KingsSharks

Five Q’s: Kings-Sharks preview

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How rare is it for the Kings to have home ice advantage?

Pretty rare — Los Angeles hasn’t had home ice in a series in 21 years.

LA lost the ’92 Smythe Division semifinals to the Vincent Damphousse-led Oilers. Luc Robitaille, currently serving as the Kings’ President of Business Operations, led all scorers with seven points in six games.

So yeah. Long time ago.

Aside from the historical stuff, getting home ice is a huge boon for the Kings. They’re riding a 10-game win streak at Staples and finished the regular season with the NHL’s best home record (19-4-1).

Will the layoff affect the Sharks?

San Jose hasn’t played since last Tuesday, when they swept Vancouver with a 4-3 OT victory in Game 4.

A full week off is a rarity, especially after a condensed 48-game season — but the Sharks have heard the rust versus rest debate, and know which side of the argument they’re on.

“Staying sharp — it’s stuff that we do every day, you just want to make sure you stay on top of it,” defenseman Dan Boyle told the San Jose Mercury News. ““People often talk about rust coming back, but I’ll take rust over getting beat up over the course of seven games.”

If the Sharks want a blueprint on how to handle time off, they should copy the Kings.

Last postseason, LA had six days off between Rounds 1 and 2 (swept the Blues), seven days off between Round 2 and the Western Conference finals (beat the Coyotes in five), and eight days off between the Western Conference and Stanley Cup finals (defeating the Devils in 6 to win it all.)

Has Jonathan Quick reverted to form?

Quick blamed himself for LA falling into a 2-0 series deficit against the Blues in Round 1, and with good reason — a puckhandling gaffe in Game 1 and Barret Jackman’s lengthy slapper in Game 2 had a people wondering if the luster had worn off last year’s playoff MVP.

Well, it didn’t.

Quick responded by winning four straight games to close out the series, stopping 104 of 110 shots (.945 save percentage) along the way and earning huge respect from Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock.

“That’s what playoffs are — goaltending is a big part of it,” Hitchcock explained. “I thought the best player of the series was their goalie. In the end he made the big saves.”

Who’s stronger down the middle?

These are two of the NHL’s deepest clubs at center.

San Jose’s trio of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski ran roughshod over Vancouver (22 points combined) in the opening round, while Kings head coach Darryl Sutter routinely praises his centers — Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll, Colin Fraser — as the strongest part of the team.

(He also called Kopitar “the best all-around centerman that I’ve coached, period.”)

If there’s a slight edge, it might be in the faceoff circle.

The Sharks were dominant in Round 1 — Couture won a staggering 68.2 percent of his draws against the Canucks — while the Kings initially struggled against St. Louis (36 percent in Game 1) before evening things out by the end.

How physical will it get?

LA was in a virtual street fight with the Blues — Dustin Penner called it “the most physical series I’ve ever been a part of” — and what St. Louis showed (in Games 1 and 2 especially) was the importance of initiating contact with the Kings, a team that likes to crash and bang.

It’ll be interesting to see if San Jose can do something similar.

The Sharks got bigger and nastier up front by moving Brent Burns to wing and acquiring Raffi Torres, and get plenty of energy from the likes of James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels (who leads the team in hits, with 20).

For all the second-round playoff previews, click here.

It’s San Jose Sharks day at PHT

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  The San Jose Sharks shake hands with the Pittsburgh Penguins after losing Game Six 3-1 and the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After years of falling short despite often ranking among the NHL’s pre-season favorites, the San Jose Sharks made their deepest run one year after not even making the playoffs at all.

That thought probably explains why, for many, the pain of falling two wins short of a first-ever Stanley Cup victory is dulled by the Sharks being (gasp) overachievers.

You could call the Sharks a lot of things since Joe Thornton was traded over to sunnier climates from Boston, but rarely were expectations low enough for them to over-achieve.

They did just that in their first season under head coach Peter DeBoer, however.

While their turnaround made less noise than the team that beat them in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks echoed the Penguins in finishing the 2015-16 season on a roll. They didn’t let a troubling 18-18-2 mark (as of Jan. 7) derail their season, managing to grab the third spot in the Pacific, exorcising some Los Angeles Kings demons and going on a memorable run.

Off-season

Here’s another Penguins parallel: the Sharks didn’t really lose anyone of note this summer.

When you get that close to winning it all, standing pat isn’t so bad, although GM Doug Wilson didn’t totally snooze on the job. He added a burst of speed with winger Mikkel Boedker, whose flaws are easier to ignore considering the team’s need for speed and a reasonable $4 million cap hit.

The Sharks also added respected defensive depth in David Schlemko, giving the team an enviable D corps.

Still, there are some lingering questions.

Can Martin Jones back up a strong first season as a No. 1 goalie? Will anything come from yet another round of Patrick Marleau trade rumors? Will a fairly old core of Joe Thornton, Marleau, Joe Pavelski (already 32) and others get creaky after that playoff push?

The Sharks are an interesting case because they boast so much talent in those veterans plus Logan Couture and Brent Burns, yet age and a tough West inspire plenty of questions.

PHT will address quite a few of those queries on a Sharks Sunday.

Who might be the next Artemi Panarin?

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks poses after winning the Calder Trophy named for the top rookie at the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Even in an information age where boundless information lies a few clicks away, talented players slip through the cracks.

Jamie Benn won the Art Ross in 2014-15 and came in second place last season, yet 128 players were selected before him in 2007. No-brainer Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby was selected in the fourth round.

We haven’t even covered quality players who weren’t even drafted.

Artemi Panarin stands as an especially mind-blowing example. He went from undrafted free agent to the 2016 Calder Trophy winner after developing – and eventually breaking through – overseas.

