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Around the rink – February 15; Philly and Tampa face off in East showdown

7:00 p.m.

Toronto @ Boston

Phil Kessel has been playing better of late without the stats to show for it, but facing off with the Bruins in Boston might be the exact wrong thing for him to deal with at the moment. The fans in Boston hate him and now the Leafs begin life without Kris Versteeg after dealing him to Philadelphia yesterday. The Bruins will be happy to not be facing the Red Wings who beat them in back-to-back games over the weekend. Given how poorly Toronto’s done against Boston of late, this game isn’t shaping up to be any good for the Leafs.

7:30 p.m.

Philadelphia @ Tampa Bay

It’s the top two teams in the Eastern Conference and while the Lightning handled them easily the last time they met, the Flyers will be likely bringing Kris Versteeg into action for the first time. Tampa Bay is in the midst of their 12-game home stand and they’ve gone 5-2-0 so far on it. Being able to put one over on the Flyers in this game means they could, if they win in regulation, get within two points of the Flyers for the top spot in the East.

Buffalo @ Montreal

Different things on the line here for both teams. Buffalo would like to put their awful loss to the Islanders behind them and catch Atlanta for ninth in the East standings and move within two points of Carolina for eighth. The Canadiens would like to get the shot at passing the Bruins for the lead in the Northeast Division. The Habs are just one point behind Boston and while the Bruins are also playing tonight, at the very least keeping pace with them should be the key. If the Habs bring the same intensity they brought in their 3-0 win over Toronto, the Sabres are going to have a rough night. The big wonder for the Sabres is whether or not Ryan Miller will get a rest after getting shelled for seven goals against the Isles in his last start.

NY Islanders @ Ottawa

Well, someone’s got to watch this game, don’t they? Ottawa is hoping their win over Edmonton in their last game will help them permanently snap out of their funk. Going up against a game and gutsy Isles team doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. What to look for here: Whether or not Michael Grabner can keep his tremendous play going for New York as the rookie has 24 goals now to lead the team. John Tavares and P.A. Parenteau trail him with 21 each. Who’d have thought the Isles would have three 20-goal scorers at this point in the season?

8:00 p.m.

San Jose @ Nashville

The Sharks look to get back on the good side of things against a team they know all too well by now. After dropping two in a row against the Devils and Panthers, heading into Nashville to deal with the always tough Predators sounds like a rude awakening for the Sharks. Nashville has won two in a row and three of their last four. They’re hoping that the Sharks will be busy looking ahead as it’s their last game of a seven game road trip. The Sharks have gone 4-2-0 on this road swing as it is helping them fight their way into the mix for the Pacific Division lead.

Vancouver @ Minnesota

After such a tough loss to St. Louis last night and losing defenseman Andrew Alberts to a broken wrist the Canucks will call on Yann Sauve to join their vastly depleted defensive corps for the time being. With the Canucks having to deal with their kryptonite-like nemesis in the for of the Wild, it shapes up to be another rough ride for the Canucks. The Wild seem to play their best games against Vancouver and with the team playing even better of late, expect life to be rough on Vancouver in St. Paul. The Wild roll into this game winners of three straight and seeking to keep up with the joneses in the wild Western playoff races.

9:00 p.m.

Dallas @ Edmonton

Could the Oilers be the slump buster the Stars have been hoping for? Dallas had better hope so, but it won’t be easy for them. Top scorer Brad Richards is out with an injury. For Dallas it could be a view of what life would be like without their top playmaker if he was to depart the team as a free agent during the summer. Losing to Edmonton would hammer home how important Richards is to their success. Beating the Oilers would make for a tremendous confidence boost given how the team has struggled lately. For Edmonton, they’d like to get some pride back after losing to Ottawa over the weekend.

Martin Jones is still pretty ‘new’ to this

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 06:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks stands in goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 6, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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You’d have to be an awfully harsh critic not to be impressed with what Martin Jones did last season.

He “didn’t flinch” under the pressure of a run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer described his efforts as some of the best championship round work of “all-time.”

His signing really made the Sharks look smart. With a strong .919 career save percentage in the regular season and a fantastic .923 playoff save percentage, the 26-year-old has succeeded more or less whenever called upon.

That brings us to the interesting part, though: there’s not a lot of tape, so to speak, on Jones as an NHL goalie.

Small sample

The 2015-16 season was just his third of NHL action, and he’s now at just 99 regular season appearances. That fantastic run of 24 playoff games makes up a significant chunk of his overall experience at the top level.

Jones has excelled when tested, but if you have any concern with him, it’s just that he’s relatively inexperienced at carrying that No. 1 workload.

He started in 65 games during the 2015-16 season, towering over his work as a Kings backup (15 appearances in 2014-15, 19 in 2013-14).

On the bright side, the Sharks have additional evidence that he’s not just a flash in the pan.

Strong numbers at each level

Looking at his AHL stats and even going as far back as his WHL days, his numbers have almost always been good to downright impressive.

It all continues the pattern of Jones looking like the real deal, but next season presents the latest test for the promising goalie.

So far, he’s passed all of them with flying colors.

What will Brent Burns’ new contract look like?

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 29:  Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at SAP Center on February 29, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This is part of Sharks day at PHT…

There’s only one Brent Burns, that much is clear. Both on and off the ice, there’s no one like him.

So, what do you pay a guy that’s always imitated, never duplicated?

