2016 Stanley Cup: Final Takeaways and What We Learned

So, after two months, 27 games and a few too many connecting cross-country flights, this year’s Stanley Cup run is done. The Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that sat under .500 back in January, was able to connect all the pieces late to construct a complete championship effort. In the end, Pittsburgh’s stars came through in a way San Jose’s didn’t, although both clubs share the benefit of having seen young goalies establish themselves in the post-season (Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray and San Jose’s Martin Jones).

San Jose slayed many giants in the Western Conference to get to the final stage, but ultimately a lack of a consistent offense and true goal scorer cost the Sharks. The biggest question remains: what did we learn during the Stanley Cup? What questions do we have moving forward? These brief takeaways hopefully explains more than what we already know.

San Jose considerably out hit Pittsburgh and it still didn’t matter

245-178. That was the final margin of hits in favor of the Sharks. In previous rounds in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, an edge like that would’ve resulted in a series win for San Jose. But not this time. San Jose made a living hammering teams along the boards this season and that mirrored their physical brand of play. Pittsburgh on the other hand, exhibited quicker, more compact forwards that outlasted the Sharks’ pulverizing attack.

The Penguins’ first line consisting of Conor Sheary, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist along with second-liners Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel weren’t fazed of San Jose’s size and strength all series. The common theme during the six games was that Pittsburgh’s forwards routinely sped up San Jose; forcing them into careless turnovers and allowing easy run outs on the side. In total, the Sharks coughed the puck up 82 times–  the most in any series they played in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh out-shot San Jose to death

Call it like an up-tempo offense in football – when a breakneck pace and a free load of shots are the norm. That’s basically the same type of  blistering offense Pittsburgh runs, and just how it wore on the Sharks’ forwards it did the same to their defenseman, too. The amount of one-timers Pittsburgh snuck through San Jose’s pack-line defense was remarkable. Overall, the Penguins’ 206-to-139 advantage for shots on goal constantly kept the Sharks’ goalie, Martin Jones, on his toes.

Jones’ play in net wasn’t a factor that cost them this series, however. Jones never surrendered more than three goals in a game and flashed a 93.3 save percentage. Numbers like that should you win a series, especially in the Stanley Cup. It was actually San Jose’s lack of firepower and a dependable scorer that crippled their offense.

Too many times in the series did the Sharks look for the perfect pass instead of crashing the net repeatedly, a tactic that worked impeccably for Pittsburgh.

How does San Jose fit financially moving forward?

The Sharks have lots of cap space, but historically, they’ve been more of a budget team than a cap team. Having fallen short in the final, we’ll see if owner Hasso Platner decides to get more aggressive financially. More than $13 million will come off the cap next year with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau becoming free agents, while defenseman Brent Burns ($5.76 million) will be in need of a new long-term deal at that point.

The Sharks are otherwise in good shape with three more years of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture at a combined cap hit of $12 million.

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