2015-16 NHL Season: Preview and Power Rankings

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Mar 29, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14) scores past San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock (32) during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Number 23:  San Jose Sharks

There has been no more frustrating team over the last several seasons than the San Jose Sharks.  Coming into the 2015-16 NHL season that shouldn’t be the case.  Finally, expectations for this tortured franchise have been tempered and rightly so in a loaded Western Conference.

Sure the best players are still there.  Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton continue to defy aging and produce near the top of the league.  Along with Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture provide one of the NHL’s best top three center groups.

San Jose Sharks
San Jose Sharks /

San Jose Sharks

While center is a position of strength, the Sharks got almost nothing out of their wingers last year.  After Marleau’s 57 points, the next best winger is Matt Nieto with 27 points. Nieto is still young and has scored ten goals in each of his first two seasons. A boost there would help solve part of the wing crisis in San Jose.

There is also big pressure on the defense and goaltending when you look at how poor a possession team the Sharks were last season. Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are a nice start but if your team is getting outscored 5-on-5 despite holding possession more often than the opponent, you’ve got issues.

Do Sharks fans trust GM Doug Wilson to fit them?  According to hockeysfuture.com, the Sharks don’t exactly boast world-beating talent ready to arrive.  Will Wilson trade an aging-yet-productive veteran to get young players or prospects?  Or will he keep Thornton just to have another season ripping him in the media?

Lastly, there are questions in goal with both Alex Stalock and Martin Jones getting a chance to replace Antti Niemi.  Both have looked good in stretches, but neither has been asked to play much until this season.  Add San Jose to a list of teams with questions about young, unproven goaltenders.  I need to see results over a larger sample size before I push San Jose higher in the 2015-16 NHL season rankings.

The San Jose Sharks will make the playoffs if:  Doug Wilson stops trying to be the smartest guy in the room and gives new coach Peter DeBoer the depth he needs to battle the stacked Western Conference.

A successful 2015-16 NHL season looks like:  hate to beat the dead horse, but if Doug Wilson is fired this team can finally get a hard restart.  If the Sharks struggle early with a new coach, Wilson’s seat should and will get hot.  Let a new GM make the roster decisions Wilson won’t.

Player to watch:  Tomas Hertl.  Is his development being hurt being the fourth center?  He’s young at 21, and the Sharks need to know what they have in him.  After a bit of a sophomore slump, I expect Hertl to bounce back strong and make one of those ahead of him on the depth chart expendable at some point during the 2015-16 NHL season.

Next: Number 22: Top Draft Picks To Pay Off This Year