Better Luck Next Year: San Jose Sharks edition

As NHL teams are eliminated from Stanley Cup contention, theScore NHL freelance writer Katie Brown looks back at the highs and lows of their seasons, along with the biggest questions ahead of 2018-19. The 24th edition focuses on the San Jose Sharks.

The Good

Tomas Hertl. After playing just 49 games in 2016-17 because of injury, Hertl bounced back to score a career-high 22 goals and equal his career-high 46 points in 2017-18. Hertl was also one of the Sharks' best playoff performers. He led the team with six goals and was second in points with nine and scored the series-clinching goal in the Sharks' first-round sweep of the Anaheim Ducks.

Pavelski, Couture, and Kane. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were the Sharks' two highest-scoring forwards during the season with 66 and 61 points, respectively; Couture's 34 goals were a career high. The addition of Evander Kane at the deadline made the Sharks' top six even more lethal; he had nine goals and 14 points in 17 games after his trade from Buffalo.

Brent Burns. The 33-year-old defenseman got off to a rough start (he didn't score in the first 20 games of the season) but bounced back to become the Sharks' leading scorer one year removed from winning the Norris Trophy. Burns was a force in the playoffs too, and recorded seven points in 10 games.

The Bad

No Joe Thornton and other injuries. A couple of days after the Sharks' season ended at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights, Joe Thornton revealed he had a fully torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Thornton had been out since Jan. 23 and though there was some hope he’d be able to join the Sharks at some point in the postseason, it's clear he was farther off from a return than expected. Trade deadline pickup Kane didn't look like himself for most of the playoffs because he played with a separated shoulder. Joonas Donskoi played hurt, too; he dealt with a lower-body injury in Game 2.

One-dimensional offense. Because of Kane's suspension and Donskoi's injury, the Sharks had to shuffle their top line a bit in the playoffs - but even when Donskoi, Kane, and Pavelski played, they weren't all that effective. The three combined for five points, each with one at even strength. San Jose just didn't have the depth they needed to compensate for when its stars weren't performing.

Slow starts. San Jose allowed the first goal in four of six games against Vegas and were shut out twice in the series. The Sharks never seemed to be able to dictate play or established any momentum. They were forced to play from behind more often than not, and Vegas took full advantage.

The Questions

Will the Sharks give Thornton another year? The one-year deal Thornton signed last year is coming to an end. Depending on how things shake out in free agency, the 38-year-old may have played his last game in a Sharks jersey. It's also possible he's re-upped for one more year, which he's said he's fine with doing, as well as taking less money. If not, Thornton is still a valuable player and would have plenty of options to choose from should he end up on the market.

Will Tavares be a target? If soon-to-be coveted UFA John Tavares decides to leave the Islanders, he'll have plenty of interested parties. The Sharks might be one of them - and they certainly have an advantage over other teams that might be making a run. They wouldn't have to make any trades to clear cap space for him, (which is rare) and should be counted among teams with a wider window to win a Stanley Cup. There's still no guaranteed Tavares will make himself available, but if he does, the Sharks could be a major player.

What will GM Wilson do with all this cap space? The Sharks are expected to have somewhere in the neighbourhood of $14.5 million to play with this summer. General manager Doug Wilson might delay any decision on Kane or Thornton until Tavares decides what he'll do. And then there's extensions for RFAs Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo, and Hertl to be dealt with. Hertl is due for a significant raise, too, as one of the Sharks' most improved players and their fifth-highest scoring forward over the last two seasons, an impressive feat considering he missed nearly half the 2016-17 season with injury.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Better Luck Next Year: San Jose Sharks edition
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