Five Thoughts: Sharks defensive issues as well as Dany Heatley’s disappearance

Game 4 of the Western Conference finals proved to be one of the oddest games we’ve seen all playoffs long. Vancouver was outshot wildly by San Jose, yet the Canucks won the game 4-2. Vancouver did all their damage on the power play scoring three times with the two-man advantage, a first in the playoffs. While there was plenty to like in Game 4 for Vancouver, there’s a lot to worry about for San Jose as well.

1. We’ve lauded Henrik Sedin’s play already here but after his four point Game 4 in which he assisted on all four Canucks goals it makes us marvel all the more about the job the Canucks previous opponents, the Nashville Predators, did to shut him and his brother Daniel Sedin down.

The Sedins relative quiet play against Nashville that saw them combine for two goals and five assists for the six game series is made to look even smaller given that Henrik has ten points in four games against San Jose.

The Sharks don’t have a defenseman like either Shea Weber or Ryan Suter that can shadow the Sedins, never mind both of them to team up against them. That one slight difference is making life especially hard on San Jose as they just don’t have the defensive stopper along the blue line. Douglas Murray does well enough for himself but he’s just one man.

2. San Jose may have dodged a bullet with Joe Thornton’s status for Game 5 still up in the air. Thornton taking his huge hit from Raffi Torres had to have terrified everyone on the bench as he was knocked out of the game. What they’re getting from him instead is a guy embracing the role of team captain.

Thornton could’ve let coach Todd McLellan do all the talking for him regarding his injury status but instead chose to let a Sharks beat reporter know that he’s feeling 100% fine and he’ll be in for Game 5. You don’t ever see players decide to do go out of their way to let everyone know how they’re feeling. Good for Thornton for doing this because the last distraction the Sharks need is to have the press flocking to get answers as to how Thornton’s doing.

3. It’s been just four games in this series, but can we put out an APB for Dany Heatley? While some like to focus in on how Thornton and Patrick Marleau are performing, the Sharks have been getting terrible efforts in every game from Heatley. Heatley has just one assist in this series and his effort level offensively has been virtually nil. Heatley is an important offensive part to the Sharks attack and while Thornton and Marleau earn the attention they get, Heatley hasn’t nearly heard enough criticism for his seemingly disinterested play on the ice.

Heatley has just nine points in all of the playoffs and three of those are goals. While Marleau, Logan Couture, and Ryane Clowe have been the goal scorers throughout the playoffs for San Jose, Heatley has been silent all through this series and for most of the postseason. It’s not too late for him to make his presence felt, but if he doesn’t want to be the focus of negative attention any more than he already is in ways, a huge Game 5 would go a long way toward that.

4. Game 4 spiraled out of control so quickly for San Jose in the second period. The Sharks had been playing a solid, tight defensive game through the first period. They got their chances to score on the power play but couldn’t do anything to score on it as Vancouver figured out what they had to do to slow down San Jose’s power play that entered Game 4 scoring on 46% of their power plays.

Conversely, San Jose’s inability to score on the power play turned into special teams problems on the other side as the Sharks gave up three 5-on-3 power play goals. The Sharks doing that against anyone will generally result in losing but doing that against the Presidents’ Trophy winners is really dumb. Special teams have been such a huge focus of this series and while the officials switched on and off between who they would book for infractions, the Sharks suffered for their sloppy play most of all. If nothing else, it was a highly veteran performance from the Canucks.

5. Of course, there was one item of note as the game concluded. Canucks forward Ryan Kesler attempted to show the officials what a perfect pratfall looks like as he goaded Sharks forward Ryane Clowe into taking a poke at him with his gloved fist in the face. Kesler fell to the ice as if he were crushed with a straight punch to the face. Kesler said after the game that it was a head shot and he hopes the league takes a look at it and perhaps takes action against Clowe.

That’s some solid spin doctoring from Kesler and even better politicking to try to win one in his favor. We love Ryan Kesler’s game the way we’d love ice cream cake at a birthday party but Kesler’s histrionics are maddening to see. The flopping to the ice is something we saw against Chicago but not again since then, at least not from Kesler. Having him take part in such bad acting makes us long for there to be another B-level film on TV.

