The San Jose Sharks exceeded expectations by getting into the Cup Final. Let's take a look at a review of their 2015-16 season.
Expectations coming into the 2015-16 season
Expectations for the San Jose Sharks were not very high coming into this season. Many people thought the Sharks wouldn't even make the playoffs after missing the playoffs for the first time in ten years. General Manager, Doug Wilson, had different expectations. With a series of offseason moves that brought in a new starting goalie, Martin Jones, a new top-four defenseman, Paul Martin, and a veteran forward capable of playing up and down the lineup, Joel Ward, the Sharks stocked up. The Sharks addressed many of their voids from the 2014-15 season and internally believed they could contend for the Stanley Cup. Outsiders thought they would be irrelevant this year.
The Sharks were quick out of the gate with a 4-0 start to the season. They looked faster and looked like they had a new identity. This was short lived after the devasting injury to center, Logan Couture. Couture missed a total of 30 games and without him, the Sharks struggled. Once Couture got healthy and settled back into the lineup, the Sharks looked like a different team. The Sharks became one of the most dominant teams during 2016 and carried that momentum into the playoffs.
The Sharks made mince meat of the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs. They defeated the Kings in five games and slew their old playoff demons from 2014 when they gave up a 3-0 series lead to the same Kings. The Sharks were tested by the Nashville Predators in the second round but ultimately got through the Predators after a dominant game seven win. The St. Louis Blues posed a new challenge to the Sharks and were seen as having superior depth throughout their lineup with a more experienced goalie. The Sharks quieted all doubters by disposing of the Blues in six games to move onto their first Stanley Cup Final in history.
The Cup Final is where the magic started to run dry for the Sharks. They looked slow compared to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, Pittsburgh Penguins. Somehow the Sharks were able to extend this series to six games, but after losing Tomas Hertl to an injury in game two, they were playing catch-up the entire time. The Penguins spoiled the Sharks first trip to the Final and left the Sharks fan base with a sour taste in their mouths for the Summer.
Joe Thornton was the Sharks' MVP. He should have been the NHL MVP, but that award seems always to go to whoever scored the most points. If Thornton were taken out of the Sharks lineup, then they would have never made the playoffs. There is no player in this league that is more important to their team than Jumbo Joe is to the Sharks.
Joe Pavelski was named the team's captain before the start of the season, and he led this team to the biggest stage in hockey. He put together another season with nearly 40 goals and the NHL finally started to recognize his dominance at scoring goals. At 31 years old, he still has a few years of his goal scoring dominance. He started his prime later than most players.
Brent Burns was one of the three Norris Trophy finalists given out to the best defenseman in the NHL. He had 75 points in 82 games and broke many Sharks franchise records for defensemen. His 27 goals were the most by any defensemen in the league. He's a wild card, and opponents are always aware when he is on the ice.
Team Season Grade
It's an A. Any team that makes the Stanley Cup Final is a great team, and they are flat out the most successful Sharks team in history. The bar has been raised for future Sharks teams.
2016-17 Season Outlook
This Sharks team will remain intact for the 2016-17 season and could be even better with younger players joining in on the fun. It looks like UFA's Roman Polak, James Reimer, and Dainius Zubrus will not be resigned, but that's okay. Aaron Dell looks like he is ready to be the backup to Martin Jones. Since Jones has proven, he is an elite starter he no longer needs a proven starter to serve as his backup and waiting to take his place. Dylan DeMelo could easily do a better job than Polak and will probably get that chance now. The most intriguing player coming into this next season is 2015 first round pick, Timo Meier. Meier is the type of player that the Sharks could have used against the speedy Penguins. He's big, fast, and has loads of offensive skill. He should make the Sharks out of training camp and a spot in the NHL is his for the taking.