Should the San Jose Sharks bring back former captain Owen Nolan?

owennolanbleeds.jpgBefore Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Nabokov and Joe Thornton, the player most hockey fans associated with the San Jose Shark was once-captain Owen Nolan. From a portion of the 1995-96 season through the first 60 games of the 2002-03 campaign, Nolan was the grizzly face of the franchise. His rugged play and Babe Ruth-style All-Star Game goal are enduing images of an era when the team would have been quite happy with making the playoffs, rather than a disappointment once they were booted.

He’s bounced around the league since then, playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild during the last six years.

Even though he’s no longer the force he once was for middling but steadily improving Sharks teams, he’s still been a fairly productive player. He might not be able to hit the 25-goal mark again like he did in a surprising 08-09 season, but he’s hovered around the 16 goal mark with notable regularity in his twilight years.

So he won’t necessarily win you a Cup, but if you’re looking for a savvy veteran who can bring some goals and grit to the table, Nolan might be your guy. When you add the bonus of nostalgia – and the fact that he still skates in San Jose during the off-season and owns restaurants and a residence in the area – his old team in San Jose might actually be the perfect destination for Nolan.

San Jose Sharks blog Fear the Fin gives a few reasons why such a move would work.

First, he improves secondary scoring. Although he was in the middle of the pack among Minnesota’s forward group in terms of quality of competition according to behindthenet.ca, Nolan still chipped in 16 goals on a weak offensive team. Logan Couture will likely replace most of the scoring leaving with Manny Malhotra, but adding Nolan’s almost guaranteed 16 tallies (he’s scored 16 goals or more in each of his last five seasons) wouldn’t hurt. Nearing his 40’s, it’s unlikely that Nolan will hit the 25 goal mark he did two years ago, but playing with San Jose (a team that is better offensively by leaps and bounds), it’s not crazy to think he could net 20.

Second, Nolan brings the Sharks another player capable of playing penalty minutes. Although Wilson brought Jamal Mayers aboard to plug this hole, we’ve discussed how poor a penalty killer Mayers actually is. While Nolan hasn’t been the most defensively sound forward at points in his career, he did play 1.42 minutes per 60 on the penalty kill, top six amongst Wild forwards.

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The last main thing that Nolan brings, in my opinion, is a veteran leadership that this team lacks on the lower lines. Nolan is one of the NHL’s elder statesmen, and a trusted voice around the NHL. While he had the reputation of being somewhat of a malcontent earlier in his career, those days appear to be past him. He’d be a perfect mentor and line mate for the young McGinn and Couture, and would help to make that line a real offensive weapon for the Sharks.

The prospective addition of Nolan reminds me somewhat of the addition of Jeremy Roenick just a few years ago. Doug Wilson doesn’t have a problem bringing on older players if he feels that they can add to the team.

I have to admit that I thought the Sharks would be hit much harder by their free agent-filled summer, but it seems like it might come down to how important their goalie of the decade Evgeni Nabokov really was. If the team can land Nolan and useful positional defenseman Willie Mitchell to the mix, they’ll have a veteran-heavy squad with their eyes fixed on the Stanley Cup.

However, unlike Nolan against Dominik Hasek all those years ago, I won’t be calling that shot.

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    It’s Calgary Flames day at PHT

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 29: Sean Monahan #23 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his goal with teammates against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Wells Fargo Center on February 29, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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    If you want to boil the Calgary Flames’ past two seasons down simply, you could do worse than this:

    In 2014-15: Bob Hartley won the Jack Adams Award.

    In 2015-16: The Flames fired Bob Hartley.

    The Flames finished this past season with 77 standings points, missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years.

    While Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan survived the sophomore curse, the Flames couldn’t survive in their own end. No team allowed more goals than the 260 Calgary surrendered last season. It cost people some jobs, most notably that of Hartley.

    Off-season

    Naturally, the first big change in Calgary comes with Glen Gulutzan replacing Hartley behind the bench.

    Much like the team he’s coaching, Gulutzan needs to get over some past failures (he failed to make the playoffs during his two seasons coaching the Dallas Stars) but is young enough (45) to argue that the best days are ahead.

    To little surprise, the Flames decided that Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio isn’t necessarily the group of goalies to get things done. The Flames brought in two-time All-Star Brian Elliott to try to right the ship.

    The Flames didn’t stop there, adding Chad Johnson as Elliott’s backup. With a .917 career save percentage, Johnson could very well keep Elliott on his toes.

    Aside from big improvements behind the bench and in the net, the Flames’ most noteworthy work came in extending Sean Monahan,* picking up Troy Brouwer and landing Matthew Tkachuk in the draft.

    Calgary is making a lot of strong moves, but did they make enough to climb back into the postseason in 2016-17? PHT will explore these factors on Saturday.

    * – Naturally, the biggest move needs to come soon: also handing an extension to Gaudreau.

    Avalanche’s new head coach Bednar is at least saying the right things

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    Look, there are exceptions, but new head coach press conferences feature the same basic terms and buzzwords.

    After witnessing the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins skate opponents ragged on their way to the 2016 Stanley Cup, any reasonable coach would throw “speed” into their phrasing.

    Still, the Colorado Avalanche have been so deeply buried by even the most basic of modern measurements that you had to wonder: would they learn from Patrick Roy’s struggles? Can someone come in and at least attempt to keep up with the pack?

    We won’t know for sure anytime soon, but hey, at least Jared Bednar seems to be saying the right things as he transitions from the AHL to the Avalanche’s head coaching gig.