You don’t see other players of Kesler’s ilk doing stuff like this and while we’re sure there’s a method to the madness as to why he does do it, it’s a part of his game we’d like to see him get away from as fast as possible. If you’re looking to dive to make things better for your team, you’ve got your priorities all sorts of wrong.

End of an era: Coyotes part ways with Tippett days after Doan departure

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The Arizona Coyotes will look different in 2017-18, and not just because longtime captain Shane Doan won’t be back. The team confirmed that they’re parting ways with head coach Dave Tippett late on Thursday.

Tippett spent eight seasons as head coach of the Coyotes, peaking with a run to the 2012 Western Conference Final. Early on, he distinguished himself as being able to coach a sound enough defense to help the team correct for a low-budget roster.

In recent years, he hasn’t been able to conjure that same magic. The Coyotes missed the playoffs in the last five seasons of Tippett’s tenure.

“On behalf of the entire Coyotes organization, I would like to sincerely thank Tip for all of his hard work and the many contributions he made to our organization,” Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway said. “Tip is a man of high character and we are very grateful for his leadership during his tenure as our head coach. Ultimately, we have some philosophical differences on how to build our team. Therefore, we mutually agreed that it is in everyone’s best interest to have a coaching change in order to move our franchise forward.”

Along with Doan and Tippett, Mike Smith is also out of town, and the ownership situation has come into focus. Former GM Don Maloney was fired last summer, so this franchise has been making big changes for some time, even ignoring the perennial arena drama.

The Coyotes announced that a new coaching search would kick into gear “immediately.” They might not have scored points with potential candidates considering the last week or so …

It’s a true changing of the guard out in the desert. This is also a time of stability heading into Friday, the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft.

More on the changes

Coyotes receive criticism for the way they handled Doan’s departure.

Mike Smith traded to Calgary, “no consolation prize” for Flames.

Oilers reportedly might spend Eberle savings on signing Russell

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Optimistic Edmonton Oilers fans who didn’t like the Jordan Eberle trade could at least rationalize the savings, as Ryan Strome comes at a $3.5 million salary-cap discount. Surely that money will be focused squarely on locking up the future – aka sorting things out with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid – right?

After all, that was the spin from GM Peter Chiarelli: moving Eberle for Strome was all about “long-term thinking.”

Well, about that …

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Oilers are nearing a deal with defenseman Kris Russell that could carry approximately a $4 million cap hit over a four-year term. The dollar amount can change, but that would put the shot-blocking defenseman’s cost at around $16 million overall. (There are rumblings that it might be $18M with a no-movement clause.)

Now, before we criticize (er, discuss) the move, do note that McKenzie reports that it isn’t a done deal. If it happens, it might not be announced until Friday, anyway.

If it does go through, the move inspires comparisons to last summer. To refresh your memory, the Oilers made a polarizing (but money-saving) move by sending Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson. Shortly after that trade, the Oilers essentially used those savings to sign Milan Lucic.

Results were … mixed, and Lucic’s contract seemingly stands as a barrier to accrue other assets.

Could the same thing happen here? Russell has his proponents, yet his possession stats indicate that his stature has been inflated, at times, around the NHL. One thing that’s undeniable is Russell’s age: he’s 30.

Will a 30-year-old defenseman fall apart during a four-year deal? Not necessarily, although his shot-blocking tendencies inspire some concern; just look at how Dan Girardi aged in New York.

Either way, it’s difficult to defend giving Russell about $4 million a year when you’re trying to sign Leon Draisaitl (RFA this summer) and Connor McDavid (RFA next summer, but eligible for an extension as early as July).

Recent rumblings don’t inspire a ton of confidence, either. For one thing, Chiarelli made a strange semi-challenge regarding Draisaitl and offer sheets.

There are also rumors about McDavid’s potential contract demands.

Again, the parameters of a Russell deal could change; the Oilers might not even bring him back at all. TSN’s Darren Dreger also notes that McDavid wouldn’t necessarily receive that big payday he’d possibly ask for.

Still, Oilers fans have experienced the worst-case scenario far more often than not in recent years, and these developments could inspire some doom and gloom … even if all three players are kept in the fold.

Report: Vegas isn’t interested in trading defensemen Theodore, Schmidt

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The Vegas Golden Knights enjoyed another busy day on Thursday, moving the likes of David Schlemko and Trevor van Riemsdyk. That doesn’t mean that all their defensemen are necessarily for sale, even with some pressure to trade away a few more.

