To go along with our '30 in 30' off-season feature, we'll be asking a blogger from each team some of the burning questions surrounding their club this summer.
RLD: 1. Was this spring the postseason 'breakthrough' Sharks fans have been waiting for? Ivan Makarov: I don't think so. The Sharks did have the longest post season run since 2004, and the second longest run in franchise history. But the goal was to win the Stanley Cup, and the club still came short. They did show that they can step up their game in playoffs. Right after the Winter Olympics the Sharks were playing the worst hockey in years. However, with three weeks left till the start of the playoffs they found a way to turn things around. From then on and till the season was over they played their best hockey all year. This is what we've been waiting for since the lockout. But at the end of the day, the goal to win the Cup was not achieved, and we're still left hoping and waiting. It's especially frustrating seeing where the Blackhawks and the Flyers were just three years ago.
RLD: 2. Who is more likely to stay in San Jose: Marleau or Nabokov? IM: Despite the recent rumors that the Sharks are still keen on keeping Nabokov, I am still of the opinion that Marleau is the likely candidate to stay here. He loves the area, he recently bought a new home here, his wife is local and he's lived here longer than in any other place. On top of that, he had his career season just last year. The likely scenario here would be for Marleau to sign a long-term moderate cap hit contract - the kind that Savard and Zetterberg signed not long ago. Nabokov is older but he can still sign one last big contract in his career, and with San Jose's cap situation, I'll be surprised if it's in San Jose.
RLD: 3. If both leave, should Doug Wilson make a play for Kovalchuk? IM: Absolutely. I am a big fan of Kovalchuk's talent and what he brings to the table. Unlike Marleau, he's a natural leader on any team he plays on and leadership on offense is what San Jose has been missing ever since Owen Nolan left. He's also four years younger than Marleau and has his best seasons ahead of him. I can't imagine the kind of numbers he can put up playing next to quality centers like Thornton or Pavelski.
RLD: 4. Do you expect Wilson to to shore up the defense, especially now that Blake has retired? IM: Blake's absence will be noticeable, especially in the locker room where according to the players and coaches he had a major influence and voice. My feel is that the first priority is to sort out the goaltending situation in San Jose, but once that's done, General Manager Doug Wilson will take care of the defense. It's been one of the weaker spots during the season last year, especially when one player was missing a game with injuries. It was also the defense that made a big difference in the series against Chicago. Chicago's was better and they effectively neutralized all San Jose's big weapons, San Jose on the other hand could not do the same for Chicago's lines.
RLD: 5. What prospects are on the horizon in San Jose? IM: I'll start with mentioning the two who are already relatively known. The first one is a center Logan Couture. He spent a good majority of the regular season in the AHL, where he was one of the best players. Once the Sharks were set on the roster for the postseason, Couture joined the big club, and immediately had an impact. He finished the regular season with 9 points in 25 games, but most of these points were scored while playing on the bottom lines. If he finds himself on one of the top lines, I will not be surprised to see him finish with 50-70 points next year. Couture is a smart center. He's not big in size, or a great skater. However, his thinking on the ice does remind me of Joe Thornton, plus he actually shoots more and is not afraid of standing in the crease and earning an ugly goal. He was not as visible in playoffs, but still ended up with a respectable four goals.
The second prospect is defenseman Jason Demers. He's a puck moving offensive minded type of a player who has a potential to one day become the next Dan Boyle. He can already run the power play and join the offensive rush. His play last season was good enough that no one in San Jose regretted the departure of Christian Ehrhoff.
As for who else will break through into the NHL next season, this still remains a mystery. The Sharks tend to draft their best players in the later rounds, and they tend to show up out of nowhere. Four years ago no one heard of Ryane Clowe or Joe Pavelski. They were both late round picks, but once they joined the team, they became key players. The season after, Torrey Mitchell entered the scene and became a key role player. Last year no one outside of Worcester, where Sharks' AHL affiliate plays, had heard of Jason Demers. And yet here he was, assisting on a key goal in Game 5 of the Detroit series. I expect another no-name to break the roster this year and surprise everyone, just like it has happened virtually every year since the lockout.
We thank Ivan for taking time out to answer these burning questions in San Jose! You can catch his work as a contributor over at SB Nation's Fear The Fin, and I recommend following him on Twitter as well.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.