Unlike most everything else in Silicon Valley, the prospects for
the Sharks remain bullish. For five years running San Jose has
improved its point total from the previous season, finishing
last year with 95 (40-27-12 and in the black, as it were, for
the first time in franchise history). "For the past few years it
seemed like whenever you played San Jose, they were better than
you remembered them being the last time," says left wing Adam
Graves, acquired in an off-season trade after spending the past
decade with the Rangers. "Now it's scary how good this team can
The Sharks have motivation aplenty after being expelled by St.
Louis in the first round of the playoffs last spring. In that
ill-fated six-game series, San Jose's veteran defenseman Gary
Suter suffered a concussion 16 seconds into his first shift and
never returned. Rightwinger Teemu Selanne, who was slowed by
March knee surgery and a broken right finger suffered in Game 1
of the Blues series that necessitated painkiller injections
between periods, failed to score a goal. Calder Trophy winner
Evgeni Nabokov missed two games with a back injury. "We left for
the summer with a bad taste in our mouths," says Selanne.
This season should be their Altoid. The Sharks are not the NHL's
most talented team, but they have the foundation to make a
credible run at Lord Stanley's chalice. A healthy Selanne and
hale right wing Owen Nolan make for a respectable one-two punch.
Underrated Mike Rathje and Marcus Ragnarsson anchor a defense
that was tied for third best in the league in goals allowed last
season. In the net, Nabokov, 26, is solid. This club is also
endowed with exceptional depth and, in the mold of flinty coach
Darryl Sutter, plays with grit.
Befitting a team from a state beset by blackouts, the Sharks'
glaring weakness is the power play. San Jose's unit ranked 24th
last season--the lowest of any playoff team--and was 0 for 22 in
the St. Louis series. The Sharks hope that the right-handed shots
of Selanne and rookie Jeff Jillson, a former All-America at
Michigan who has seen time on the power play in the preseason,
will spark an improvement.
The superior firepower of Detroit and Colorado will prove too
much for San Jose in the end. However, the playoff waters will be
infested with Sharks into May.
COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER Teemu Selanne, Sharks
In 2000-01 the Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov became the 14th goaltender
to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. Of the 13
netminders who previously were so honored, 11 went on to play
for a Stanley Cup winner.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 5 Selanne and Nolan will be tough to contain
DEFENSE 7 Physical group; Stuart is potential game-breaker
GOALTENDING 15 Nabokov wore down a bit last year
SPECIAL TEAMS 9 Power play needs upgrade; PK aggressive, strong
MANAGEMENT 12 Balanced team thanks to G.M. Lombardi