2010-11 NHL season preview: San Jose Sharks

1 Comment

toddmclellansad.jpgLast season: (51-20-11, 113 points, 1st in Pacific Division,1st in Western Conference) The Sharks had another fantastic regular season. After fighting off the pesky Avalanche and the tired Red Wings in the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks swept them away in the Western finals. It’s always embarrassing to lose a series 4-0, but the games against the eventual Cup champs were very competitive. In a way, though, that typified the Sharks fan experience; watch your team out-shoot and skate with their opponents only to watch them lose anyway. So, ultimately, it was a ‘good news/bad news’ season in San Jose.

Head coach: In some ways, Todd McLellan inherited a no-win (or only win if you capture a Cup) situation when the team parted ways with Ron Wilson. He hasn’t been able to get the team over the hump in some ways, but the Sharks play a very Red Wings-like style of puck possession, high-shot volume and face-off dominance. Who knows if that will ever win them a Cup, but it seems like the team is in good hands with McLellan.

Key departures: G Evgeni Nabokov, D Rob Blake, F Manny Malhotra, F Jed Ortmeyer. Nabokov is the biggest loss after 10 years as the Sharks’ franchise goalie. No doubt about it, the team’s new goalies are their most interesting storyline. Blake’s mixture of physical play and booming shot will be missed, but he was getting up there in years. Malhotra is a face-off wizard and will be missed in subtle ways.

niemiasashark.jpgKey arrivals: G Antti Niemi, G Antero Niittymaki, F Jamal Mayers. The Sharks exchanged one expensive Russian goalie for a Finnish pair that will cost 2/3 of the price. The catch is that it’s unclear what they’ll get from Niemi and Niittymaki after a decade of often great, yet occasionally infuriating, work from Nabokov. Mayers is a depth forward of questionable value.

Under pressure: Isn’t it always Joe Thornton? The world-class passer will always be under the microscope once the playoffs roll around, but this year is even more pressurized because Jumbo Joe might earn a Jumbo Deal. He’s an unrestricted free agent after the  season.

Protecting the house: The Sharks got an up-close-and-personal look at Niemi as he played his best hockey for the Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals and owns a Stanley Cup ring. Niemi will have plenty of motivation from within and also from San Jose’s bench as Niittymaki was actually the team’s first netminder addition. Two decent goalies don’t make one good one, though, so one of them will need to step up for San Jose to come out smelling like roses.

Losing out on free agent Willie Mitchell this summer probably downgrades their defense from very good to solid. They have one fantastic offensive defenseman (Dan Boyle), one rock solid stopper (Marc-Edouard Vlasic) and one heavy hitter (Doug Murray). The problem comes after those three, though. Jason Demers is offensively flashy but not quite ready yet, Niclas Wallin seems a bit overpaid for his value and Kent Huskins is, well, Kent Huskins. They’re not necessarily putting their new goalies in the best position to succeed with their solid (but not superlative) defense.

sharksbigline.jpgTop line we’d like to see: Dany Heatley-Thornton-Patrick Marleau. The line that often dominated the league last season is an amazing collection of talent. Heatley brings that single-minded scoring touch, Thornton can make millionaires out of the likes of former Shark Jonathan Cheechoo because of his passing ability and Marleau can do a little of everything.

Oh captain, my captain: With Rob Blake retired, the Sharks need to name a new captain. It would probably be awkward to hand the ‘C’ back to Patrick Marleau, so I’d name one-time Cup winner and dazzling talent Dan Boyle the captain. Joe Pavelski would be an interesting choice some day, but I’m not sure he’s ready for that just yet.

Street fighting man: The Sharks aren’t really a team that emphasizes fighting, but rugged winger Scott Nichol will occasionally throw some punches if called upon. They no longer have a designated clubber like Jody Shelley. Instead they focus on employing real hockey players.

Best-case scenario: After years of frustration, we find out that it was Nabokov’s fault after all (kidding). Niemi becomes a back-to-back Cup winner while Niittymaki provides useful sport (and valuable competition) as the 1b. Thornton gets whatever playoff monkeys remained off his back with a Conn Smythe-worthy performance, but Marleau gets the playoff MVP instead. The Sharks finally win that Cup and kill the choking jokes … for at least a few years.

Worst-case scenario: Niemi and Niittymaki fall apart behind a defense that is worse than expected. Not only do the L.A. Kings pass San Jose by, but the Coyotes do as well. The Sharks eek their way into the playoffs (sorry, I can’t imagine them missing the postseason) only to suffer from another Blackhawks sweep.

