A look at the San Jose Sharks’ All-Decade team for the 1990s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: San Jose Sharks (1991-92 to 1999-00)
227-399-80, .378 WIN PCT, 1,912 GF, 2,455 GA, -543 Diff, 5/9 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
The San Jose Sharks began their life in an odd arrangement: the former North Stars’ owners started the Sharks, and then sold the North Stars to new ownership. The Sharks then chose 24 players from the Minnesota North Stars’ organization in a Dispersal Draft, and then the Stars and Sharks chose a combined 20 players from the rest of the NHL in an Expansion Draft. Yeah, I don’t quite get it either. In any case, the Sharks had one of the best-selling jerseys in the league in no time, and were the first in a three-year wave of expansion that added five teams to the league. The Sharks alternated between nearly-historically awful and barely competitive. They lost 55+ games three times, including a staggering 71 in a failed bid to get Alexander Daigle with the first overall pick. Overall during the 1990s, the Sharks’ win percentage was a paltry .378, ranking 25th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. The Sharks were brutal at both ends of the ice: their 2.71 goals scored per game ranked 24th, while their 3.48 goals allowed per game ranked dead last (26th). And their goal differential of -543 was second worst (better only than the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning). But despite the epic levels of bad, they had some fun runs: they upset the Detroit Red Wings in shocking fashion in the 1994 playoffs, and then beat the Calgary Flames in 7 games with the deciding goal coming in double overtime. They may have only once finished with a win percentage above .500, but they quickly built a loyal fan base in Northern California. Everyone has to start somewhere!
Left Wing: Jeff Friesen (448 GP, 137-177-314, -26, 260 PIM, 24 GWG)
Jeff Friesen was one of the key pieces in the Sharks’ journey from floormats to viable franchise. He debuted as a rookie in ’94-95, scoring 25 points in 48 games (shortened due to the lockout). He struggled as a sophomore, with 15 goals, 46 points and a -19 rating. But then he hit his stride: over the next four seasons to close out the decade, he averaged 27 goals and 61 points, and even managed a positive +/- rating twice in four seasons. He was a major threat on the powerplay, scoring 21 goals combined over the ’98-99 and ’99-00 seasons. He was no slouch on the penalty kill either, scoring at least one short-handed marker in five of six seasons in the 90s (including a high of 6 in ’97-98). In addition to consistently hovering around the 200 shots on goal mark, he was also a very clean player: he only once posted a PIM total above 47. Friesen was also clutch: his 24 game-winning goals accounted for 18% of his goals for San Jose during the decade. Definitely the best Left Winger the Sharks had in the decade, and his name still dots the franchise’s all-time leader boards.
Centre: Mike Ricci (223 GP, 42-64-106, +11, 158 PIM, 9 GWG)
Mike Ricci was quite the fan favourite as a Shark. Acquired from the Colorado Avalanche early in the ’97-98 season, Ricci and his amazing hair helped establish a solid two-way presence at center ice for the Sharks. He started slowly with 23 points and a -4 rating in 59 games, and then steadily improved. He posted 13 goals, 39 points and a +1 rating in ’98-99, and finished with 20 goals, 44 points and a +14 rating in ’99-00. Not exactly an all start performance, but center ice really wasn’t a strong suit for the Sharks until Patrick Marleau came into his own early in the 2000s. Ricci was a quality player, and had a solid run with the Sharks: but that stat line being the best among all San Jose centermen over a nine-year period shows just how weak the Sharks were at center during the 1990s.
