Elite teams -- and that is how the Sharks are perceived around the NHL -- rarely undergo the offseason transformation that has taken place in San Jose.
Gone are top-six forwards Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, as well as role players Scott Nichol, Kyle Wellwood, Jamal Mayer and Ben Eager. Three defensemen -- Ian White, Niclas Wallin and Kent Huskins -- also have moved on.
Their replacements and holdovers from teams that have reached the Western Conference finals the past two seasons are due in town Thursday with Friday's medical tests the official start of training camp.
This year, coach Todd McLellan definitely has his work cut out for him, figuring out how to take all the new pieces, mesh them with the old -- and clear that last hurdle to the Stanley Cup finals.
Obstacles will arise. Already, McLellan has given his blessing to one of those new pieces, Slovakian center Michal Handzus, to be a late arrival because he is involved with the aftermath of the plane crash last week that killed an entire Russian hockey team. Backup goalie Antero Niittymaki might be limited by a lingering injury from last season.
Before the regular season opens Oct. 8, some significant questions need to be answered. Here are five of them:
Who pairs with Brent Burns?
Burns -- the single most significant acquisition of the offseason -- will start camp alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic, rounding out a top four that includes Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray.
McLellan already is trying to temper the high expectations that some might have for Burns, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder who came to San Jose in the trade with Minnesota for Setoguchi and others.
"Because the trade was a big deal for our organization and a focal point over the summer, not only here but even leaguewide," McLellan said, "we have to make sure Burnsie is comfortable as Burnsie and not the savior or anything other than that."
What about the rest of the blue line?
The acquisition of veterans Colin White and James Vandermeer appears to place the Sharks in an interesting -- and perhaps desirable -- predicament with one pair of defensemen too many.
"We'll have four pairs that we think we can trust and use on a nightly basis and even some depth below that," McLellan said. "The blue line has become a much deeper well for us than maybe it has been in the past."
The Sharks traditionally match puck-moving and stay-at-home defensemen. Look for Jason Demers to pair with White and Justin Braun to play alongside Vandermeer.
Where does Martin Havlat fit in?
Things can always change, but initially, the offensive-minded Czech forward acquired from Minnesota for Heatley will be skating alongside Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe.
"Marty has vision, passing ability and he does have a speed element to his game. So I think it's a good combination," said McLellan, who noted he wants to keep Couture and Clowe together as camp opens because of their success last season.
That leaves a top line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
"We will experiment with it," McLellan acknowledged. "We're taking Pavs out of a comfortable position as a center and putting him on the wing, but the way we play -- especially if Patty and Jumbo play together -- they are interchangeable parts."
What about the third and fourth lines?
McLellan calls it a "wide open canvas," and here is where the job competition could be the fiercest as he will commit to only two names -- Handzus and Torrey Mitchell -- for the six openings.
"We need four or five forwards out of a large group to come in and not just make the team, but actually contribute and find a way to make a difference," McLellan said.
That's a pointed reference to last season, where McLellan struggled more than three months to find effective line combinations.
This year, McLellan might be relying on some of the same players who fell short a year ago, plus newly acquired journeymen Andrew Murray, Ben Guite and tryout Brad Winchester.
The holdovers include Andrew Desjardins, who replaced Nichol as the fourth-line center during the playoffs, as well as Jamie McGinn, Benn Ferriero, Tommy Wingels, John McCarthy, Frazer McLaren and Brandon Mashinter.
Can the Sharks fix their penalty kill?
The penalty kill took a nose dive in 2010-11. After two seasons as the NHL's fifth most successful team short-handed, San Jose dropped to 24th overall with a 79.6 percent success rate.
"The numbers have to be better than they were last year," McLellan said. "When you look at it from a pure statistical point of view, we dropped four or five percent in our penalty kill production. That has to come back."
The team is counting on the acquisition of Handzus to help. But McLellan wants more players on the third and fourth line to be effective so he doesn't have to saddle offensive threats such as Thornton or Marleau with the penalty kill.
For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Contact him at 408-920-5940.
1. Who pairs with Brent Burns?
2. What about the rest of the blue line?
3. Where does Martin Havlat fit in?
4. What about the third and fourth lines?
5. Can the Sharks fix their penalty kill?