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2012 Sharks: Sharks Aim To Dominate Pacific Division

Nathan Lutterman

Nathan Lutterman writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Despite making the playoffs for the eighth straight season, the Sharks season was ended prematurely once again in the playoffs after failing to win the Pacific Division for the first time in four years. Facing off against the St. Louis Blus, who the Sharks were 0-4 against during the regular season, they went out in game one of the series and got an overtime win away from home. After starting out strong they proceeded to be ousted in five consecutive games.

On the offensive side of the ice they went from being the sixth best team in the league to the thirteenth in goals per game. Despite acquiring Brent Burns and Martin Havlat in the Dany Heatley trade before the season the Sharks weren't able to keep up the even strength production of previous years, partially due to a midseason Havlat injury that kept him sidelined for nearly three months. While Havlat was out of the lineup the Sharks struggled to a 17-15-7 record, part of which was influenced by a February where they won only four games.

On the power play the Sharks maintained their elite clip, capitalizing on over 20% of their opportunities and being a top five team in the league for the fourth consecutive season. Dan Boyle and Joe Thornton both proved to once again be very solid contributors to the top unit while Burns proved to be a big asset totaling 16 points (5G.11A) helping offset the loss of Heatley along with Logan Couture who put up a career high 26 points (11G,15A) in his third season.

Defensively the Sharks struggled with a middle of the road save percentage (91.2%) as a team with both Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss finishing outside the top 20. Despite the save percentage the Sharks finished in the top 10 of goals against average (2.50) with a trio of Burns, Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic playing in all but two of the Sharks' games.

With all of the Sharks' major players returning for the 2012-13 season the expectations will once again be to win the Pacific Division and ultimately compete for the cup once again. They'll need better play from Niemi throughout the season to be able to reach their goals, as well as a return to the top tier offensive production they've had in previous years. With a power play as efficient as San Jose's and multiple playmakers this is still a team very capable of doing so.

The Big Guns

Joe Thornton -- The days of league-leading point totals for Jumbo Joe are long gone. But, he has been able to grow his two-way game in ways that no-one -- maybe not even Thornton himself -- ever imagined. He's great in the faceoff circle and he's the guy they call on most, deep in the Sharks zone, to get them out of trouble. Go figure. Even with this two-way growth in his game, he was still able to lead his squad in scoring, potting 18 goals and setting up 59 others last year. Those 59 assists put him in a three-way tie with Erik Karlsson and Evgeni Malkin for third in the NHL. So, what's in order for this 33-year-old pivot? A repeat of those totals and maybe even a return to the point-per-game plateau. Thornton's not as sexy a pick any more, but that just means he might slip a little further on draft day. And that's totally to your advantage.

Patrick Marleau -- Patty, Patty, Patty -- oh, how you tease us, each and every year. He has all the tools -- electric shot, drag-racer speed, elite hand-eye coordination -- but somehow, he seems to disappoint. It's probably because he plays without much emotion at all -- his calm is mistaken for coma. And his passivity can be painful when he decides to slip his game into neutral. What's that old saying -- he's an enigma wrapped up in a riddle? But at the end of every season -- at least five of the last seven -- he tops the 70-point plateau. He's tallied at least 30 goals in six of his last seven seasons. Week-to-week, he's tough to predict. but, if you're patient over the course of the whole season, Marleau will definitely reward you.

Dan Boyle -- Boyle has quietly established himself as one of the steadiest offensive-minded defensemen in the NHL. The 36-year old veteran is the highest scoring defenseman in the league over the last four seasons with 49 goals and 164 assists for 213 points. His offense dropped off last year, but that was the result of playing through a broken foot. The arrival of Brad Stuart will take off some of the defensive pressure on the greybeard, so expect a solid offensive rebound this season. Draft him when everyone else figures he's in for an old-man's decline. You'll be laughing all the way to a title and they'll be crying in their beers.

