Dallas Stars v San Jose Sharks

Three reasons why this year’s San Jose Sharks team is different

If you ask me, it’s ridiculous to make a Stanley Cup victory the only barometer for a successful NHL season. Yet that’s the way it is with some hockey fans and pundits, at least when it comes to teams who have a reasonable chance at success.

Fair or not, the San Jose Sharks – and their frequently critiqued captain Joe Thornton, in particular – have been dismissed as paper regular season champions who fold once playoff time comes. Perhaps that’s the price they pay for consistent success at the “wrong” time.

Still, with the Sharks claiming their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title, experts are starting to wonder if this might be the San Jose team that breaks through. With that in mind, I thought I’d look at the biggest reasons why this Sharks team is different from previous, some-might-say disappointing editions.

1. Improved scoring depth

While people practically trip over their own feet rushing to blame Thornton for the latest “collapse,” those same folks often overlook the fact that hockey is a team sport. Maybe depending so much on one player – particularly a playmaker whose passing lanes clog up considerably in the postseason – isn’t such a great idea in a time when teams can dedicate far more time to getting matchups right.

Thornton is still a go-to guy in San Jose, but their offense isn’t leaning on him as much as years passed. Jumbo Joe only has 68 points in 2010-11, his lowest total since 01-02 (when he was 22 years old).

Beyond stalwarts Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, the Sharks are generating more offense from lower lines. While Joe Pavelski was a well-respected two-way forward among knowledgeable hockey fans, he truly burst onto the scene during a red-hot 2010 playoffs run.

Beyond “The Big Pavelski,” the Sharks are also reaping the rewards of trusting rookie center Logan Couture. He’s an odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy for his offensive ability (31 goals and 54 points), but distinguishes himself for being a superior all-around player. Devin Setoguchi is another wild card at the wing position, giving the Sharks a more robust set of options when they need a goal.

Add this extra versatility with a roster that was already jam-packed with big, talented players and you have a team that could go all the way.

2. A new workhorse goalie

When reporters took a break from blaming Thornton, they turned their sights on former franchise goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Honestly, those criticisms were often a bit more reasonable, especially judging by the Sharks’ frustrating 2009 playoff series defeat to the Anaheim Ducks.

He began his Sharks career with a shaky start, but San Jose is clearly sold on Antti Niemi as their goalie of the present and future. Niemi has flourished with the increased security of being the clear No. 1 in the middle of the season. He is on a run of starting 34 consecutive games and won 25 games in that span, leaving him with 34 overall.

Of course, Niemi also provides something the Sharks desire almost as much as his steady netminding: the clout that comes with having a Stanley Cup ring.

3. Maybe a bit less baggage?

There will likely always be a segment of the hockey media and fans who won’t let the Sharks off the hook until they raise the Cup. That being said, making it to the Western Conference finals last season (and beating the Detroit Red Wings in the second round) probably validated the team’s efforts to some extent.

They also won’t go into the playoffs as the biggest favorites, being that the Vancouver Canucks are the Presidents’ Trophy winners and the top seed in the West. Sure, San Jose isn’t likely to slip under the radar, either … but maybe a little less pressure will help them succeed.

***

The Sharks aren’t a perfect team. There are still some concerns about their depth on defense and some worries about the health of burly forward Ryane Clowe.

Still, there are reasons to think this San Jose team might have the juice to make some serious noise in the playoffs. Does that mean they will be able to silence their loudest critics or will they just make those points echo louder? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Kings place Zatkoff on waivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Jeff Zatkoff #37 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on after allowing a goal during the second  period of a game against Philadelphia Flyers  at Staples Center on October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings have placed goalie Jeff Zatkoff on waivers.

With Jonathan Quick not expected back until next month, it’s possible that the Kings intend to recall Jack Campbell from the AHL. (They had reportedly been considering it.)

Zatkoff has had a tough time in his first season with the club. The 29-year-old is 2-7-1 with an .879 save percentage. He hasn’t made a start since Jan. 23, leaving all the work to 34-year-old Peter Budaj.

Campbell has a .913 save percentage in 38 games for AHL Ontario this season.

The Kings host the Bruins tomorrow.

Treliving won’t say if Wideman’s been asked to waive NMC

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 7: Dennis Wideman #6 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The writing is pretty much on the wall for Dennis Wideman.

The Flames haven’t been happy with their defensive group outside the top three of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. To that end, they signed Matt Bartkowski from AHL Providence and acquired former Arizona blueliner Michael Stone via trade.

