SAN JOSE -- Any analysis looking at the Sharks these days usually mentions a window. And wonders whether it's closing. Or maybe already shut.

The question isn't a new one, but as the NHL begins it's lockout-delayed season Saturday and San Jose plays its first game Sunday, it's one being raised more frequently.

ESPN'S Pierre LeBrun wrote about the Sharks' window closing last spring, and his view hasn't changed. Bob McKenzie of TSN notes, "You know what they say, if you're not getting better you're getting worse, so I would say the window is in the process of closing on San Jose, but I wouldn't count them out just yet."

McKenzie's TSN colleague, former player Ray Ferraro, takes it a step further: That window is down. "They lose in the playoffs last year to St. Louis and then St. Louis gets steamrolled by Los Angeles," he said. "Los Angeles isn't getting worse."

The players that the team has been built around for the last five years aren't necessarily over any hills -- Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are 33, Dan Boyle is 36 -- but the team's record has been steadily declining since hitting a 117-point peak in 2008-09. After finishing as the Western Conference's first or second seed in the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, San Jose dropped to seventh in 2011-12.

Now even NHL.com opens its assessment of the Sharks with that same question.


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Sharks general manager Doug Wilson dismisses the concept.

"The window doesn't close," he said. "Every team evolves and changes."

What doesn't change, Wilson added, are the team's expectations to be in the hunt for the Stanley Cup every year.

Window closing or not, the Sharks have relied more heavily on their older players in recent years than teams that have won the Stanley Cup, and high expectations are part of the reason. Legitimate cup contenders, as the Sharks have been, get fewer high first-round draft picks.

The cup path taken by the Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins -- missing the playoffs for four or five seasons -- does have that reward.

The Sharks can point to players such as Logan Couture (23), Joe Pavelski (28), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (25) and Brent Burns (27) as evidence of their evolution as a team. They have prospects in key positions. The average age of San Jose's roster is 28.1 -- ranked 15th, the NHL's midpoint. Still, the perception persists.

Boyle himself brought the subject up during the lockout.

"For me, I look at a chance to win the cup and I'm getting older. This is our window," the defenseman said in October, adding later: "For this particular team, I think this is a window, a very good opportunity for us and we're not getting a chance."

Now that the team is finally about to get that chance, Boyle, whose point totals have declined the past two seasons, is fine-tuning his words.

"After thinking about it, what I mean by that is if you don't win, changes are going to be made. The core of the guys that have been here, if we don't win, chances are one of us, some of us are going to go," Boyle said this week. "As far as the organization, I don't think so. I like what I see as far as young guys coming up."

That's in line with coach Todd McLellan's thoughts.

"It's a question being asked of teams around the league, ours being one of them," he said. "As star players happen to get a little older, the question becomes more relevant and more prevalent."

Sometimes with age, McLellan continued, "these players can find ways to produce at an even higher level. But if organizations have done a very good job, they have the Logan Coutures, the Joe Pavelskis coming. The passing of the torch has to happen at some point. I'm not saying it's happening here now, but in time it will."

Marleau's productivity has dropped 19 points over the past two seasons, while Thornton rebounded a year ago with a team-high 77 points after falling to 70 in 2010-11. Neither Thornton nor Marleau buy into the notion that the window is closing on them and the Sharks.

"I still have a lot of years ahead of me," Thornton said.

"If you think guys are slowing down then maybe, but I don't think we're slowing down," Marleau said. "I think we're still at the top of our games."

The team's younger players say they don't look at this year or any other in terms beyond the games currently on the schedule.

"You don't think about the year after next year or three years down the road," Couture said. "It's this year. You see the talent we have in this room, the way this team is capable of playing. That's all I care about."

For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PollakOnSharks.

Sunday's game

Sharks at Calgary, 3 p.m., CSNCA