After another year failing to win the Stanley Cup, the Sharks made some big - and surprising - moves in the off-season and will attempt their goal from a slightly different angle this season.
In two separate trades with the Minnesota Wild, the Sharks acquired Martin Havlat in exchange for talented but enigmatic forward Dany Heatley and defenceman Brent Burns in exchange for blossoming-forward Devin Setoguchi.
The Sharks hope that Heatley's skill will be made up by the consistency Havlat offers. And while losing a young forward like Setoguchi hurts, the acquisition of Burns helps both the team's blue line and power play.
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Additions: D Brent Burns, C Michal Handzus, RW Martin Havlat, D Matt Pelech, D Jim Vandermeer, RW Andrew Murray, C James Sheppard
Subtractions: LW Ben Eager, RW Dany Heatley, D Kent Huskins, RW Jamal Mayers, C Scott Nichol, RW Devin Setoguchi, D, Niclas Wallin
Prospects: The Sharks don't have a lot of high-end talent among their prospects, but do have a few solid players that could crack the lineup and play a regular role as early as this year.
Defenceman Nick Petrecki could be one of them. The 2007 first-round draft pick's slow and steady climb through the Sharks' system should culminate with a roster spot at some point this year. Petrecki has shown enough with San Jose's AHL affiliate to warrant that and a strong training camp or injuries to other players will likely lead the way to him seeing time with the big club this season.
And after a solid first season as a pro in the AHL (33 points in 69 games with Worcester), Tommy Wingels will be given a chance to make the roster out of training camp. Wingels got a small, five-game taste of the NHL last year, and if he continues his improvement through this year, he could be a regular in San Jose come playoff time.
Breakout Player to Watch: Drafted by the Wild back in 2003, Burns has long been on the cusp of joining the top tier of defencemen in the league. A trade to the Sharks - consistently one of the best teams in the West - could be the gateway to making that happen. The 26-year-old finished last season with 14 power play points on the 13th ranked unit in the league. This year, Burns is expected to be a big part of the second-best power play unit, which will surely help him build on his 46 points from a year ago.
Marquee Match-Up: Nov. 10 vs. Minnesota - Heatley and Setoguchi come to visit. Sharks fans only have to wait a little over a month to see the return of two former team stalwarts. It will be interesting to see how fans react to Heatley. The 30-year-old scored 82 and 64 points in his two seasons in San Jose, but the general consensus was that he underperformed in the team's playoff run last year. While it's unlikely he will get the cool reception that he experienced in Ottawa and Edmonton, he may not be in line for a hero's welcome either.
Other Dates To Watch: Oct. 14 - The first of many important divisional games against the Ducks in Anaheim. Nov. 7 - A rematch of last year's first-round playoff pairing and important divisional game against the Kings.
Reason To Get Excited: It's no longer the Big Three in San Jose, and that's not just because Heatley was traded to Minnesota. One possible explanation for the Sharks' recent string of falling short in the post-season is they were too top-heavy; they relied too heavily on the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Heatley and had little support.
Steps were taken to improve the team's depth and this year the talent will be spread out more efficiently across their four lines. Players like Joe Pavelski, Ryan Clowe, Calder finalist Logan Couture and new addition Michal Handzus will help take some of the scoring pressure off Thornton and Marleau and make the Sharks a better-rounded offensive team.
Since the end of the NHL lockout, Marleau has been a model of consistency on the scoresheet. He scored less than 30 goals and 70 points in a season just once (in 2007-08) and has scored the second-most goals in the NHL over the last three seasons. He could be in the mix to challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
On The Hot Seat: If the Sharks fall short of their goals yet again this year, who's to say management won't make another change and try something different again? If the Sharks believe they've gone as far as they can go with their veterans on the team, players such as Thornton, Marleau and Dan Boyle could be vulnerable to a move - just as Heatley was this offseason - in a team shakeup.
Question: Will this year's shakeup - swapping Heatley and Setoguchi for Havlat and Burns - be the one that takes San Jose to the Stanley Cup?
After losing the Western Conference Final two years in a row, the Sharks opted for a slightly different look this season with Havlat and Burns.
The emergence of players like Pavelski, Clowe, and Couture lessened the team's reliance on Heatley as a point-producer and allowed them to take a chance on a player they think can perform better in the playoffs in Havlat. Their improved offensive depth also allowed the Sharks to trade away a young up-and-comer in Setoguchi, for Burns - a player that improves the team in more than one way.
Will Havlat and Burns help the Sharks finally break through to the Stanley Cup, or will we be talking about the team's subsequent shake-up again this time next year?
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