American Hockey League

Gregor showing confidence, proving to Sharks he belongs

Sharks fans are about to find themselves in the rare position of witnessing a Stanley Cup Playoff tournament begin from the outside looking in. It has happened just twice since 1997.

The scenario brings a question: If not San Jose, what former Sharks might we want to win it all?

Here’s a quick guide on who to pull for in the Cup chase.

Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild

The Wild, like Stalock, would be underdogs from the start, which would be fun. Stalock originally was drafted by San Jose but ultimately traded away just months before the Sharks went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. After that, he landed a new contract in Minnesota, where he has maintained ever since. This season, Stalock already set career highs in starts and wins.

Prognosis: It would be a great hockey story if Stalock could lead a wild-card team into a Cup winner.

Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars

This one is largely sentimental for Sharks fans, still fond of their former captain, who was not retained over the summer. Pavelski actually has struggled in his first year with Dallas, with his offensive stats about half of what they were in each of the last several seasons in San Jose. That established, the Stars are a deep team with potential lockdown goaltending.

Prognosis: Pavelski in green is the only reason a Sharks fan would ever show love for the Dallas Stars.

Joonas Donskoi and Matt Nieto, Colorado Avalanche

While Donskoi and Nieto didn’t have long or storied careers in San Jose, both were important players during important times for the franchise. And it also shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone how well Colorado has come together in recent years with players like Gabe Landiskog and Nathan MacKinnon leading the youth movement.

Prognosis: Sharks fans would be happy for Donskoi and Nieto but more concerned about Colorado as a long-standing force in the Western Conference.

Peter DeBoer, Vegas Golden Knights

The coach who led San Jose to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final was dismissed this past December. Then, less than two months later, he joined one of the Sharks’ biggest rivals. There’s no question that despite some of its detours this season, Vegas still is loaded with talent, and DeBoer is more than qualified to lead them deep. After all, look at his inaugural seasons in San Jose and New Jersey. Both resulted in Cup Final appearances.

Prognosis: With absolutely nothing against Pete DeBoer personally or professionally, if you want this to happen, you cannot claim to be a Sharks fan.

Barclay Goodrow, Tampa Bay Lightning 

He scored what many consider the biggest goal in Sharks franchise history, and now he has a chance to play with a high-powered, high-potential Lightning club out East.  Tampa also is highly motivated, after being the first team qualified, and eliminated from last year’s playoffs. Goodrow was extremely well-liked by teammates in California, and his ascent in San Jose was the kind of progression that makes an organization proud.

Prognosis: After being “that close” in several recent seasons, it would be fitting to see this version of Tampa Bay rewarded with a Cup, including a deadline-acquired player like Goodrow who might have pushed them over the top.

Patrick Marleau, Pittsburgh Penguins

This one is difficult. Some would argue Sidney Crosby already has won enough. Others would recall what Pittsburgh did to San Jose in June 2016. But at the end of it all, you have to just look at the face of 40-year-old Patrick Marleau. A Stanley Cup literally is all that’s missing from a storied hockey resume. The Penguins certainly have all the tools to be the last team standing, and “Mr. Shark” might even come back to San Jose next season, anyways.

Prognosis: Even if you didn’t pull for Pittsburgh specifically during these playoffs, it’s guaranteed you would shed a tear to see Marleau holding a Cup. 

Jason Demers, Arizona Coyotes

The former Sharks defenseman of 300 games has been plagued with injuries in each of the last two seasons in Arizona, but he always was highly regarded among teammates during his time with San Jose. Since being traded by the Sharks in 2015, he has seen time in Dallas, Florida and now with the Coyotes. San Jose drafted Demers as a seventh-round pick in 2008.

Prognosis: Seeing Demers and the “Desert Dogs” make even a deep run would be refreshing for genuine hockey fans who have watched this franchise fight for survival to exist in the last decade. 

Justin Braun, Philadelphia Flyers

Braun was one of the most underrated Sharks of recent times, and a lot of fans correlated San Jose’s struggles of this season to the departures of players like him and Pavelski last summer. This season, the Flyers have benefited from the reliable defenseman to the tune of 19 points and a minus-1 rating. Braun plays more than 17 minutes per night for an 87-point Philly team that has successfully caught Washington in the standings.

Prognosis: The Flyers, like Braun, might not be on enough people’s radar to win the Cup. A fitting connection.

Dylan DeMelo, Winnipeg Jets

DeMelo had his world changed on the day before training camp opened in 2018. That’s when he and Chris Tierney were traded to Ottawa in the blockbuster Erik Karlsson deal. On Feb. 24, DeMelo was traded once more, from the Senators to a reinvigorated Jets club. He’s back on a contender for the first time in a while, but the Jets are in an extremely crowded race just to qualify for a second wild-card spot.

Prognosis: This season has been one personnel hurdle after the next for Winnipeg, and if the Jets were to do something special, players like DeMelo would be seen with extra value. And that would be rewarding.

[RELATED: Third time a charm for Gregor with Sharks]

Brenden Dillon, Washington Capitals

Dillon was in tears, for what turned out to be his final interview as a Shark in the San Jose dressing room. The moment was touching, genuine and very “on brand” for the team-first defenseman. There almost was a certainty that he would be traded before the deadline, and now he sits next to Alexander Ovechkin’s stall. “Dilly” already has acclimated well to his new teammates, many of which still have the taste of champagne on their tongues from 2018.

Prognosis: If you’re a fan of good people, you’re a fan of Brenden Dillon, and who wouldn’t want to watch him party alongside Alexander Ovechkin?

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