The San Jose Sharks joined the National Hockey League in 1991, becoming the 22nd team in the league and the first expansion franchise since 1979.
Their original roster was built through both a dispersal draft and an expansion draft, meaning they first selected 14 skaters and two goalies from the Minnesota North Stars before drafting one player from every other team.
San Jose struggled in the early going, winning just six playoff rounds in their first 13 seasons before the 2005 NHL lockout. In the final season of that span, however, they qualified for the Western Conference Final. This signaled a change in fortune for the franchise and a coming string of good years.
A big key to that turnaround was general manager Doug Wilson, who was hired by the organization in May of 2003 and remains the team’s general manager to this day. Not only did Wilson make deals to get the most out of the stacked 2003 NHL Entry Draft— where he selected Steve Bernier, Matt Carle, and Joe Pavelski with picks he acquired from other teams—but he also brought in Nils Ekman and Curtis Brown for the team’s deep playoff run in 2004.
Wilson and the Sharks continued that momentum after the lockout and become one of the most dominant teams in the NHL.
San Jose qualified for the playoffs twelve times from 2006 to 2019, which included back-to-back trips to the Western Conference Final in 2010 and 2011 as well as a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2016. In that time, they brought the likes of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Evander Kane, and Erik Karlsson to the organization via the draft and trades.
But that era of exceptional play came to a screeching halt in 2020.
The Sharks lost a number key players due to cap restraints in 2019, including captain Joe Pavelski, which left the roster starved of the offensive depth that brought them to the Western Conference Final that year. The team had hoped some of their prospects from the San Jose Barracuda system would come up and replace some of that production, but none of them were up to the task.
Players who had career years the season before also failed to repeat those numbers, and goaltender Martin Jones put up bottom-of-the-league stats for the second straight year. This all led to Wilson firing head coach Peter DeBoer in the middle of the season and replacing him with former Florida Panthers head coach Bob Boughner.
Despite the coaching change, San Jose would go on to finish last in the Western Conference for the first time since 1997.
With the team coming off their worst season in over two decades and core players like Thornton, Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic well over 30 years old, San Jose looks to be entering a rebuild.
It will take a while for San Jose to restock the prospect cupboards, however, especially after trading away what became the third-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in the Erik Karlsson deal. However, Wilson has shown in the past that he can build a consistent and winning team quickly. The last two times the Sharks missed the playoffs, they followed it up with a Western Conference Final appearance and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final thanks to the smart moves he made.
The situation this time around is a little more dire, but hope still remains for some Sharks fans.
San Jose’s 2020-2021 roster will rely heavily on its secondary core of Couture, Hertl, and Kane as well as prospects from the Barracuda—much like it did last year. If Wilson doesn’t manage to find a way out of the situation in the offseason, it’s going to be a tough campaign for Boughner and the squad.