Joe Thornton

What a difference a year makes for the California three


NHL history was made last season as the California-based teams — the San Jose Sharks, L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks — all made the playoffs. It was the first time the three qualified for the postseason in the same year and, given how strongly they finished (each had at least 46 wins and 98 points), it looked like the start of a compelling three-way postseason rivalry.

But now, less than a year later, things couldn’t be more different.

The Ducks and Kings both fired their head coaches before Dec. 15 and are in a dogfight for eighth place. The Sharks, meanwhile, have blown their lead in the Pacific Division and face the sobering reality that, halfway through a season-high nine-game road trip, they too are in a playoff battle.

“All of us realize what we’re in for right now,” Joe Thornton told the Mercury News after a 6-3 loss to Columbus. “We’ve pretty much hit bottom now and hopefully we can dig our way out of it because we’re definitely in a race now to get into the playoffs.”

The Columbus loss moved San Jose to 1-4-1 on its nine-game trek and essentially wiped out its division lead. Phoenix is now tied with San Jose on 69 points while Dallas, once thought to be out of the running, is just five points back.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan says he’s concerned about the current swoon.

“I don’t know if some guys really understand where we are at this point in the season and how the season is dwindling quickly,” McLellan said. “You can’t just come to the rink and wear a jersey. You have to find a way to contribute. There’s been a few that haven’t lately and that’ll be my job tomorrow. We’ll address it in one-on-ones.”

It’s unlikely that none of the California teams will make the playoffs this year, but the possibility is there. If Phoenix overtakes top spot in the Pacific, the Sharks (69 points) would find themselves in the mix for spots seven and eight with L.A. (66), Calgary (65), Dallas (64) and Colorado (62). Anaheim (60) has been hot of late but still has plenty of ground to make up and teams to leapfrog, including the Minnesota Wild (61).

After PTO, Upshall signs one-year deal with Blues

Florida Panthers v Ottawa Senators
Leave a comment

Scottie Upshall has parlayed his training camp tryout into a contract with St. Louis.

On Monday, the Blues agreed to a one-year, two-way deal with the veteran forward, worth $700,000 at the NHL level. The deal comes after Upshall spent all of training camp and the preseason impressing the Blues his speed and skating ability, no small feat for a 31-year-old veteran with over 500 NHL games on his odometer.

But where Upshall fits in the Blues lineup — and within the organization — remains to be seen.

The club has plenty of depth up front and Upshall isn’t coming off a terrific campaign, having scored just eight goals and 15 points in 63 games with Florida last season. That said, he showed enough to be just one of a handful of veterans on PTOs to score a contract.

Panthers’ Crouse is going back to junior

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
1 Comment

Lawson Crouse is going back to junior. The big 18-year-old winger confirmed it today on Twitter.

Crouse was drafted 11th overall in June by the Florida Panthers. Despite the club’s belief that Crouse could make “an immediate impact” on the roster, he finished the preseason with just two shots and one assist in three games.

Crouse will return to the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, with whom he’ll look to improve on his modest point totals from last season.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure on the kid,” coach Gerard Gallant said last week. “If he doesn’t make the team this year he goes back to junior … and will have a lot of success.”