Jeremy Guerin | June 4th, 2019
The San Jose Sharks season was defined by one word: injury. But it started with Stanley Cup expectations.
GM Doug Wilson made a splash heading into the season, swinging a trade with the Ottawa Senators for highly-coveted defenseman and Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. Karlsson war paired with fellow Norris winner Brent Burns, forming a formidable tandem manning the Sharks blue line.
San Jose also made some splashes with their remaining cap room, mainly taking care of their own. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl were signed to monster eight-year and four-year extensions respectively, and “Jumbo Joe” Thornton came back for another kick at the can, signing a one year deal. To round out the lineup, San Jose signed a couple of fourth liners in Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow.
The Sharks Cup odds soared heading into the year, but that didn’t translate immediately on the ice. The Sharks struggled out of the gate, hovering around .500 and losing early ground in the atrocious Pacific Division that they never regained. San Jose finished with 101 points, good for second in the Pacific to the Calgary Flames.
Heading into the playoffs, San Jose backed into the big dance, losing nine out of their final 12 games. This set up a first-round tilt with their hated division rivals, the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas bounced the Sharks in six the season before, and with new acquisition Mark Stone and a proven playoff goalie in Marc Andre Fleury, the Knights looked to return to the Cup Final.
San Jose had home ice, but in the playoffs, goaltending is key. Martin Jones looked lost throughout the first four games of the season, and San Jose quickly found themselves down 3-1. The Sharks won Game 5 at the SAP Center and returned to Vegas looking to extend the series to a decisive seventh game. The game went to double OT, where the Sharks took the first penalty of overtime and the Knights looked for the dagger. But Tomas Hertl scored shorthanded to send the series back to the Shark Tank, where Vegas built a commanding 3-0 lead late into Game 7.
Joe Pavelski took a scary hit and was carried off with 10 minutes to go, and the Sharks got a five-minute major penalty because of it. From there, the Sharks scored four goals on the power play, and the Shark Tank was rocking until Jonathan Marchessault tied the game with the Vegas night empty. Goodrow, a fourth-liner who saw just two shifts of ice time in overtime, buried the series winner on Fleury off a feed from Erik Karlsson with a just over a minute left in overtime.
From there, the Sharks had another grueling series with the Avalanche. The series again went seven, with another controversial call, this time on an offsides ruling, cast a shadow over the Sharks as they advanced to their second Conference Final in four years.
Across from San Jose stood the St. Louis Blues, who the Sharks faced and beat in 2016 to advance to the Cup final. The Sharks took a 2-1 series lead off a blatant uncalled hand pass that led to an Erik Karlsson overtime game-winner, but San Jose’s luck was about to run out.
Their lack of depth reared its ugly head, as did two grueling seven-game wars with Colorado and Vegas. The Sharks lost the next three games and looked a step slow in every one of them. Pavelski, Hertl, and Karlsson were all out for the deciding Game 6 in St. Louis. It was a disappointing end for the Sharks and Thornton, who is unsure if he will return in his chase for the Cup.
The Sharks had loads of top-end talent, but almost no depth. Wilson went all-in to acquire Karlsson, but now the Sharks don’t have a first-rounder and two second rounders as a result of the Karlsson, Gus Nyquist, and Evander Kane trades.
San Jose is built to win now, but a lot will depend on if they can re-sign Karlsson and keep their team healthy for next year, Their core of Pavelski, Burns, Couture, and Hertl is supremely talented but aging, and injuries did them in this year, and Karlsson, in particular, was clearly laboring throughout the playoffs and most of the regular season.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images