That’s the dilemma the San Jose Sharks will be faced with in the coming weeks/months.

If you were impressed with Bruns’ 17 goals and 60 points in 2014-15, then his 27 goals and 75 points in 2015-16 was out of this world.

Over the last three seasons, not many forwards have produced as much as Burns, let alone defensemen.

Since being acquired by San Jose in 2011, Burns has hit double digit goals in all but one year (he scored nine in 30 games in 2012-13).

“You know how we feel about Brent. Phenomenal year,” GM Doug Wilson said back in June. “When we acquired him it was a big piece to acquire. There’s no doubt he’s important to us. We want him. I think he loves being here. Those conversations will take place shortly.”

Time to talk numbers…

It sounds like Burns enjoy playing in San Jose, so him taking a bit of a discount is possible. But if we look at the closest comparable…

Dustin Byfuglien, who is 31-years-old like Burns, signed a five-year $38 million contract with the Jets this winter. That comes out to an AAV of $7.6 million.

Both are big, physically imposing and have put up some great numbers in the last few years.

Over the last three seasons, Byfuglien has scored 19, 18 and 20 goals for a total of 57. Burns has scored 27, 17 and 22 for a total of 66.

That’s not a huge difference over three years, but Byfuglien wasn’t coming off a 27-goal season and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final when he signed his contract.

Although we haven’t really heard much regarding Burns’ contract demands, it wouldn’t be shocking for the final cap number to be in the 8 or 9 million range.

Poll: Will the Sharks make it back to the Stanley Cup Final?

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 25:  Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly presents the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl to Joe Pavelski #8 and the San Jose Sharks after their 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game Six of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 25, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Not many people expected San Jose to be in the Stanley Cup Final in 2015-16, but with expectations at an all-time low, they did it.

San Jose has put together some talented teams and before last season, they weren’t able to get over the hump. But now that they’ve gotten over the hump, expectations are back up.

How realistic are these expectations though?

On paper, the Sharks are still loaded. They didn’t lose much this off-season and managed to add speedster Mikkel Boedker in free agency.

Still, when you’re dealing with a number of veterans, you never know when their production will start to dip.

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski are all over 30. Marleau and Thornton are 36 and 37-years-old and they’re entering the final year of their contracts.

The Stanley Cup hangover is real. Although the Sharks didn’t win it, those veterans went four rounds and played in some grueling games along the way. Will they be in tip-top shape come October?

On a more positive note, those veterans are surrounded by some good young players. Logan Couture has developed into a go-to guy, Tomas Hertl proved to be a difference maker at times last year, Joonas Donskoi scored some big goals in the playoffs and prospects like Mirco Mueller, Nikolay Goldobin and Timo Meier are on their way.

The team also has some remarkable depth on defense, as Burns is joined by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin, Justin Braun and a few other key contributors.

Between the pipes, Martin Jones‘ first season as a starting goaltender went pretty well.

“A special group,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said after losing in the Stanley Cup Final, per the team’s website . “But only one team can win. That doesn’t take anything away from what those guys accomplished. I don’t think anyone should ever question the leadership or the character or the will of the group of men in there. I think it’s been misplaced for a decade.

“I would hope they answered some questions. Let’s be honest. Not many people had us making the playoffs. Not many people had us beating [the Los Angeles Kings in the first round]. On an on. I thought a lot of questions were answered by that group.”

It won’t be easy for them to make it back to the final. They’ll have some stiff competition in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Dallas, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and any other team that might surprise.

So, can this “special group” do it all over again next season?

Time to vote!

Under Pressure: Patrick Marleau

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 04:  Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on April 4, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 5-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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This is part of Sharks day at PHT…

Before the 2016 playoffs, there had been a lot of disappointment in San Jose and Patrick Marleau has been there for all of it.

Over the last 18 seasons, Marleau has been the most productive Shark during the regular season. Unfortunately, he’s also one of the players that’s received the most criticism during San Jose’s playoff failures.

Last season, the 36-year-old saw his point total dip for the third straight year. Marleau was still productive (25 goals and 48 points in 82 games), just not as productive as he had been in previous seasons.

It’s no secret that Marleau’s been the talk of trade rumors for years. Even at the beginning of last season, it was reported that he submitted a list of three teams he was willing to be traded to.

“I’ve been here forever and it’s been a great place to play,” Marleau said last November, per CSN Bay Area. “I’m not going to get into specifics or anything like that. There’s always been rumors in my career. I don’t really want to feed into it anymore or comment on it. I don’t want it to become a distraction or anything.”

The Sharks held on to Marleau, and even though the rumors have died down, his days might still be numbered in San Jose (for real this time).

Marleau will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and although he’ll probably make less than his current $6.66 million AAV, it could be the end of the line between these two sides.

The Sharks have younger players like Tomas Hertl, Mikkel Boedker and a number of prospects like Nikolay Goldobin, who will be ready to jump into the lineup soon.

With an aging core, Marleau might be the first veteran San Jose cuts ties with because Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are still performing at a high level.

Also, the fact that Thornton and Brent Burns both need new contracts after next season certainly doesn’t help Marleau’s case. And in two years from now, Tomas Hertl will be looking for a bump in pay as well.

The odds seem to be stacked against Marleau. If he wants to remain a Shark, he’ll have to take a significant pay cut or have a huge bounce back season.