When we last saw the San Jose Sharks, they were getting skated off the ice in the Stanley Cup finals by a Pittsburgh Penguins team that was faster, deeper and more than San Jose could handle in a long series.
The sour ending overshadowed a remarkable run by the Sharks, one that saw them return to Western Conference power status. That was further underlined by the strong presence of San Jose players on Canada's World Cup team, where Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture all played important roles.
NHL history hasn't been kind to the Stanley Cup runner-up. It's hard to climb that mountain, get knocked off and then begin that long climb again.
The Lightning did well to get to the Eastern Conference finals last year, but they certainly had their regular-season issues along the way.
"Guys are excited to get back and get this season started," said Couture. "There was a sense of disappointment once it ended. Throughout the summer, talking to guys, everyone is just excited to get back and get going again."
They have a full season under coach Peter DeBoer, so there should be a heightened comfort level in his system. They also will be playing with the confidence that comes on the heels of a long playoff run, one that included a payback series against the rival Los Angeles Kings.
The Pacific is wide open, and the Sharks are best built to take advantage.
Best new faces
The Sharks used team speed to beat the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference finals but didn't quite have enough to match up with the Penguins. The addition of Mikkel Boedker helps address that. Boedker is a great skater who adds to an already-deep group of forwards in San Jose.
"We got better this summer," Couture said. "[Boedker] is a quick guy. We played against him a lot in our division. He's going to help our power play. He's going to add speed and depth. He's going to push guys down in the lineup where we can have an edge in matchups."
The addition of David Schlemko on defense was another quiet but effective addition. He'll bring mobility and puck-moving to the bottom end of the Sharks' defense.
Like the Lightning -- runners-up in 2015-16 -- before them, the Sharks have contract issues to resolve, and you just know how that's going to impact play on the ice. Defenseman Brent Burns is a dynamic defenseman who has emerged as one of the best in the league -- but he needs a new deal and is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Wilson has traditionally gotten his core players to stay in San Jose at a discounted rate and very reasonable terms. As other general managers were giving out crazy, decade-long deals to their players when that was allowed under the previous CBA, guys like Thornton and Patrick Marleau instead signed team-friendly deals to keep the Sharks competitive.
Both Marleau and Thornton are also entering the last years of their contracts. The expectation is that Thornton won't be going anywhere, but Marleau's status isn't quite as clear.
Let's make this section a Marc-Edouard Vlasic appreciation. He got some love during the Stanley Cup finals and occasionally his game was highlighted during the World Cup, but when you play with a wildman like Brent Burns, you tend to get overlooked.
Vlasic is a sure thing. DeBoer knows what he's getting every night from Vlasic and sends him out on the hardest assignments every game. Vlasic and Justin Braun face the toughest competition and still control the play a majority of the time. The Sharks controlled 52.7 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when those two were on the ice together last season.
Vlasic's presence frees up Burns to play against slightly easier competition, usually starting in the offensive zone. Vlasic, meanwhile, started just 42.8 percent of his even-strength shifts in the offensive zone. He's invaluable to the Sharks.
"He's, in my mind, the best shutdown guy in our conference and I think the NHL," Couture said. "He's just a quiet player and he plays that effortless quiet game."
The Sharks are going to win the Pacific and enter the postseason as a favorite to represent the Western Conference again in the Stanley Cup finals. Joe Thornton is winding down his career and this is a team capable of giving him a real shot at finally hoisting the Stanley Cup. First in the Pacific; Stanley Cup finalists.