Now, it’s plausible that someone merely hasn’t found the right price to entice Golden Knights GM George McPhee, but TSN’s Pierre LeBrun indicates that he’s shooting down offers for especially enticing young defensemen.

Specifically, McPhee gave a hard “No” to at least three teams regarding Shea Theodore and also stonewalled offers for Nate Schmidt, according to LeBrun.

It’s probably not fair to say that McPhee hasn’t been willing to move younger players altogether. After all, Trevor van Riemsdyk is 25, much like Schmidt.

Even so, one could infer that McPhee would be quicker to trade away a veteran whose value may not ever be higher, such as Marc Methot or Alexei Emelin.

For what it’s worth, let’s break down the Golden Knights’ current defensemen in two camps (30-and-under, 30-and-older) along with their contract situations, with help from Cap Friendly.

Under 30

Luca Sbisa, 27, $3.6 million cap hit through 2017-18
Brayden McNabb, 26, $1.7M through 2017-18
Jon Merrill, 25, $1.138M through 2017-18
Colin Miller, 24, $1M through 2017-18
Theodore, 21, $863K through 2017-18
Griffin Reinhart, 23, RFA
Schmidt, 25, RFA

30 and older

Methot, $4.9M through 2018-19
Jason Garrison, $4.6M through 2017-18
Emelin, $4.1M through 2017-18
Clayton Stoner, 32, $3.25M through 2017-18
Deryk Engelland, 35, $1M through 2017-18

Considering the options at hand, it’s still feasible that someone might convince McPhee to ship Schmidt and/or Theodore over, anyway. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been connected to Schmidt and Colin Miller in rumors, though it’s unclear how likely such moves might be. Vegas isn’t tied to many players beyond this coming season, so they have plenty of flexibility to change their minds.

The Golden Knights may also view the trade deadline as a more fruitful time to move a veteran such as Methot.

Even so, it sure sounds like McPhee would at least prefer to build around his youngsters, and Theodore might be the clearest keeper of them all.

NHL may punish failed offside reviews with penalties next season

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It wasn’t a good look for the league, and it wasn’t captivating television, particularly for casual hockey fans intrigued by a fresh Stanley Cup Final matchup.

P.K. Subban seemed to score the first goal of the Penguins – Predators series, only for the 1-0 tally to be overturned after a lengthy offside review. Plenty of people in Nashville were never convinced that the league made the right call, and even if it was correct, Filip Forsberg would have been offside by a tiny margin. The fact that it came mere hours after Gary Bettman praised the process only exacerbated the issue.

(You can watch that agonizingly minute discussion in the video above. Predators fans might not want to re-live it.)

Colin Campbell presented an interesting question for next season on Thursday: would a team like Pittsburgh make such a marginal challenge if a failed review would result in a minor penalty?

It’s something the executive will bring to the competition committee and then the Board of Governors; Campbell believes such a tweak has a strong chance of being instituted in 2017-18.

Previously, a coach would lose his timeout if an offside goal review failed. If this change is implemented, a team would keep that timeout but suffer a minor penalty.

Campbell notes that this tweak would apply to offside challenges, not goalie interference reviews.

Ultimately, for Campbell, it comes down to the spirit of the offside rule. (TSN has video of his full comments.)

Amusingly, the Predators also suffered from an infamous offside goal that would have benefited from an obvious review, as this Matt Duchene goal from 2013 inspired the NHL to admit that a mistake was made.

The logic is pretty simple. If a goal was glaringly offside, then a team will view a challenge as worth the risk of possibly being penalized. If it’s a matter of inches or some other marginal question, a penalty would – ideally – deter a team from making a flimsier challenge. Specifically, Campbell pointed to offside reviews in which goals came long after the infraction had a significant impact on play.

Now, sure, you could make some wise cracks about the idea, especially considering how the NHL’s suffered from a painful roll-out of a change here and there. And perhaps some coaches will still believe that it’s worth the risk to flip that coin.

Still, the league’s heart is in the right place, and it could very well succeed in two goals: getting things right and not boring everyone to tears.

Related

NHL might crack down on slashes, too