Keeping it real: The Sharks still host some of the best talent in the NHL, but they have a lot working against them. Not only do they need to adjust to a new goalie in net, they also travel at least 2,000 miles more than any other team in the league. So there are reasons to be negative, but let’s face it: they’re a regular-season beast year after year for a reason. They have four elite players and some really good pieces such as Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi. The Kings will nip at their heels, but San Jose wins the division again.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Sharks get a 5. Many will jeer at this since they’ve fallen short of a championship all these years, but their chances are just as strong as anyone else.

Devils’ Merrill undergoes shoulder surgery, out four months

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04: Jon Merrill #7 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Detroit Red Wings at the Prudential Center on January 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Red Wings defeated the Devils 1-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

New Jersey d-man Jon Merrill, who struggled through an injury-riddled campaign, has undergone successful shoulder surgery with an expected recovery time of four months, the club announced on Wednesday.

Merrill, 24, only appeared in 47 games this year, first missing time with an arm injury, then suffering a shoulder ailment late in the year.

There was no clear indication if the two ailments were related, but Merrill’s arm injury was on the right side, and surgery was on his right shoulder.

A former University of Michigan standout taken 38th overall in 2010, Merrill enjoyed solid rookie and sophomore campaigns in New Jersey. His second year was especially solid — 14 points in 66 games, averaging over 20 minutes per night — and he boasts good size, going 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

Based on the four-month timetable for recovery, Merrill will likely miss parts of New Jersey’s training camp and preseason action.

Max Talbot mulling European options for next season

Calgary Flames v Boston Bruins
Getty Images
1 Comment

After a 10-year career with over 700 games played and one Stanley Cup, Maxime Talbot could be done in the NHL.

Per RDS, Talbot — who’ll hit unrestricted free agency on July 1 — has “some options in Europe” for next season, and is contemplating a move overseas.

In his prime, Talbot was a gritty, hardworking forward with decent touch around the net. He scored double-digit goals four times, including a career-high 19 in ’11-12.

The 32-year-old split last season between Boston and its AHL affiliate in Providence, scoring seven points in 38 games at the NHL level.

Talbot did acquit himself very well with the P-Bruins — 21 points in 26 games — and has some experience playing abroad, having suited up for Finnish League club Ilves Tampere during the lockout.

Based on how things went last year in free agency, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Talbot land in Europe.

The likes of Maxim Lapierre, Curtis Glencross and Marcel Goc all failed to score NHL contracts last summer — Lapierre and Goc proceeded to sign overseas, while Glencross opted to retire.

 

Ex-‘Hawks coach Suhonen takes Austrian national team job

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13:  Thomas Raffl #5 of Austria celebrates with his teammates after Thomas Hundertpfund #27 scored a goal in the first period against Tuukka Rask #40 of Finland during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group B game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alpo Suhonen, who became the first European-born NHL coach in over 50 years upon taking the Chicago gig in 2000, has been named the new bench boss of the Austrian men’s national team, per IIHF.com.

Suhonen, 67, takes over from former NHL defenseman Dan Ratushny, who was splitting duties between Team Austria and Lausanne of the Swiss League.

Suhonen takes over the national team at a critical juncture. Austria finished a disappointing fourth at the 2016 World Hockey Championship Division 1 tournament — meaning the country finished 20th overall. As the IIHF websites notes, that’s the worst finish for Austria in 86 years of WHC competition.

Looking forward, Austria does have a chance to make amends this summer, when it will play a series of contests to prep for Olympic qualification.

Suhonen inherits a roster with decent NHL pedigree as Thomas Vanek, Michael Raffl and Michael Grabner are all eligible to participate.

That said, Vanek was named to Team Europe’s initial 16-man roster for the World Cup of Hockey, and it remains to be seen how that will impact his national team commitments.

Datsyuk’s agent acknowledges offer from KHL’s SKA, but no deal yet

Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk (13) celebrates his empty net goal against the Edmonton Oilers in the third period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Monday, March 9, 2015. Detroit won 5-2. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP
Leave a comment

Gennady Timchenko, the billionaire chairman of KHL club SKA Saint Petersburg, reportedly believes there’s a “good chance” that Pavel Datsyuk will be playing for his team next season.

But according to Datsyuk’s agent, Dan Milstein, there’s only been an offer from SKA. Nothing has been signed yet. There could still be offers from other KHL teams for his client to consider.

And at any rate, Milstein insisted once again that Datysuk won’t be making any decisions until he speaks with the Detroit Red Wings in mid-June, after the 37-year-old returns from a family vacation.

Milstein passed along that update to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, plus a few other Wings reporters.

Related: Datsyuk ‘wants to make sure the Wings have options’