn ACL, meaning he won’t play for months and when he does it won’t take long until he’s back in the pressbox. Niemi’s overvalued because he won a Cup posting middling-to-bad numbers behind a good team. But hey, at least he’s got stalwart’s like Scott Hanaan and Matt Irwin in front of him to keep the puck out. A building rotting from the inside is prone to collapse; this metaphor actually makes a lot of sense.
Flippant barstool prediction
Probably a home ice playoff team, could go deep in playoffs, but this has to be their last kick at it with the Thornton core.
The Sharks numbers were….weird last year. They only scored 2.42 goals-per-game, which was 24th in the league…BUT…they generated 31.8 shots-per-game, which was fourth in the league (a good sign for them). They only gave up 2.33 goals-against per-game, which was sixth in the league…BUT…they gave up 29.1 shots per game, which was 15th (not so great). At 5-on-5 they literally gave up the exact same number of goals at they scored, which isn’t impressive…BUT…they scored on the powerplay 20.1% of the time (7th) and killed penalties at an 85.1% clip (6th). Sooo, I dunno.
Okay, but seriously:
This has to be one of those years where it all comes together, otherwise this whole “Sharks” thing as we know it is cooked. Needs: Thornton and Marleau stave off father time (along with Dan Boyle) and stay dangerous for another year. Good young players like Wingels and Braun take a step, Brent Burns is a force and maybe Martin Havlat has a bit of a renaissance. They’ll miss Torres, but he won’t be out for the whole year, so who knows – if everything comes together for them at the right time, this is a team that won’t be easy to eliminate in playoffs.
Your NHL.com preview: