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Original Issue

8 San Jose Sharks

To be optimistic about the Sharks this season, you just have to
look at what's missing from last year. There are no 12-hour
flights to Japan to start the regular season, no holdouts and no
Gary Suter medical bills. "This is the most settled camp I've
been in in a long time," veteran left wing Murray Craven says.
"Who needs those distractions at the beginning of the year?" In
the past the beginning has often spelled the end for the Sharks,
who needed nine tries to win their first game last year and are
16-55-9 in the season's first 10 games since joining the NHL in

Perhaps the franchise's history of slow starts explains why
fewer than 2,500 people showed up for a preseason game against
the division rival Kings at the Oakland Coliseum last month. The
fans who did come watched San Jose extend its exhibition mark to
3-0-3, saw Suter score his first goal since he underwent surgery
on his right triceps in July 1998 and noticed that the trio of
Vincent Damphousse, Jeff Friesen and Owen Nolan is rapidly
developing into the best line in franchise history. Damphousse,
a center, rebounded from a two-year slump after his trade from
Montreal last March, picking up 13 points in his first 12 games
with San Jose and sparking some life in Friesen, who, like
Nolan, got off to a slow start after a preseason holdout.

The Sharks may have more talented young forwards than any other
team in the league. Centers Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm and
wingers Niklas Sundstrom and Alex Korolyuk are all under 25, and
they are ripe for breakout seasons. A young defense will get
much-needed leadership from the savvy Suter, who will also
quarterback the power play (ranked 23rd last season with a 13.3%
success rate). During training camp the 35-year-old Suter--who
last year played fewer periods (two) than he had surgeries
(three)--appeared rejuvenated, scoring higher than any other
player on the team's annual fitness tests. Once again, the solid
duo of Mike Vernon and Steve Shields will split time in goal.

Having already gotten off to a more positive start than last
season, the Sharks hope that it leads to a happier ending.


COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER Friesen is a reason the Sharks will have more bite.

The eight-year-old Sharks and the one-year old Predators are the
only NHL teams never to have finished a season with a winning
record. Twice--in 1993-94 and last year--San Jose has finished
two wins shy of the break-even point.



OFFENSE 14 Best young guns--Friesen, Marleau, Sturm--in
DEFENSE 13 Should be less mistake-prone in own zone
with Suter
GOALTENDING 7 Vernon is a gamer; Shields is top-notch
SPECIAL TEAMS 9 Power-play results should catch up with
COACHING 12 Sutter keeps a firm hand on team