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Bob Stanton/Icon SMI
By Pierre LeBrun
There's no truth to the rumor that the Sharks sought out offseason counseling from "Groundhog Day" star Bill Murray. Blow the competition away during the regular season only to fall in the playoffs? Yeah, that movie is getting old.
A year ago, it seemed the Sharks would finally figure out. There was a new coach in Todd McLellan, fresh off a Cup win in Detroit, and former Stanley Cup-champion players -- such as Dan Boyle and Rob Blake -- also were brought in.
A President's Trophy was followed by a first-round loss to eighth-seeded Anaheim. Ouch.
But Sharks GM Doug Wilson didn't sit idly by this past offseason, as he tried to change parts on a team that needs to be better when it counts. There was a blockbuster deal to bring in 50-goal man Dany Heatley, among other changes. We doubt Wilson is done.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the Sharks this season:
1. Who's leading the show?
Camp wasn't even open yet and the Sharks made leaguewide news, as McLellan decided to strip the "C" off Patrick Marleau's jersey, as well as the "A" from Joe Thornton (Mike Grier left as a free agent).
"We wanted to approach training camp with a fresh mindset," McLellan explained to ESPN.com. "One of the things that I think happens is that everyone just assumes their spots in line when you keep it the same. And I think there's some untapped leaders in our dressing room and in our organization.
"Now we've given them permission to step up and show us what they have. That doesn't mean that Patty and Joe and Grier did a poor job with what they provided us last year. And there's a chance they [Marleau and Thornton] might be the guys again. But I'm trying to provide a chance for other players to step up and assume more responsibility and provide us more leadership."
2. Great expectations ... again
The goal remains the same for the Sharks -- the Stanley Cup. Yes, they underachieved last season, but they remain a great team on paper for 2009-10.
"Again, the pressure will be there for us to succeed at or near the end of the year," said McLellan. "Again, we understand that, but what we want to do is build on all the positives that we had and try to change some of the negatives. I think Doug as the general manager has addressed some of the situations, like bringing different ingredients for the third and fourth lines, and it's our jobs as coaches to bring that out of them."
3. The new grinders
The Heatley deal has generated most of the attention, but Wilson revamped several of the bottom-six forward jobs. Gone are checkers Grier, Travis Moen, Tomas Plihal, Jeremy Roenick, Marcel Goc and Claude Lemieux. In are Scott Nichol, Jed Ortmeyer and Manny Malhotra, along with holdovers such as Jamie McGinn and Brad Staubitz.
"I believe we're going to have a little more grit and tenacity in those situations than we have in the past," said McLellan. "Some of the players that we had there did an admirable job of penalty killing and that type of stuff. But just pure five-on-five and to change the momentum of the game and physically, we weren't as strong as we wanted to be there. Now with guys like Nichol, McGinn, Staubitz, Ortmeyer -- we feel, for the lack of a better word, that we'll have more sandpaper than we've had in the past."
4. Better Nabby
Let's cut to the chase -- Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov was outplayed by Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, and that may have been the biggest difference in that first-round upset last spring. Nabokov allowed 17 goals in six games and his .890 save percentage didn't cut it. He has to get back to his regular All-Star form for the Sharks to get over the hump.
"I expect Nabby to be better," said McLellan. "Sometimes your goalie has to be the best player no matter what happens. I think Nabby expects more from himself and we expect a big year from him."
5. Lethal combo
One of the reasons the Heatley-to-San Jose rumor would not go away this summer is because it made so much sense. The Sharks wanted an important change to their lineup, and having a 50-goal man like Heatley partner up with a playmaker like Thornton is just too natural to pass up. So, yes, in the no-brainer training camp decision of the year, McLellan will start the season with Heatley and Thornton as linemates.
"It will start that way. Is it written in stone? Absolutely not," said McLellan. "We have to find the right chemistry, not only amongst those two, but the whole team. As coaches, we have the ability to move players around on a nightly basis and we'll do that if the chemistry isn't set.
"For a long time, we've asked Joe to shoot more, shoot more, shoot more, and we'll continue to ask him to do that, but he obviously likes to pass the puck. Dany Heatley is a shooter, he likes to shoot it, and Devin [Setoguchi] is the same way. So we might as well get the puck in those two sets of hands and let them do what they do best. I like the potential there, but there are other responsibilities on the ice that they're going to have to live up to, as well."
