After years of strong regular seasons followed by bitter playoff disappointments, the Sharks finally shook things up this summer. San Jose made a pair of bold trades with Minnesota, shipping out high-scoring forwards Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in separate deals that brought back defenseman Brent Burns and forward Martin Havlat. The Sharks hope those changes, along with a number of smaller moves to add some toughness to the defense and create room for an infusion of youth up front, will help the team finally get over the hump after being eliminated in the conference final in each of the last two years.
2010-11 Record: 48-25-9, 105 points (1st Pacific Division; 2nd Western Conference; beat Los Angeles 4-2 in first round and Detroit 4-3 in second round, lost in conference finals to Vancouver, 4-1)
Bruins record vs. Sharks: Boston leads the all-time series 15-7-5-0, but the Bruins lost the only meeting last year 2-0 at the Garden on Feb. 5.
When to watch: The Sharks come to town on Saturday, Oct. 22, while the Bruins play in San Jose on Thursday, March 22.
Familiar faces: All eyes will be on former Bruins captain Joe Thornton when he makes just his fourth return to Boston since the infamous 2005 trade. San Jose also signed Ben Guite, who played two seasons in Providence and one game in Boston in 2005-06. The Sharks have also mined the local area extensively in recent drafts. Benn Ferriero (Essex, Mass./Boston College), Cody Ferriero (Essex, Mass./Northeastern), John McCarthy (Boston/Boston University), Matt Nieto (Boston University), Nick Petrecki (Boston College) and Justin Braun (UMass-Amherst) all have New England ties. The Sharks also have Freddie Hamilton, brother of Boston's 2011 top pick Dougie Hamilton, in their system.
Key additions: D Brent Burns (trade with Minnesota); F Martin Havlat (trade with Minnesota); F Michal Hanzus (free agent); D Colin White (free agent); D Jim Vandermeer (free agent); F Ben Guite (free agent); F James Sheppard (trade with Minnesota); D Matt Pelech (free agent); F Andrew Murray (free agent)
Key losses: F Dany Heatley (traded to Minnesota); F Devin Setoguchi (traded to Minnesota); F Charlie Coyle (traded to Minnesota); D Ian White (signed with Detroit); F Ben Eager (signed with Edmonton); F Jamal Mayers (signed with Chicago); F Scott Nichol (signed with St. Louis); F Kyle Wellwood (free aget); D Niclas Wallin (signed with Lulea HF, Sweden)
Burning question: How will the new pieces fit into the Sharks' scheme?
The Sharks will look much different this season, but will they fare any better when it matters most? San Jose is banking on the addition of a true No. 1 defenseman in Burns and a forward who has done a better job of elevating his game in the postseason in recent years in Havlat being the final pieces to a championship puzzle. Burns brings some risk with his concussion history, but he's the total package of size and skill that San Jose hasn't had since Rob Blake retired. And even Blake was well past his prime by the time he arrived in San Jose, while Burns, 26, is just entering his peak years. Heatley appears to be on the wrong side of his prime. He is coming off a subpar season, with his 26 goals and 64 points his lowest output since a 13-12-25 season in just 31 games back in 2003-04. He also managed just 3-6-9 totals in 18 playoff games and had just five goals in 32 postseason games in his stay in San Jose. Havlat had five goals (and 15 points) in 16 games in his last playoff appearance with Chicago in 2009, and had 7-6-13 totals in 10 games with Ottawa in his last playoff run before that in 2006.
2011-12 outlook: Even after trading away Heatley and Setoguchi, the Sharks still have their top three regular-season scorers and top five playoff scorers back from last year. Patrick Marleau (37-36-73), Thornton (21-49-70), Joe Pavelski (20-46-66), Ryan Clowe (24-38-62), Logan Couture (32-24-56) and now Havlat (22-40-62) combine to give the Sharks as deep an attack up front as anyone in the league. Burns (17-29-46) and Dan Boyle (9-41-50) will also form a potent 1-2 punch on the blue line, with newcomer White and Vandermeer joining Douglas Murray to add some serious size and toughness on that back end as well. They may need that defensive grit, as the Sharks lost much of their toughness up front with Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers and Nichol all signing elsewhere. San Jose will also need more from goalie Antti Niemi in the postseason. He was solid in the regular season with a 35-18-6 record, 2.38 GAA and .920 save percentage, but his numbers slipped to 8-9, 3.22 and .896 in the playoffs. Niemi's done it before though, backstopping the Blackhawks to the Cup in 2010.
Did you know? Boston's Cup celebration this spring, coupled with another frustrating finish for San Jose, has certainly eased the sting of the Thornton trade for Bruins fans, but there's still no denying it was one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history. Thornton has slowed a bit, with his 70 points last year the lowest total of his stint in San Jose (though his 17 points in the playoffs were a career high). Still, in just under six years with the Sharks, he has amassed 137-410-547 totals in 463 games, and will add to those totals with a new three-year, $21-million deal beginning this season. The three players Boston received in return — Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau — combined for just 506 games in Boston with 136-134-270 totals, less than half of Thornton's point production in San Jose. None of the three remain in Boston, with Primeau no longer playing at all.
With the bulk of the offseason moves complete and the start of another NHL season inching closer, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be previewing one team from each conference every day through August 26.
Saturday, August 20: Washington Capitals and Phoenix Coyotes
Monday, August 22: Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames
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