As we learned from Vladimir Tarasenko‘s recommendations to the Blues, Panarin was readily available in the summer of 2015, making his 30-goal, 77-point season burn plenty of executives and scouts.

While there are examples of players who fall through the cracks, Panarin feels pretty unusual. Still, NHL Tonight sets out to name a few international players who could make a Panarin-type impact … and, of course, one of those players could suit up for the Chicago Blackhawks:

Interesting stuff.

If you choose not to watch the video, two of the names highlighted were Michal Kempny of the Blackhawks and Nikita Zaitsev of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As defensemen, both overseas signings aren’t likely to make a Panarin-type splash on the scoreboard, but they remain interesting names to watch.

Not quite a Panarin parallel, but …

Allow for a comparison that breaks the rules quite a bit: Alex Radulov stands as likely the biggest impact import of all.

As the 15th pick of the 2004 NHL Draft and with a very high profile, he won’t slip in under the radar like Panarin did last summer.

Still, this is a player who already has 102 points to his name at the NHL level (in 154 regular season games), and despite the playoff drama with Nashville, he also has 14 career playoff points in 18 NHL postseason games.

Honestly, the Radulov signing might be the best move Montreal made during a turbulent off-season.

If any other import can compare to Radulov or Panarin, that team should be very, very happy.

Chances are, we won’t know who to expect, but feel free to name your own choices.

Oilers sign defenseman Matthew Benning, nephew of Canucks GM Jim

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Matt Benning #5 of the Northeastern Huskies skates against the Boston University Terriers during the first period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament Championship game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Even with Adam Larsson added to the mix, the Edmonton Oilers’ organization is short on right-handed defensemen.

It remains to be seen how long it will take for Matthew Benning to make the NHL jump, but the Oilers took a step in the right (right-handed defenseman) direction by signing him to a two-year deal on Saturday.

In case you have some jokes at the ready … yes, Benning is related to Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning. The occasionally lampooned executive is his uncle. His father Brian also enjoyed an NHL career.

*Nervous laugh*

The Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy views the move as the equivalent to landing a “free draft pick.” It might be a nice perk for Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli to land Benning being that he was a 2012 sixth-rounder of the Boston Bruins.

McCurdy indicates that Benning, 22, could rank fairly high among the Oilers’ defensive prospects right off the bat, even if scarce options play a role along with whatever the blueliner brings to the table:

This is the fourth free agent signing of an NCAA player by the Oilers this off-season, though the first involving a defenceman. Previously, highly-regarded forward Drake Caggiula had signed along with right winger Patrick Russell and netminder Nick Ellis. All four are in age 22-23 and well-positioned to make an impact on the pro ranks in the near future, even as their NHL potential is an open book. But collectively they add some meat on the bones of a franchise whose organizational depth has been questionable. 

Interestingly, McCurdy notes that the Canucks were in the running for Benning’s services.

(Waits for a few more Jim Benning jokes.)

Seems like the Northeastern University product received a decent deal, relatively speaking:

Flames management enjoys a rare luxury: a clean slate

CALGARY, CANADA - FEBRUARY 27: General manager Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames address the media before the trade deadline prior to the team's NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at the Scotiabank Saddledome on February 27, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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This is part of Calgary Flames day at PHT …

During the waning days of the Jarome Iginla/Miikka Kiprusoff years, the Calgary Flames ranked as one of the worst things a sports team could be: both expensive and uninspiring.

There were a lot of bloated contracts connected to those days, but when you look at sites like Cap Friendly or General Fanager, the slate looks a lot cleaner heading into 2016-17.

OK, so maybe you could also argue that there are still a few troubling deals to get rid of.

Dennis Wideman‘s $5.25 million salary cap hit, Ladislav Smid‘s $3.5 million mark and Deryk Engelland‘s bewildering $2.917 million cap hit all expire after next season. Chances are, you have an issue with one or maybe all of those deals, so the Flames must be giddy to close in on all that extra breathing room.

And, yes, there are some deals that Flames GM Brad Treliving may regret. Just consider today’s earlier post about Troy Brouwer.

Still, the point is clear: whatever mistakes or strokes of genius that come, at least those moves will be Treliving’s to make.

Consider some of the important calls that await:

  • Such as, how will they sort out Johnny Gaudreau‘s lingering RFA situation this summer?

The easiest path might be to try to convince him to take a deal that is identical to the one Sean Monahan received, but one or both sides likely want something different.

  • Despite bringing in both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, the goaltending future beyond 2016-17 is murky for a simple enough reason: neither netminder is signed beyond that point.

Elliott is receiving a bargain $2.5 million and is currently 31. Johnson, 30, barely comes in behind him at $1.7 million. It’s highly likely that Calgary will spend more money on its goalies in 2017-18, but who might be back?

And how much will the Flames need to see from Elliott and/or Johnson before trying to hammer out extensions?

The good news for Flames management is that they’re not saddled with a goaltending decision they might not have made. The scary part is that, if it doesn’t work out, it’s on them … and could cost someone a job.

  • The Flames ultimately have the power to determine who’s a marquee player and who is a part of the supporting cast.

Gaudreau is key, but it’s unclear if he’ll sign a long deal like Monahan or opt for a “bridge” deal. In addition to Monahan, the Flames signed these players to fairly long deals: Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Brouwer and Michael Frolik.

Yes, you can quibble with Brouwer and maybe another name, but plenty of teams would be jealous of that list overall.

***

Many general managers must navigate minefields of someone else’s mistakes. There are a lot of challenges to the job beyond that, but Treliving & Co. get to make their own.

It’s a luxury that is unlikely to last, but the Flames stand as an interesting team for armchair (and real-life) executives to follow.