Sports

Age-Defying Sharks Look Even Better Than Last Season

The Stanley Cup finalist Sharks were a good bet to take a step back this year. But strong veteran play, great depth, and shot dominance make them a favourite to come out of the West again.
December 2, 2016, 9:18pm
Photo by Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

When you make it to the Stanley Cup Final and don't win, it's difficult to stay positive about it. For teams that do win, media often gives them a grace period with the so-called "Stanley Cup hangover" but we rarely talk about the losers.

In very rare occasions, you see the losing team bounce right back and even win, like the Pittsburgh Penguins did in 2009, but more often you see them fall off completely. Just go through the checklist.

Advertisement

Since 2000, eight teams that have made the finals and lost failed to win a playoff round the following year, good for a mark of 53.3 percent. Of those eight teams, four of them didn't even make the playoffs.

READ MORE: Which NHL Team Is Most in Need of a Rebuild?

In the last two seasons that trend hasn't been as strong, with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning both winning multiple rounds the season after losing in the final. This year, it looks as though the San Jose Sharks are also going to buck the trend of tapering off after a Cup Final loss.

If ever there was going to be a team to fall apart after losing in the final round of the playoffs you would think it would be the Sharks. For years they've been called weak on the mental side of the game, and some of their most important players are at ages where you expect decline, like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau—both 37 years old—and even Joe Pavelski (32) and Brent Burns (31). Yet all of those players have been playing excellent and, if anything, the Sharks look better than last year, despite entering opening night with the oldest average age of any team in the league.

Chart by Andrew Berkshire. Photo by Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a slight drop in the expected goals for percentage at even strength this season, but the Sharks have improved their already dominant possession game, and in all situations they're producing an even stronger expected goal ration than last season. That has led them to a division-leading 14-9-1 record entering weekend play, and the crazy part is they've been a little unlucky so far.

At even strength, the Sharks have a 99.01 PDO, and in all situations they're at 99.48, which isn't far below the league average of 100, but the Sharks aren't a league-average team in terms of talent.

Advertisement

Corisca Hockey has the Sharks' expected PDO based on their shot locations to be 100.22, which given their shot dominance would make them a top-three contender for the Stanley Cup this season.

The question is how does a team with a relatively old core like the Sharks find that extra boost to be even better despite growing older? The answer is the same thing that made them a contender last season—improved depth.

It's impossible not to like this guy and his beard. He's pretty damn good, too. Photo by Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the additions of Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi were huge for the Sharks when it came to secondary scoring and matchups, and this season adding Mikkel Boedker and David Schlemko is having a similar impact.

Boedker has so far been disappointing offensively, but he's an offensive threat that teams need to watch for that the Sharks didn't have last season, and his typically poor possession numbers have climbed up to something decent with San Jose. Adding another offensive player without losing any makes things easier on every player in the lineup.

Schlemko, meanwhile, has been a huge success on the blueline, stabilizing the Sharks' third pairing, which was an obvious weakness last season and throughout the playoffs. Moving from an immobile defender like Roman Polak to Schlemko has transformed Brendan Dillon from a 49.46 percent Corsi player to 55.06, meaning when the Sharks don't have their best players on the ice, they're still dominating play.

It's still early in the season, but there are only a handful of teams that can boast both shot dominance and depth of skill like the Sharks can, a combination that makes them a favourite to come out of the West.