Editor's Note: Now that the Blues and Capitals have gotten off the Stanley Cup schneid, there's arguably no NHL franchise more "due" to win a Cup than the Sharks. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the five biggest threats to San Jose's championship aspirations in the relatively near future. We continue with the aging roster.
Father Time comes for us all. Sooner or later, it's going to come for the Sharks.
It's not as if the concept of aging only applies to San Jose. Obviously, that's not the case. But one could make the case the Sharks are running out of time much quicker than most other NHL teams.
Simply put, San Jose's best players, on average, are older than their counterparts. Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture are already in their thirties. Martin Jones and Erik Karlsson will join them next January and May, respectively. Evander Kane just turned 28, currently in the thick of his prime.
Then there's the matter of Joe Thornton. He's not technically under contract, but his pending return to the Sharks is the worst-kept secret in hockey. He's 40, with a couple of fairly recent serious knee injuries.
Other than Thornton, all of the aforementioned players are signed for at least the next five seasons. At that point, one can assume they'll all be on the downside of their careers, at best.
Once that core departs, who are the Sharks? What is their identity? Right now, it's too soon to know.
Now, it's not like all of San Jose's top players are dinosaurs. Tomas Hertl is 25. Kevin Labanc is 23. Timo Meier has the look of a prototypical power forward at the ripe age of 22. One would imagine those three will form a considerable portion of the Sharks' core for years to come. And, there are several promising young prospects like Mario Ferraro and Ryan Merkley blossoming in the lower levels.
Still, it's worth noting that Labanc is due to become a restricted free agent at the end of the coming season. Given San Jose's salary constraints, the Sharks run the risk of losing him if he plays well and is rewarded with a considerable offer. The point being: We know who the Sharks are now, but the future -- even just a handful of years down the line -- is a big mystery.
As such, San Jose's aging roster is one of the greatest threats to its ability to win a Stanley Cup in the near future.
Look around the Western Conference. Teams like the Oilers, Coyotes, Blackhawks and Avalanche haven't made much noise in recent years, but they should all be on the upswing with rosters littered with recent high draft picks. Across the league, young players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have taken over the reins, and you can fully expect their teams to be contending for many years to come.
The Sharks don't have that future certainty. The present is what they can bank on, and if they don't win a Cup with this core, there's no telling how long they might have to wait.