Our “Best Teams Ever” NHL Saturday miniseries takes the long drive from Pennsylvania to Northern California this week, as we visit the only remaining Best Coast team to have not won the Stanley Cup—despite its regular-season successes. The San Jose Sharks were the winningest team in the league from 1998-2019, yet they never won it all. Overall, in 31 total seasons, the team has made the Stanley Cup playoffs 21 times, but advancing to the Cup Finals just once (2016).
No. 5: 2013-14 San Jose Sharks
With 111 points, this team finished second in the Pacific Division with a 51-22-9 record. These Sharks had symmetry: No. 5 in goals scored, No. 5 in goals allowed, and No. 5 in the SRS rankings overall. It was a typically great San Jose team. Alas, it suffered a horrible fate in the postseason, becoming the fourth team ever to blow a 3-0 series lead in the playoffs. The Sharks did lose to the Los Angeles Kings, though, the team that would go on to win the Stanley Cup via three Game 7s.
San Jose didn’t have a point-a-game skater, but three centers led the way on offense: Joe Pavelski (41G, 38 A), Joe Thornton (11G, 65A), and Patrick Marleau (33G, 37A)—scoring balance on every line. In net, goaltender Antti Niemi (39-17-7, 4 shutouts) was ably backed up by Alex Stalock (12-5-2, 2 SOs). The Sharks scored 17 goals in the first three games against the Kings—and then scored just 5 goals in the final four games, losing every time by at least 3 goals. Ouch.
No. 4: 2008-09 San Jose Sharks
This squad still holds the franchise records for wins (53) and points (117), as it won the Pacific Division and clinched the best record in the league. But the Sharks were just seventh in goal scoring and fifth in goal prevention, adding up to a No. 3 finish in the SRS rankings. Once again with home ice in the first round against an inferior opponent from Southern California, San Jose collapsed. This time, it was the Anaheim Ducks who dealt the death blow, beating the Sharks in six.
Thornton (25G, 61A, 56 PIMs) and Marleau (38G, 33A) led the team in scoring, with longtime stalwart Evgeni Nabokov (41-12-8, 7 SOs) as the main man in net. Veteran Brian Boucher (12-6-3, 2 SOs) backed up Nabokov well, too. But the Sharks dropped the first two games at home in the playoff series and never really recovered. San Jose was outscored, 18-10, in the matchup, getting shutout twice and losing by a single goal twice, too. It was a disappointment, for sure.
No. 3: 2001-02 San Jose Sharks
The Sharks won the Pacific Division with just 99 points, based on a 44-27-11 record. But they were actually No. 2 in the overall SRS rankings, thanks to the No. 4 offense and the No. 9 defense. In the first round of the postseason, San Jose easily dispatched the Phoenix Coyotes in 5 games, but then the Sharks had to face the defending champion Colorado Avalanche in the second round. San Jose went up 3-2 in the matchup—then lost both Games 6 and 7 by one goal each.
Ten skaters on the roster notched at least 31 points, although no single player dominated the scoring. C Owen Nolan (23G, 43A, 93 PIMs) was the best of the bunch, oddly. Nabokov had a good season with a 37-24-5 record, adding 7 SOs in the process. He gave up just 7 goals in 5 games against the Coyotes, but the Avs were a different challenge: San Jose lost Game 6 in overtime at home (enduring an earthquake, too), and then Colorado won Game 7 at home, 1-0, to end it all.
No. 2: 2009-10 San Jose Sharks
San Jose followed up its Presidents’ Trophy in 2009 with this sabermetrically superior team: 51-20-11 record, 113 points, first place in the Pacific. The Sharks were No. 4 on offense, No. 7 on defense, and No. 3 in the overall SRS. They dropped the Avs in the first round (6 games) and the Detroit Red Wings (5 games) in the second round. But then they had to face the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals, and San Jose got swept away, readily.
A trio of point-per-game skaters topped the roster: Thornton (20G, 69A, 54 PIMs), Marleau (44G, 39A), and left wing Dany Heatley (39G, 43A, 54 PIMs). Nabokov crazily started 71 games while posting a 44-16-10 record with 3 SOs. The team may have peaked in winning four 1-goal games against the Red Wings, because there seemed to be little left in the tank against Chicago: The Sharks were outscored, 13-7, in the four games, losing Games 1 and 3 by one goal each time.
No. 1: 2006-07 San Jose Sharks
Strange that this would be the best team in franchise history, but that’s how sabermetrics work. San Jose posted a 51-26-5 record for 107 points and a second-place finish in the Pacific. But the Sharks were No. 2 in the SRS, based on the No. 6 offense and the No. 3 defense. In the first round, they dispatched a strong Nashville Predators club in just 5 games before facing the Red Wings in the second round. San Jose scored just 9 goals in 6 games to get eliminated painfully at home.
With yet another roster dominated by Thornton (22G, 92A, 44 PIMs), Marleau (32G, 46A, 33 PIMs), and Nabokov (25-16-4, 7 SOs), the Sharks always seemed to come up short in the postseason after excelling in the regular season. It’s an obvious pattern throughout franchise history, of course. Nabokov had help in net this time, too, from Vesa Toskala (26-10-1, 4 SOs), but it didn’t help in the postseason: Nabokov’s .932 S% against Detroit still wasn’t good enough to advance.