San Jose Sharks: Barracuda’s Success Leading to Optimism for Future

Dec 16, 2016; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier (28) reacts with teammates after scoring a goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the first period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 16, 2016; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier (28) reacts with teammates after scoring a goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the first period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports /

The Stanley Cup Playoffs ended early for the San Jose Sharks, but hockey is still residing at SAP Center. AHL’s San Jose Barracuda, affiliate of the Sharks, play the Grand Rapids Griffins in the 2017 Calder Cup Western Conference Final.

San Jose Sharks’ management finally understands the benefits of a minor-league team loaded with talent. Current players Timo Meier, and Kevin Labanc have seen time with the Sharks but have room to grow to play full time in the NHL. The Barracuda have allowed the two, along with other prospects, to hone their skills and ultimately reach the show.

Call-ups tended to be an issue for teams based on the West coast. Before becoming the Barracuda, the team was known as the Worcester Sharks and played in Worcester, Massachusetts. With a looming cross-country flight ahead, the debut of players was often delayed, especially on short notice. Sometimes the Sharks were fortunate if travel brought them to the east coast to make transactions easier.

San Jose Sharks
San Jose Sharks /

San Jose Sharks

Worcester developed multiple players, including notable Sharks in Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, who currently stand out as captain and alternate captain, respectively. Both saw time growing under head coach Roy Sommer before making the jump.

Last season, the AHL formed a Pacific Division. This development had been discussed by Doug Wilson and other general managers in efforts to make call-ups more accessible. By bringing the affiliates closer, it allowed for better status reports on current prospects and communication among coaches as to who was ready for the NHL.

Due to the newly formed division, the schedule was top-heavy with division opponents. Travel to the east coast occurred, but not often to cut down on travel expenses. This season featured the same component. Also, the playoffs were determined based on winning percentage.

Last season, strong goaltending by current Sharks’ backup goaltender Aaron Dell propelled the Barracuda into the final spot in the playoffs. Unfortunately, their run was short-lived, immediately ousted by the Los Angeles Kings’ affiliate, Ontario Reign.

This season, though, has seen an emergence of prospects knocking on the NHL door. The month of February saw the Barracuda go undefeated, sparking a 14-game winning streak. Despite the run ending the first week of March, the streak vaulted the Barracuda to the top of the AHL. Success has carried the team through the Calder Cup Playoffs and possibly a trip to the final.

A mix of Sharks’ draft picks and signings have contributed to the Barracuda’s recent run. Daniel O’Regan led the team with 58 points and Sharks’ top defensive prospect, Tim Heed, added 56 points. Meier and Labanc both saw time between the AHL and NHL and chipped in with 23 points and 19 points, respectively.

Fear of a let-down in the playoffs was not in the minds of Barracuda players in a five-game thriller to open the playoffs. Ryan Carpenter scored a shorthanded goal to propel the Barracuda over the Calgary Flames’ affiliate, Stockton Heat, in game five to advance to the second round.

After taking care of the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks’ affiliate), the Barracuda will face the Detroit Red Wings’ affiliate, the Griffins, for a spot in the final. Tyler Bertuzzi currently leads the team with 10 points in the playoffs this season. The Barracuda took both games against the Griffins in the regular season.

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As Wilson ponders offseason decisions, the Barracuda’s playoff run should make moves clear-cut. The uncertainty of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau being productive past 37 years of age is only the surface of the aging core amongst current Sharks’ players. Martin Jones is due for a pay raise, which will play a role if Thornton and Marleau are to return. With the salary cap not expecting to jump significantly, the Sharks will be up against the cap.

Wilson would benefit from Las Vegas taking a few Sharks in the upcoming expansion draft, but age and salary will likely deter Vegas management. Joel Ward would be the likely player taken if available.

In the past, San Jose’s leading affiliate has seen lean years of prospects not making the strides to compete at the NHL level. The Sharks often gambled the future away by sending draft picks for rental veteran players in hopes of making a run at the Stanley Cup. The trades never worked out, and the draft picks often came back to bite the Sharks.

Fortunes appear to have swung now for the Sharks. No matter the outcome for the Barracuda, winning should be installed when training camp opens for the 2017-18 season. Meier did not have the impact when first called up to the Sharks but should be ready next season to make the initial lineup.

San Jose did benefit from trading prospect Nikolay Goldobin to Vancouver for Jannik Hansen. Goldobin became exposable after the emergence of current Barracuda forwards such as Noah Rod. Despite being a gifted winger with the ability to score, his work ethic could keep him from reaching the NHL with Vancouver.

Optimism ensues around what the Sharks decide to do this offseason. With the Barracuda hitting a high, perhaps the time is now to inject new blood and depart with current veterans. In hindsight, giving young players the opportunity could ultimately deliver a Stanley Cup to San Jose.

Next: Sharks' Future Uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

Before the start of last season, Wilson suggested a younger lineup could take shape with roster spots up for grabs. The suggestion never came to fruition as Peter DeBoer penciled a roster of players who played in the Stanley Cup Final.

Time for Wilson to make do and allow Barracuda players to seize the opportunity.