6. Blue-line shuffle
The Sharks sent Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver for future assets, and that opened up some spots at the back end of the blue-line group. The top two pairings figure to be Boyle with Kent Huskins and Blake with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, while Doug Murray is the No. 5 man. That left two spots open as of Monday for the likes of Derek Joslin, Mike Moore, Joe Callahan and Jason Demers. But almost all of these players might have a chance throughout the season depending on call-ups.
7. Solid second line
The Sharks shouldn't have any concerns about secondary scoring; they figure to start the season with a second line featuring Joe Pavelski between Ryane Clowe and Marleau. Pavelski, 25, continues to make strides, coming off a career-high 59-point season. He is also a hopeful for the U.S. Olympic team. Clowe, 26, likewise had a breakthrough season with 22 goals, while Marleau put up 71 points. Together, the trio combined for 85 goals last season. This could be a productive second line.
8. Super special teams
The Sharks were third in the NHL on the power play last season and fifth on the penalty kill -- a lethal combination any coach would kill for. The addition of Heatley on the man advantage gives the Sharks a triggerman who should only improve that unit.
9. A scheduling note
The Sharks have a grueling six-game road trek just before the Olympic break with games in St. Louis, Nashville, Toronto, Columbus, Detroit and Buffalo from Feb. 4-13.
10. Olympic exposure
The Sharks have four players who attended Canada's Olympic camp: Thornton, Heatley, Marleau and Boyle. Pavelski (USA), Nabokov (Russia) and backup netminder Thomas Greiss (Germany) are also Olympic hopefuls.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
• Record: 53-18-11
• Division: First in the Pacific
• Conference: First in the West
• Playoffs: Ousted in first round by Anaheim
• This team is loaded once again, but it might take some adjustments for all the new faces to settle in. It'll be nip-and-tuck with the Ducks, and we think Anaheim will edge them for the Pacific Division, leaving San Jose with the No. 4 seed in the conference.
• Todd McLellan was nominated for the Jack Adams Award last season after leading his team to the President's Trophy as a rookie NHL coach. He's learned much in those 12 months.
"Coming in last year, I had to be bold right off the bat, in case I was going to be tested," said McLellan. "I didn't know how the players would respond. But what I have this year is the experience of being around individuals. I recognize situations quicker maybe because I know their tendencies, whether it's someone getting lazy or taking shortcuts. So I can respond to that quicker than I did in the past."
F -- Dany Heatley
• He's been a punching bag for the media, but here's a stat that shuts people up: 180 goals since the lockout.
F -- Joe Thornton
• Never has he had this talented a winger in San Jose to finish off his playmaking skills. Fantasy stud!
F -- Devin Setoguchi
• Here's some advice, Devin: Go to the net and look for rebounds!
D -- Kent Huskins
• Underrated blueliner should pair well with the veteran Boyle.
D -- Dan Boyle
• The shifty puck-mover has designs on Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup this season.
Best Bet: Joe Thornton, F: Thornton has had three straight years of decline since his career-year in 2005-06. But just how concerned should you be when the bottom of the slide is 86 points? There are some questions with regards to the Sharks offense this season, mostly surrounding how coach Todd McLellan dispatches Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley around Thornton. But no matter how you line things up, Thornton plays with some impressive talent. We think Thornton is going to retake control of this franchise and jump back into the triple-digit range. He has a real chemistry with Devin Setoguchi, as the two paired up on 38 goals last season. Remember though, Thornton is an assist man, so even a big bounce-back season doesn't make him a top-20 pick in ESPN standard scoring.
Risky Move: Patrick Marleau, F: Being stripped of his captaincy certainly won't help Marleau's confidence, but it could also act as motivation, the proverbial chip on his shoulder which drives him to exceed expectations. Still, we don't want to forecast another 70-point season with trade talk swirling around him and the possibility of reduced ice time with Dany Heatley in town. For now, expect a slightly below prime Marleau showing this season, and feel free to erase any memory of the disaster that was 2007-08. Marleau is a skilled player who will get decent points regardless of where he plays. He's a No. 3 or 4 fantasy forward, and he has upside should San Jose coach Todd McLellan put him on the top line with Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley.• Player projections | 2009-10 Fantasy Draft Kit
Puck Prospectus uses its VUKOTA projection system to evaluate every NHL team in pivotal categories, while Will Carroll and E.J. Hradek weigh in on injuries and intangibles, respectively. Get an in-depth look at a new category every weekday leading up to the unveiling of The Mag's full rankings.
Where will the San Jose Sharks finish this season in Pacific Division?
Make your 2009-10 picks here.