The St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks were within steps of the Stanley Cup. Each team is wondering now whether they have the talent to get back.
The St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks battled it out in 2016-17. With the Stanley Cup Finals only one breath away, they fought tooth and nail for six games and the Sharks got the best of St. Louis.
It seemed as though the Sharks were destined to win the whole thing. They dominated the Blues for much of the series and many thought they would use their size to do the same to Pittsburgh.
Instead, Pittsburgh zipped around San Jose and won the championship. Now, the same old questions are going to be raised toward the Sharks.
Are they too old? Can they take the next step or will it be another step back in a vain attempt to take that final step forward?
Those are questions the Sharks are going to face through the entire season. They have the talent to answer them, but talent doesn’t always trump everything.
In the meantime, the Sharks are focused completely on the now. The future could be a much different animal.
In terms of offensive production, Boedker is a decent pickup. He isn’t going to be listed in the league leaders in terms of points, but he’s going to help.
Boedker is being added to provide speed they were missing against Pittsburgh. The Sharks also got him at a fairly reasonable rate of $4 million per season.
He is also going to provide the Sharks with some flexibility. Boedker can slip into the second line, which would allow others to move down a line and provide even more scoring up and down the lineup.
Schlemko isn’t being asked for much either. They brought him in to fill the hole left by Roman Polak, so the Sharks aren’t looking for much offensively.
Schlemko is also looking for a fresh start and a winning opportunity. He’s bounced around quite a bit and had a rather poor year in terms of plus/minus last season with New Jersey.
As of right now, the biggest loss will likely be James Reimer. Now, that statement comes with a rather large caveat.
Reimer only played in eight games in 2015-16, so it isn’t as though he was a key cog in their run to the finals. However, the Sharks did not add any goaltending in the summer and are likely to be hoping some of their minor league goaltenders are up to the challenge.
The Sharks are not the first team to do this. The Blues have done it as recently as with Jake Allen.
However, if Martin Jones comes down with any sort of injury then you have absolutely nothing in terms of a proven commodity. That’s a rather scary proposition.
The Sharks also don’t have much in terms of cap space. So, adding goaltending depth will be a little difficult if it comes to that.
As mentioned, Roman Polak also went out the door. As Blues fans, we all loved Polak but if the key for many of the league’s offseason moves is to get faster, then it becomes understandable why Polak would not fit.
Polak is not a clutch and grab type of defenseman, but he is still somewhat old school. He isn’t fleet of foot, isn’t a great puck handler and would sooner moosh your face into the glass than anything else.
That fits in well with what the Toronto Maple Leafs need at this stage of their development, but not a team looking to get a little younger.
Similar to the Minnesota Wild (perhaps more so than the Wild), it’s win now or nothing for the Sharks. The team playing in San Jose could look very different after this season, so they are banking on being able to take that next step this year.
A quick look at their roster shows 10 players slated to be free agents following this season. Some will be restricted, but with guys like Brent Burns due for a raise, that takes money away from other areas.
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Taking the focus off the future, this is going to be a dangerous team. They proved last season they have a very good mix of size, athleticism, veterans and young players to make a huge dent in the NHL.
As alluded to in the opening though, the questions about their age will always be there. Adding Boedker helps take pressure off their aging stars, but will it be enough?
Repeating is always hard, but even more so in hockey. The Sharks have to contend with Anaheim and Los Angeles and have Calgary and Arizona wondering if they can make a big leap as well.
All in all, the Sharks are going to be right there at the end of the season. The rest of the Pacific might have made the jump toward wild card status, but if the Sharks stay healthy, they are going to stay in that top three grouping in their division.
The St. Louis Blues have struggled with west coast teams for awhile now. Call it what you will – time zone difference, size difference, style difference – the Blues just don’t do too well against their gold coast counterparts.
That said, the Blues still gave it a good effort in the conference finals. St. Louis just did themselves no favors by taking too many games to beat Chicago and Dallas in the prior rounds.
Would that have made the difference? There’s nothing to say for sure, but I’d like to have seen a fresher Blues squad in that round against the Sharks.
It’ll be a little while before these two have their rematch. The first game will be in St. Louis on Thursday, November 17.
The Blues will travel to San Jose for a game on Saturday, January 14. St. Louis will wrap up the regular season series in the Shark Tank on Thursday, March 16.
St. Louis has the edge overall against San Jose. The Blues are 66-53-2 against the Fins, but much of that came in the 90’s when the Sharks were a struggling expansion team. The Blues are under .500 against San Jose in this century.
Surprisingly, the Blues have fared better against the Sharks on the road than at home in their history. St. Louis went 1-2 against the Sharks last regular season and 2-4 in the playoffs.
The big question now for the Blues when they face teams like San Jose is going to be the size issue. Even when the Blues were bigger, they were outsized by many of the California teams.
Have the Blues transitioned to a speed team quickly enough to emulate what Pittsburgh did to San Jose? Or will it be more of the same struggles for our favorite team when they play on the coast?