The San Jose Sharks’ 2016-17 season begins Wednesday night when they take on the Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center.
The summer has come and gone—the draft, the free agent frenzy and the World Cup of Hockey have all been completed. Now, it is time to take another run at the Stanley Cup.
The Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history last June. They pushed through the Western Conference with relative ease and had their most successful season to date. Fans, of course, are hoping for a repeat trip to the finals, with San Jose hoisting The Cup this time around.
But, the resulting short offseason and the Sharks’ aging core could pose a threat to the team’s performance this year.
San Jose‘s last hockey game was on June 12, 2016, giving them an offseason of 114 days. As a comparison, non-playoff teams had an offseason of 177 days.
Additionally, many Sharks—such as Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski—participated in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, cutting their break down to just 83 days.
The short summer could have a significant impact on any team, which is why we rarely see clubs make it to the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row. However, the effects are amplified on a team with an aging core. And, the San Jose Sharks are definitely a team with an aging core.
Kevin Kurz wrote an article about this subject at CSN Bay Area, which features opinions from analysts Brian Boucher and Martin Biron. You can read it here.
This is the bottom line, though: Thornton and Patrick Marleau are 37 years old. Paul Martin and Joel Ward are both 35 years old. These four were vital to San Jose’s success last season, but—as the cliché goes—they are not getting any younger.
In order to maximize production, head coach Peter DeBoer needs to manage the minutes of his older players. Overplaying skaters over the age of 35 after a short summer can cause them to burnout before the regular season even ends.
That is not a recipe for making it back to the Stanley Cup Final.
DeBoer did an excellent job last year of limiting the ice time of his veteran players to keep them energized throughout the campaign.
In 2015-16, Thornton averaged 18:22 of ice time a night, his lowest since 1998-99. Marleau averaged 19:02 a night, his lowest since 2007-08. And, Martin averaged 20:44 a night, his lowest since his rookie season in 2003-04.
This trend will have to continue in the coming year in order to keep San Jose’s veterans competitive all the way through June.
The young, probable line of Logan Couture, Mikkel Boedker and Joonas Donskoi should be more heavily leaned on and take the majority of tough minutes.
Younger depth players, like Chris Tierney, should also see an increase in ice time to minimize the play of some of the older skaters.
This Sharks team has enough skill and depth at all positions to distribute ice time relatively evenly among all players; there’s no need to play the aging veterans more than you need to.
San Jose has a legitimate chance to make it back into the Stanley Cup Final. The biggest question mark, however, is if the likes of Thornton, Marleau, Ward and Martin will have enough energy to get them there.