Those moves have trickled down to Wideman, who’s in the last of a five-year deal with a $5.25 million cap hit.

After getting over 20 minutes in last Monday’s ugly 5-0 loss to Arizona, the 33-year-old received two of his lowest ice times of the season — 12:32 against Philly, 13:35 against Vancouver — before sitting as a healthy scratch in last night’s win over the Preds.

Could Wideman be moving on? More, from the Herald:

I asked Treliving if he had approached Wideman to waive his no-movement clause and he said he didn’t want to get into any of that.

Suffice it to say, Wideman and his $5.25 million cap hit have been shopped for years, with hopes that if anyone was willing to take him on, the player would see the move as a better option to staying put.

No takers.

It’s easy to forget that, in ’14-15, Wideman posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (56) while playing a boatload of minutes (24:39 per night). He also had seven points in 11 playoff games.

But the last two years have been extremely difficult. Injuries and the now-infamous hit on linesman Don Henderson — one that resulted in a 20-game suspension — have clearly taken their toll, and Wideman clearly isn’t a favorite of head coach Glen Gulutzan.

There may be a glimmer of hope for a trade, though.

Wideman’s bloated cap hit can be mitigated between the small number of games left in the regular season, and the possibility of Calgary retaining salary. That said, Wideman would be seen by most as an insurance policy for the playoffs — which is exactly why the Flames might keep him around.

This is a club with postseason aspirations, one that could use a serviceable d-man on the depth chart.

Vegas won’t be active at the trade deadline after all

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13:  George McPhee (L) listens as majority owner of the Las Vegas NHL franchise Bill Foley speaks after announcing McPhee as the team's general manager during a news conference at T-Mobile Arena on July 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The Vegas Golden Knights will not be active at the trade deadline after all.

It was thought a few weeks back that they might be, but owner Bill Foley said in a radio interview yesterday that the final payment would not be made in time.

“We won’t make it before the trade deadline,” Foley told KXNT, per The Sin Bin. “The documentation is unbelievable. I have documentation with the league on a franchise agreement. I have documentation on a loan we are taking out with CitiBank. I’ve got my personal stuff, which all has to get in and get approved. If you saw the stack of documents you’d say it’s not a pretty picture.”

Foley added that it was other teams that wanted to make deals more than it was his team.

“They want to lock up some of their players for the playoff run and after the playoff run,” he said.

What’s he talking about there?

Well, if the Golden Knights were active at the deadline, teams could’ve sent them draft picks or prospects to not select certain players in the expansion draft.

But that’ll have to wait now.

‘There’s a lot of flaws’ — Smith sounds off on concussion protocol

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Earlier this month, we wrote about Columbus head coach John Tortorella taking issue with the NHL’s concussion protocol.

Now, another vocal critic — Arizona goalie Mike Smith.

In the third period of Monday’s game against Anaheim, Smith was run into by Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg. The collision knocked Smith’s mask off, and a spotter watching the game in Toronto asked that he veteran goalie be removed for concussion testing.

That happened at the 4:29 mark of the third. By the time Smith had been checked out, tested and cleared, there were only 90 seconds remaining — meaning Smith’s night was essentially over. (Marek Langenhamer secured the win in relief).

Arizona’s longtime No. 1 was displeased with the way things played out.

“I think there’s a lot of flaws in the system, especially with the goalie position, and it needs to get fixed,” he said, per the Arizona Republic. “What stops a fourth liner from going and bumping into a goalie? It’s just a two-minute penalty to get your starting goalie out?

“I don’t think it’s happened in a playoff game yet, but I’m sure it will.”

The 35-year-old added that his initial reaction to getting hit — grabbing his face and head — was only an instinct to protect himself, not an indication he suffered a head injury.

Smith also said that, for a goalie, sitting out for as long as he did makes it extremely difficult to jump back into action.

“I’m cleared, but now I’m coming back and now I’m more at risk of injury than before,” he explained.

Smith had yet another issue with the concussion protocol as it pertains to goalies. What if, he asked, the starter gets knocked out and requires testing, then the backup has the exact same thing happen? As unlikely as the scenario sounds, the possibility is out there.

As such, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the league looks to reassess the policy this offseason. In an email to the Republic, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said concussion protocol “is something that has been debated and discussed over a number of years and in great detail.”

One has to think those discussions will continue.