State of the Stanley Cup drought: How close are Sharks to winning first title?

The San Jose Sharks have been fixtures in the NHL playoffs for most of their history, but they've never been able to get over the hump.

This is Part 2 of a 10-part series examining the longest Stanley Cup droughts in the NHL, and how close teams are to breaking through for their first championship in decades — or ever.

Previous articles: Senators

The San Jose Sharks have not been a strong team in recent years, but for much of their history, they've been a model NHL franchise. Unfortunately for San Jose, that's never resulted in a Stanley Cup parade.

In their 31 years, the Sharks have accumulated a 1,124-1,001-121-192 record and made 21 playoff appearances. Those trips to the postseason have resulted in 20 series wins and a 119-122 record.

The Sharks have missed the playoffs in each of the last four years, the longest drought in franchise history, and it's safe to say a title is far from imminent. If San Jose made the postseason next year, it would be a surprising result, and the team's route to building a championship-calibre squad looks murky.

Here's a look at the state of San Jose's Stanley Cup drought:

Tomas Hertl is signed through 2029-30 making him one of San Jose's few long-term building blocks. (Kavin Mistry/NHLI via Getty Images)

How long has it been?

The Sharks have never won the Stanley Cup in their 31 seasons as an NHL franchise.

How close have the Sharks come?

San Jose made one Stanley Cup Final in franchise history back in 2015-16 and came within two games of winning it — falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins. On the surface, the series appeared to be fairly close, as no game was won by more than two goals, but the Sharks never seriously threatened to hoist the Cup.

Not only did San Jose go down 2-0 and 3-1, they were also consistently outplayed throughout the series. Pittsburgh outshot the Sharks 205-138 in the series, and only the heroics of Martin Jones kept things close as he posted a .932 save percentage.

Although San Jose's only trip to the Stanley Cup Final resulted in a rather uninspired performance, the team was good enough to win a title multiple times in the last 20 years. The Joe Thornton era, in particular, opened up a championship window, as the Sharks posted an NHL-high 1,463 points between the season Jumbo Joe arrived (2005-06) and the year his last year with the team (2019-20).

Those teams were built around Thornton and homegrown stars like Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Éduoard Vlasic, Logan Couture and Tomáš Hertl — with Brett Burns reaching a new level in San Jose after spending his first seven seasons with the Minnesota Wild. Evgeni Nabokov and Antti Niemi gave the Sharks solid goaltending, while things tended to be a bit rockier when Jones took over the crease.

According to regular-season results, the strongest Sharks team of all-time was the 2008-09 group.

That edition featured all the usual suspects, with Devin Setoguchi having a career year (65 points) and players like Dan Boyle, Ryan Clowe and Milan Michálek playing at the height of their powers. The club was also bolstered by the presence of Hall of Famer Rob Blake on the blue line, who was still a capable top-four defenseman at the age of 39.

Rob Blake isn't often remembered as a San Jose Shark, but he was a major contributor to the team at the end of his career.  (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Rob Blake isn't often remembered as a San Jose Shark, but he was a major contributor to the team at the end of his career. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

This Presidents' Trophy winning squad produced 117 points during the regular season and drew an Anaheim Ducks team in the first round that had just put together a 91-point campaign.

The heavy favourites proceeded to get absolutely stonewalled by Jonas Hiller in a series they controlled. Despite outshooting Anaheim 230-155, the Sharks lost in six games as the Swiss goaltender posted a .957 save percentage. Hiller currently ranks second all-time in postseason save percentage, and the 2008-09 bout with the Sharks played a significant role in that.

San Jose came back the next season with approximately the same squad and put up 113 points. This time, the Sharks made it to the conference finals, where they ran into an ascendant Chicago Blackhawks team. Once again, they hit a hot goalie — Niemi, the future Shark — and while Marleau scored five goals in the series, the rest of the team managed just two as they got swept.

Unlike some teams who have experienced playoff struggles, the Sharks don't have a particular foe that's been a thorn in their side.

Between 2005-06 and 2012-13, they were booted by a different club each season. The Los Angeles Kings got them twice in a row in 2012-13 and 2013-14. In the latter season, the Kings became the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit, erasing a promising 111-point campaign from San Jose.

How does San Jose's championship prognosis look now?

It's not an exaggeration to say the Sharks are one of the least likeliest teams to win the Stanley Cup in the foreseeable future.

San Jose is coming off a 60-point season in which it iced a veteran team. Not one player under the age of 25 produced more than 17 points for the Sharks or played a significant role of any kind until defenseman Henry Thrun arrived for the last eight games of the season.

The team's prospect pool was considered mediocre midway through 2022-23. The Timo Meier trade helps and an Erik Karlsson deal could also improve the situation — but it'll be a tough trade to swing due to the defenseman's massive salary. Unless the Sharks eat a ton of his contract, the return might be underwhelming.

However that situation plays out, there isn't a massive wave on young talent on the immediate horizon for San Jose. The jewel of the system is now 2023 fourth-overall pick Will Smith, and it will be hard to gauge his NHL potential until he gets more games under his belt.

The team will also have plenty of uncertainty in its crease if its gamble on Mackenzie Blackwood doesn't pay off, and contracts for Vlasic and Couture cost $15 million per season over the next three years despite the fact the duo already has a combined age of 70. Hertl's $8.137 million cap hit through 2029-30 isn't cheap, either. That means there's less cap flexibility in San Jose than other rebuilding clubs like the Ducks and Blackhawks have.

While the situation isn't hopeless, San Jose probably needs to keep bottoming out and building its supply of young talent for a bit. It's impossible to envision what the next championship-calibre Sharks team looks like because it's likely to be built around players who aren't currently in the organization — or at least haven't broken through at the NHL level yet.