    When discussing his hire with NHL Network, Bednar seemed confident that his style in the AHL – “Up-tempo, aggressive style in all three zones of the rink” – will translate well in Colorado.

    That interview hits the beats you’d expect from job interviews beyond hockey. There’s even a “detail-oriented” bit.

    (If you space out, you might just assume there’s a mention of thinking outside the box, like every corporate interview in human history.)

    Still, it’s OK to settle for baby steps, especially considering the tough situation Patrick Roy created in abruptly skipping town. For many, it might just be comforting to note that Bednar doesn’t outright dismissive “analytics” or “fancy stats.”

    Mile High Hockey brings up a great point: if nothing else, the spotlight will shift from the Avalanche’s flamboyant head coach to the talented core of young players.

    So, not only is Colorado bringing in a coach who is as savvy with spreadsheets as he is with the wipe-off board, but he’s going to allow the players to crawl out from under Roy and finally earn their own accomplishments. This is every bit as important as fixing the breakout play or eliminating the Collapse-O-Rama™ defensive system.

    (Collapse-O-Rama, huh? Can we stash that term for future use regarding another coach or two?)

    Bednar isn’t a retread, so we only know so much about what to expect.

    There are positive early signs. Roll your eyes all you want, we have seen more than a few successful transitions from AHL glory (Bednar just won the Calder Cup) to the NHL.

    He’s not necessarily anti-information and seems at least interested in implementing modern, attacking systems. Attacking systems that, theoretically, would best suit the talents of a gifted-but-flawed group.

    It all feels a little vague, but then again, it’s not even September yet. So far, so good.

    One way or another, Al Montoya will be important to Canadiens

    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02:  Goalie Al Montoya #35 of the Florida Panthers looks on in the second period against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on February 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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    This is part of Canadiens day at PHT …

    Here’s an unsolicited opinion: a good backup goalie is often underrated.

    Yes, getting a quality Plan B is easier said than done – goalies are an unpredictable lot – but it’s simple to see when it pays off.

    (There are plenty of examples, but Matt Murray winning a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins is the shiniest one.)

    Even if injuries aren’t a big issue, a No. 2 goalie is a pretty safe bet to play 20 games for a given team. In that regard, Al Montoya could be a significant upgrade over Mike Condon, and that could be important.

    Waning workhorses

    In 2015-16, no goalie played 70 regular season games. Jonathan Quick was the workhorse of the NHL with 68, while only 10 played at least 60. So, more than two-thirds of last season’s teams needed at least 24 games from their lesser-paid goalies.

    Even in Carey Price‘s dominant 2014-15 campaign, he played 66 games while Dustin Tokarski was in net for 17.

    Let’s ponder the outlook for a variety of scenarios as Price hopes to rebound from injury:

    If Price resumes Vezina-caliber form

    As PHT notes, Price seems confident that he’s at 100 percent.

    That’s great … but what else is he going to say? Knee injuries can beguile just about any athlete.

    He does admit that he’s getting up there in age a bit – relative to the sport, mind you – at 29. Earlier this summer, the Hockey News went over Montreal’s plan to scale Price’s workload a bit, injured or not.

    So, even in a dream scenario, Montoya and/or Condon will still see plenty of reps.

    If Price falters

    The Canadiens are expected to live or die by Price. Let’s not kid ourselves.

    The leash might not be very long for Michel Therrien if Price really falls on his face, however. A Condon-led Habs team stumbled terribly, but what might we see from Montoya being thrust into the spotlight for performance reasons?

    • With a .909 career save percentage, Montoya’s experienced his stumbles in the NHL. Montreal has to hope he follows more of the path from strong showings in 2013-14 (13-8-3, .920 save percentage with Winnipeg) and 2015-16 (12-7-3, .919 save percentage with Florida).

    Long story short, there were flashes of the brilliance you’d expect from a guy who went sixth overall in 2004.

    • The good news is that he’s accustomed to a fairly heavy backup duty. He set a career-high with 31 games played and 26 starts with the Islanders in 2011-12. Including that season, he’s enjoyed 20+ appearances in five of his last six seasons.
    • The bad news is that he hasn’t ever even carried half of a season’s workload so …

    Yes, a Price re-injury would be disastrous

    Montoya hasn’t been “the guy” before, certainly not in a pressure-cooker like Montreal. Condon’s opportunity didn’t go especially well.

    One can understand ownership giving Therrien and GM Marc Bergevin something of a “Price pass” after 2015-16, but would there be the same level of acceptance if they couldn’t thrive without their star goalie again? You’d have to ask about lessons learned.

    ***

    Long story short, Montoya matters to Montreal. The Canadiens just have to hope that he doesn’t matter too much.

     

    Ducks lock up 2016 first-rounder Max Jones

    BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Max Jones poses for a portrait after being selected 24th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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    The Anaheim Ducks handed their 2016 first-round draft pick Max Jones an entry-level contract on Friday.

    Anaheim selected Jones 24th overall. It looks like he’s getting a pretty typical rookie deal, according to reporters including NHL.com’s Curtis Zupke.

    In PHT’s “Get to Know a Draft Pick” series, THN’s Ryan Kennedy described Jones as “a power forward who can make you look silly with his offensive moves or simply plow you through the boards.”

    Jones was one of three London Knights players who went in the first round in 2016, following Olli Juolevi (fifth overall) and Matthew Tkachuk (sixth overall). He certainly seemed to enjoy the team’s Memorial Cup victory:

    You never really know for certain, but one would imagine that Jones may take a season or two to make it to the NHL level with the Ducks. From the sound of things, he’s in the sort of power forward mold that the team’s had a lot of success with.