San Jose Sharks 2011-12 Preview: OK, we mean it this time!
Article by: John Cook
We’ve heard the saying for years now: This is the year! For the four-time defending Pacific Division champions and back-to-back Western Conference finalists, the San Jose Sharks hope that this truly is the season.
The Sharks, looking for answers to finally get over the hump, wasted no time in the off-season, signing Devin Setoguchi to a three-year extension and promptly trading him the next day to the Minnesota Wild for All-Star Brent Burns. The defenseman signed a five-year extension on August 1 and is expected to take pressure off fellow blueliners Dan Boyle and Marc-Eduard Vlasic, both logging the most time on ice respectively. Free agent signees Colin White and Jim Vandermeer will be solid additions in front of goaltender Antti Niemi.
General manager Doug Wilson, believing that goal scoring was not at a premium, traded sniper Dany Heatley to the Wild for Czech winger Martin Havlat. While Heatley is good for 40 goals, the Sharks gain a forward with proven goal-scoring ability and speed. Havlat appeared in the post-season with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009, scoring 15 points in 16 games.
Staying healthy will be key for Team Teal. Last season, only Antero Nittymaki suffered a long setback during the campaign. Niemi took the reins from there all the way to the conference finals. On Saturday night when the Sharks open against Phoenix, they will be without Niemi (cyst removed from knee) and Havlat (nearly recovered from off-season shoulder surgery). Players, such as Ryane Clowe and Torrey Mitchell who have battled nagging “lower-body” injuries the past few seasons, come into the season fully healthy
With veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau expecting to lead the club like they have in the past, look for forwards Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture to have their best season yet. Pavelski has come into his own as a reliable playoff performer and back-to-back conference final appearances in his first two years has only helped runner-up Rookie of the Year candidate Couture understand what it takes to make it deep into the playoffs.
Veteran forwards Michal Handzus and Brad Winchester, notorious thorn-in-the-side opponents, signed free agent deals over the summer and will undoubtedly bring grit and toughness to the fourth line for San Jose.
Head coach Todd McLellan, easily the best coach in team history, will not have to change much in terms of the Sharks style of play. Like the past three seasons, it is up to the players to execute and finally reward Sharks faithful a Stanley Cup title that they have longed for.