On The Rise

Logan Couture -- Couture is a product of the Lucan Minor Hockey system. Why does that matter? It's because he has the luck of the Irish -- the Lucan Irish, that is -- behind him. And it's a perfect example of a small town kid who started out, not playing Triple-A hockey, but Double-D instead can make it big in the NHL because of pure athleticism and drive. His talents don't stop there -- at 23, he has x-ray vision and a sharp shot, and he separates himself from the pack with his ability to execute it all at top speed. He's the purest offensive force on the Sharks -- they're his team now, not Jumbo Joe's, at least when it comes to things like sniping that everyone loves in fantasy. We don't expect a huge increase in output over last year's 31 goals and 65 points. but we do think he'll deliver a 30-70 season this year and the next. And the next. And the ... oh, you get it. Now go get him.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Pickles is underrated. His game doesn't stand out in any real way and you rarely hear his name. Such is the life of most super-effective, shutdown defenders. He gets a new partner this year in former Red Wing, Brad Stuart, and this new duo could be one of the best shutdown duos in the Western Conference. Vlasic isn't a head hunter; he uses exceptional positioning and a great stick to frustrate his opponents, and he'll probably end up with close to 25 points, too. Oh ya -- don't forget about all those blocked shots. He stopped 171 last year; he could easily approach 200 this time out.

Andrew Desjardins - Desjardins shot out of the blocks last year with a two-goal effort in his first game. Unfortunately for him, it was his best game of the year. He finished the year with just two more snipes and stood with 17 points total by season's end. But was his season as bad as his numbers looked? Not at all. He was solid in his role as the fourth-line center and he will reprise that role this year. And at some point, he could overtake the aging Michal Handzus and slide up to the third line. His offensive ceiling is ultimately limited. but he could give you 25 points this year. However, it's his energy and physicality that set Desjardins apart -- he'll be a 50/100 (PIM/hits) man this year and will deliver even more in years to come.

Two To Watch

Martin Havlat - There aren't many guarantees in life ... death, taxes and, of course, a Marty Havlat injury. Poor guy. And those injuries have meant he's just never been able to live up to the lofty expectations of his youth. His game is built on electric speed, but it's hard to gauge how much last year's torn hamstring tendon will take off his game. He's not exactly conscientious in his own zone, so he needs the perfect linemates to ensure a healthy marriage for his skills. Draft him with caution again this year. We think he'll probably miss a good 20 games and his production will come in bursts, but he will also deliver you 20-plus goals and 50-plus points. Those potential numbers are great in formats that factor production on a per-game basis.

Brent Burns - Burns, the former first round pick of the Minnesota Wild, had a slow start in his first year with San Jose. However, he did experience a second half surge that resulted in leading the Sharks defense in goals with 11. The 27-year old should be coming into his prime and is thought to be the future anchor of the defense. At 6-5 and 224, he is a force on the ice and, with better conditioning, could see an increase of ice time from last year's 22 minutes-plus per game. Last season Burns lead the Sharks' defense with five power play goals, which means he'll probably see plenty of time with the first unit during the man-advantage.

Don't Overrate

Antti Niemi - Is Niemi the Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy goalies? He won a Stanley Cup with Chicago, but the team cut him loose following an arbitration battle. Yet, all he's done in San Jose is go 69-40-15 with 12 shutouts and a great goals-against average and save percentage. But, questions still remain about Niemi's workload and whether he can truly carry an NHL team. So what's the truth? His butterfly is tidy and he covers the bottom of the net well. Sure, he still struggles with rebounds and sometimes overplays the puck. However, he's poised, sneakily athletic and surprisingly quick, and he's a real battler -- he's not really going to pinch many stinkers on you. Still, we can think of at least 15 guys we'd take ahead of him in a standard, single-year draft, so that means he shouldn't be your top guy in a 12-team league, but Niemi makes an outstanding number two netminder in a two-goalie league.

Michal Handzus - Handzus isn't as bad as his 24 points from last year. The big pivot played most of last year with a nagging hip injury, so it's little wonder he looked bad and slow at times. He should return to the 30-point mark that he delivered two seasons ago, but he will have to work hard to keep Andrew Desjardins from stealing his third-line job. If you're in a league that prizes checking line centers with experience, then Handzus is your pick. If not, you know what to do.