Right Wing: Owen Nolan (375 GP, 137-157-294, -36, 675 PIM, 15 GWG)
Owen Nolan also arrived from the Colorado Avalanche, and quickly became the face of the Sharks’ franchise. He was the team’s first true star player, and was a solid power forward during his five-year run in the 90s. He posted back-to-back 60-point seasons (with 29 and 31 goals respectively), and then stumbled over the next two seasons (averaging 17 goals and 43 points). But he closed out the 90s with a bang in ’99-00, scoring 44 goals and 84 points. This strong performance saw him represent the Sharks at the All Star Game three times (’96, ’97 and ’00) during the decade. His +/- started out ugly (-30 and -19), but improved over his final three seasons in the decade. Nolan was a physical presence to be sure: he recorded at least 110 penalty minutes in each season. However, his time in the box didn’t impede his offensive opportunities: he recorded 200+ shots on goal three times, posted double-digit powerplay goal totals three times (with a high of 18 in ’99-00< and recorded 15 game-winning goals (11% of his goals for San Jose in the 90s).
And Nolan’s “called shot” breakaway goal on Dominik Hasek at the 1997 All Star Game (pictured above), in front of a hometown San Jose crowed no less, is an iconic moment in the history of the Sharks.
Defense: Sandis Ozolinsh (173 GP, 43-73-116, +3, 98 PIM, 5 GWG)
Sandis Ozolinsh joined the team during the horrid ’92-93 season, but managed a very respectable performance as a rookie: he scored 23 points in 37 games and was only -9 on a team that lost an NHL-record 71 games. Ozolinsh was then a massive part of the Sharks’ incredible turnaround that saw them improve from 24 points in ’92-93 to 82 in ’93-94: this incredible +58 gain is the greatest single-season turnaround in NHL history. Ozolinsh helped fuel this success with 26 goals and 64 points from the blueline, along with a +16 rating. He followed that up with a 25-point performance in 48 games in ’94-95, a 44-point pace over a full 84-game schedule. However, early in the ’95-96 season, Ozolinsh was send to Colorado for Owen Nolan. The move gave the Avalanche an offensive defenseman they needed: they won the 1996 Stanley Cup with Ozolinsh in their line-up. And the Sharks got a franchise player to provide a much-needed jolt to their anemic offense. Ozolinsh wasn’t a physical player, recording just 98 penalty minutes in 173 games. But he was a healthy +3 overall and helped the Sharks achieve their first-ever playoff success in 1994 and 1995. An early hero of the franchise.
Defense: Jeff Norton (215 GP, 12-80-92, +17, 166 PIM, 1 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Mike Rathje
Mike Rathje earns an honourable mention as a longtime Shark. He only played a full (or nearly-full) schedule three times in seven seasons, but was a reliable defensive defenseman: he posted a -18 +/- rating in 376 games (during a span in which the Sharks were a collective -207). But Jeff Norton had two stints that proved quite fruitful. He was a solid two-way defenseman for the team, scoring 20+ points in each of his three 60+ game seasons (and 10 points during a 20-game stint in ’94-95). He had a positive +/- rating three times in four years, and was +17 overall. Not a very physical player (never more than 49 PIM), nor a major threat on special teams (3 powerplay goals, zero shorthanded markers). But he could be counted on to move the puck, and was a capable player during a pair of two-year runs with the team.
Goalie: Mike Vernon (126 GP, 52-49-19, 9 SO, 2.39 GAA, .904 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Arturs Irbe
As a huge fan of Arturs Irbe and his ghetto mask, I desperately wanted to make him the go-to goalie for the Sharks in the 1990s. But he had some truly AWFUL stats, recording a goals-against Average of 4.11 or higher three times in five seasons. His ’93-94 season was critical in the Sharks’ 58-point turnaround: Irbe played in 74 of 84 games, going 30-28-16 with 3 shutouts, a 2.84 GAA and a .899 save percentage. But his overall stats were pretty ugly (57-91-26, 3.47 GAA, .889 PCT). Mike Vernon on the other hand joined the team fresh off winning the Conn Smythe as Playoff MVP for the champion Detroit Red Wings in 1997. Vernon immediately established himself with a 30-22-8 record, 2.46 GAA and .896 PCT in ’97-98. He was traded to the Florida Panthers early in the ’99-00 after losing the starting job to Steve Shields, but posted strong numbers throughout his time in San Jose.