COMMENTARY | The San Jose Sharks have started training camp and now head into the short preseason schedule. As the Oct. 3 season opener with the Vancouver Canucks looms, here are five questions Sharks fans look to have answered.
Who backs up Antti Niemi in goal?
Niemi was a stud in goal last year, and his performance made him a worthy Vezina finalist. Niemi is used to carrying a heavy work load, but he won't have the benefit of a lockout-shortened season like last year. Long-time backup Thomas Greiss now suits up for division foe Phoenix, leaving a competition between Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri to see who will spell Niemi between the pipes. Whoever wins the competition will play a critical role in the Sharks' success, particularly if Niemi misses any time due to injury.
Will Tomas Hertl make the club?
The 17th selection in the 2012 entry draft, Tomas Hertl is widely considered the top young prospect in the Sharks' organization. Hertl is a slasher on his skates and has a deft scoring touch. Playing last year as a 19-year-old in the top professional league in his native Czech Republic, Hertl scored 18 goals and dished 12 assists. The Sharks suffered through a lack of secondary scoring last season. Despite his young age, Hertl might be just the player to provide some much needed offensive punch.
Will Brent Burns succeed at forward?
When defenseman Burns came off his preseason injury last year, coach Todd McLellan immediately inserted him into the lineup at … forward. Burns delivered an instant spark to a Sharks offense that had been slumping, and he finished with nine goals and 11 assists, benefiting greatly from time on the first line with center Joe Thornton. The Sharks have invested heavily in Burns, trading Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick, not to mention Burns' $5.7 million salary this year, for what they thought was a puck-moving defenseman. Will Burns provide a return on that hefty investment this season?
How much do the old guys have in the tank?
Forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and defenseman Dan Boyle are three of the best players in the NHL, and together make up almost a third of the Sharks' salary cap. But, at 34 (Thornton and Marleau) and 37 (Boyle) years of age, they are well into the second half of their careers. Boyle saw his regular season numbers decline last year as his minutes shrank, then used his relative rest to turn things up during the playoffs - 22:12 ATOI, three goals and five assists in 11 games. If the Sharks' "Big Three" need rest during the season, can the rest of the roster fill the void?
Has the club changed enough to get past the Kings and Blackhawks?
The Sharks enter this season as they have the past 10, with eyes set firmly on the Stanley Cup. However, to win the Stanley Cup, they first have to play in the Finals, and that means getting past the last two champions, the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks came up a single goal short in last season's playoff series with the Kings, but the scarier team might be the champion Blackhawks who are loaded, returning all significant contributors from last season. Are new Sharks like forward Tyler Kennedy enough to push the Sharks over the top?
@RayHartjen is a longtime rink rat who's been on a decades-long quest to get the stink of hockey gloves off his hands.
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- Antti Niemi
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