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Season Recap: Sharks building for future success despite terrible year

May 10, 2024, 12:38 AM ET [3 Comments]
Ben Shelley
San Jose Sharks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

The San Jose Sharks’ 2023-24 season came to a close exactly three weeks ago, finishing with the worst record in hockey. In fact, only one NHL team in the entire 21st century – the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings – has been worse than this year’s Sharks’ team, as measured by points percentage.

However, despite how painful of a year it may have been, it doesn’t come as the least bit of a surprise. While Mike Grier hasn’t necessarily always gotten great value with his moves, he’s been able to finally give the Sharks a clear direction since taking over as general manager in 2022, in the form of a rebuild.

So after a really tough year, and probably a few more still to come, we take a look below at what went right this year, what went wrong, and what comes next.

What Went Right

While the Sharks had very little success as a team, there were some individual performances this season worth highlighting.

Mikael Granlund ended up putting together a shockingly good year with the Sharks, managing 60 points in just 69 games. Granlund was only brought in as a cap dump from the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of the Erik Karlsson trade last summer, so expectations for the now 32-year-old forward were quite low. That said, he managed to revitalize his career in San Jose, and was one of a few real success stories for the team this season.

Meanwhile, William Eklund put together a really promising first full NHL season, managing 45 points in 80 games. His hot end to the season was a huge contributing factor to those numbers, with six goals and 15 points in his last 14 games of the year.

Fabian Zetterlund was another great story. After being acquired from the New Jersey Devils as part of the Timo Meier trade, Zetterlund got off to a bit of a slow start with the team in 2023. Like Eklund though, Zetterlund also had a really strong end to the year, scoring nine goals and 21 points in his final 25 games, to hit 24 goals and 44 points in 82 games this season.

Granlund, Eklund and Zetterlund were the trio for the Sharks who were consistently producing by the end of the year, and with all back next season, San Jose has at least some pre-existing pieces in their top-six.

Mario Ferraro also led the Sharks’ defense group, averaging 23 minutes per game this season. He’s still in far too large of a role, but deserves some recognition for taking it on. Jan Rutta also helped to provide a bit of stability to the blue line, while Klim Kostin also performed quite well in limited action after joining the forward group post trade deadline, managing five goals and 10 points in 19 games with the Sharks. Then while goaltending was still far from elite, Mackenzie Blackwood posted nearly a .900 save percentage behind a terrible team.

The Sharks also did a fairly good job giving opportunity to some of their young players and prospects, in addition to Eklund and Zetterlund.

Up front, we saw Thomas Bordeleau, and later free agent signing Collin Graf both get into action, while the likes of Calen Addison, Henry Thrun, and Ty Emberson, among others, all got good opportunities on the blue line.

The Sharks also attempted to make some progress in building for the future at the trade deadline, shipping out Anthony Duclair, Kaapo Kahkonen, Nikita Okhotiuk, Radim Simek, and most notably, Tomas Hertl at the trade deadline. While you can maybe question the overall returns they got back, at least the moves showcased an organization direction that was lacking for several years.

What Went Wrong

While Mikael Granlund had a great year and a few other offseason additions worked out alright, that wasn’t the case across the board.

Mike Hoffman, who a few years ago was capable of pretty high-end offense, had a really tough time in San Jose. Hoffman managed just 10 goals and 23 points in 66 games, with his disappointing year likely leaving him to search for another NHL job next season.

Filip Zadina also left Detroit to bet on himself, and while you can applaud the effort, it didn’t go quite as well in practice. Zadina scored 13 goals and 23 points in 72 games, which did very little to increase his value. He could be back next season, but it seems like the time for him to become an impactful roster player has passed.

Meanwhile, the Sharks’ own veterans had troubles of their own as well.

Coming into the season, it seemed like Alexander Barabanov would be one of the team’s biggest trade chips. However, Barabanov’s impact took a nosedive to the point where the Sharks just held onto him past the trade deadline, with the winger finishing the year with just four goals and 13 points in 46 games.

Kevin Labanc has been steadily falling down the depth chart in San Jose for years as well, and his tenure in San Jose finally comes to an end after a year where he managed just nine points in 46 games. Luke Kunin also managed just 18 points in 77 games, and as a restricted free agent, there’s probably a decent chance he doesn’t get a qualifying offer. Meanwhile, Marc-Edouard Vlasic also continues to decline, with the defenseman getting into only 57 games and averaging only a little over 16 minutes per game.

Then maybe the most disappointing part for any veteran wasn’t on-ice based, but instead was Logan Couture missing almost the entire season with a groin issue. Couture’s absence was certainly felt, and the hope is that he gets healthy and can just continue playing.

What Comes Next

Sharks are pretty much at rock bottom, so it’s only up from here. Again, that was basically expected given their rebuild, and directionally, the necessity of that rebuild shouldn't be called into question. With five straight years missing the playoffs, for the first few of those, San Jose really didn't have much hope of turning things around. But like this year, next season will focus on the Sharks integrating prospects into the lineup, and continuing to see improvement from young players who are already part of the roster.

Between Eklund and Zetterlund, along with defensemen in Thrun, Emberson, and Addison, the Sharks have some players who can take steps next season. Then with the likes of Shakir Mukhamadullin, Daniil Gushchin and possibly Will Smith on the verge of making the jump to the NHL, the Sharks have some other pieces on the way.

The Sharks also have a ton of cap space heading into the offseason – a luxury few other teams benefit from. As a result, San Jose can use their cap flexibility to either add to their roster, take on some bad contracts for future assets, or a bit of both. With San Jose still a ways away from competing, we shouldn’t expect any massive signings or acquisitions, but they could certainly bring in free agents to help fill holes and insulate the young talent.

Obviously though, the pain of the season was all worth it for one reason in particular. This Tuesday, the Sharks won the NHL Draft Lottery, getting the right to inevitably select Macklin Celebrini with the first-overall pick.

Celebrini is a player who can change the landscape of the Sharks’ franchise, at a time they desperately need it. Adding him to the lineup, San Jose will be a more exciting team short-term, along with having a better chance of coming out of their rebuild built for long-term success.

So while the year may have come with as little success as anyone could’ve expected, for the first time in a while, the Sharks come out the other side with some real excitement about their future.

Check back next week for an article looking at what the Sharks could get in Macklin Celebrini.

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