The pre-season can't come quick enough.
The Sharks lineup should look relatively the same as far as personnel go, but there could be some rotations in the make up of the lines.
Here are my 2013/14 Sharks projected lines:
Marleau - Couture - Pavelski
Wingels - Thornton - Burns
Torres - Kennedy - Hertl
Sheppard - Desjardins - Burish
Boyle - Irwin
Vlasic - Braun
Hannan - Stuart
I've seen numerous projected lines that feauture both Wingels and Hertl in the top six, I don't buy it. Wingels is the most likely candidate for a top six position with the presumed absence of Martin Havlat. With San Jose not a team known for throwing players into the fire I just can't see both of those players into the top six right away.
Hertl realistically projects to be a talented 3rd line center, so there is some room for patience in his situation. HockeyBuzz's own Adam French listed Hertl as a projected Top Six Centre in the long run. I hope he's right, but I don't think he will be.
With Tyler Kennedy ready to start a season as a Shark I'd like to see Pavelski in the top six, not centering the third line. That's a spot taylor-made for Tyler Kennedy. I've read people talking about how Kennedy saw some top-six minutes in Pittsburgh and could fill a void up there if needed. I could have played top six in Pittsburgh if they needed me. It doesn't take something special to let Malkin or Crosby make you look good.
Thornton's demotion to the second line isn't really a demotion. Jumbo Joe and Couture will most likely see similar ice time during the season, it's just time to hand the team over.
The fourth line is a crapshoot. It's up to those players to give the Sharks a reason to leave them in the lineup, with the spotlight on James Sheppard.
The former top pick of the Minnesota Wild has been a bust thus far in his career and was given a chance by the Sharks last year. He played well enough to earn another season in teal and black so it's up to him to decide whether or not he makes a career in the NHL at, what it seems, could be his last shot.
The defence comes in looking much like last year. Matt Irwin had a nice season and Vlasic played himself into a Team Canada Camp invite. Boyle, while seemingly losing a step, had yet another solid season for the Sharks. Stuart and Braun should be safe as 4-5. Scott Hannan could be rotating press passes with Jason Demers.
I'd like to see the Sharks upgrade on D, but I doubt any moves will be made until closer to the deadline.
Antti Niemi is the starter, plain and simple. That's not going to change. Niemi had the best numbers of his career last season and still doesn't get credit for being a solid #1 goaltender in this league. He may not be flashy, but this Sharks fan is happy with Antti.
Alex Stalock should be at the end of the bench for the Sharks this season.
The first 10 games, give or take, will be shuffling the deck as usual as the Sharks try to find the right chemistry for the year. Wingels, Pavelski, Kennedy and Hertl could all bounce around to different lines/positions early on before settling into more concrete roles as the season progresses.
Most people have Pavelski penciled in for the third line centre but I don't think you pay a guy $6M per season to play on the third line. I'd bet Pavelski gets a full-time start in the top six.
Overall, I'm happy with the team heading into the season and expect much of the same from last year: Playoffs with a chance of advance.
Thanks for reading.
Stay icy, Sharks fans.