Doug Wilson

Columnist: Sharks are ‘having a bit of a nervous breakdown right now’

24 Comments

The San Jose Sharks might be the most intriguing team of the NHL offseason. And that says a lot, because there are a lot of intriguing teams out there. But here are just a few of the things we’re wondering about San Jose:

Does general manager Doug Wilson really believe his 111-point squad needs a rebuild? Or, is it just a way to force Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to waive their no-trade clauses and move on? Because 111-point teams that come within a game of eliminating the Stanley Cup champs don’t typically need to be torn down.

Also, how much of what Wilson is saying has to do with the Sharks’ first-round loss to the Kings — a series San Jose led 3-0 — and how much has to do with the club’s financial picture?

Heck, how much of this is just Wilson’s anger and embarrassment talking?

Whatever the answers to those questions, columnist Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News thinks the Sharks might be “having a bit of a nervous breakdown right now, under financial and competitive pressure.”

The revamping of the roster has to happen because the Sharks can’t hold back all re-tooling just for that one Cup run when they’ve finally concluded that their most famous guys aren’t destined to lead anybody to a Cup.

Also, behind the scenes, it has been presumed for a few years now that the Sharks will be seeking a new arena very soon to replace SAP Center, which is almost always sold out and is a fine place to see a game but just doesn’t have the mega-revenue-generating features of the new wave of buildings.

I’ve heard for a while now that there is room in Santa Clara near Levi’s Stadium for a hockey arena and that there might have already been some informal conversations about the Sharks’ situation.

The Sharks are also reportedly trying to renegotiate their local TV deal, their financial losses, despite a passionate fan base and strong attendance figures, being nothing new. Fortunately, the club has an owner in Hasso Plattner with extremely deep pockets. And while the business may lose money on operations, franchise values of sports teams have skyrocketed in recent years.

Anyway, the latest rumor has Thornton interested in joining the New York Rangers, and only the New York Rangers.

We have a feeling it won’t be the last Sharks-related scuttlebutt of the summer.

At season’s end, Holland will ‘plot a plan’ to deal with Red Wings’ goalie situation

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
AP
Leave a comment

“As we wake up today, obviously Petr Mrazek is our number-one guy.”

That was Detroit GM Ken Holland today on TSN 1200 radio in Ottawa, when asked about his goaltending situation.

“Obviously” was the right word to use.

Mrazek, 23, has been brilliant this season, going 20-10-4 with a .933 save percentage. Without him, it’s fair to wonder if the Wings would be in a playoff spot.

But Mrazek, a pending restricted free agent, has also created a problem of sorts for Holland. That’s because 31-year-old Jimmy Howard is already locked up through 2018-19 for a cap hit of almost $5.3 million — and that’s a lot of money to pay a backup, especially one with a .904 save percentage.

Holland said he isn’t focused on that now.

“When the year’s out and I’ve got all the information, I’ll sit down and plot a plan heading into the offseason,” he said. “But for now, we’ve got a top, young goaltender in Petr Mrazek and we’ve got a guy that’s in the prime of his career, Jimmy Howard, that’s been the number-one guy here.

“It’s been tough for [Howard] recently; every time he plays a game he seems to play the second game of a back-to-back. … He’s had some real tough games against some real good teams, hasn’t had a lot of puck luck. Our team really hasn’t played very well for him when he’s been in there, but he keeps battling and he keeps competing.”

The challenge for Holland might be to sell that story to another GM, because Howard’s save percentage has been below the league average the past three seasons.

Related: Howard pulled again, calls his performance ‘unacceptable’

With 1967 expansion, the NHL ‘spread the game from California to New York’

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 04:  Los Angeles Kings fans gather outside of the arena prior to Game One of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on June 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The NHL’s “great expansion” of 1967 delivered hockey to California, led to the “Broad Street Bullies” and legitimized the league as a major force in North American professional sports.

Fifty years ago this week, the owners of the Original Six teams unanimously approved doubling in size by awarding franchises to Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul. No other pro sports league had ever doubled the number of its teams and the move was considered a gamble.

It proved to be one of the most important decisions in hockey history, and helped convince many that the NHL was for real.

“It had a major impact on the league because thereafter there was almost a lineup for other cities to want to join the league,” said Brian O’Neill, the league’s former director of administration who oversaw the 1967 expansion draft and scheduling. “That was a key to the expansion, to spread the game from California to New York. … It convinced a lot of people that hockey was a major sport now and it was coast-to-coast and that selling franchises would not be difficult.”

From 1943 to 1967, the NHL was a stable, six-team league made up of the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. The move to expand came in the league’s 50th season amid plenty of internal debate.

Owners considered adding two teams at a time, but at their Feb. 7-9 meeting in New York they unanimously approved what President Clarence Campbell later referred to as the “great expansion.” Hockey had some catching up to do: Major League Baseball had 20 teams, the National Basketball Association had nine and the National Football League had 14, with more on the way.

The MLB, the NBA and NFL all had a presence in California, too, something the NHL needed.

“The big issue, of course, is television,” O’Neill said Tuesday. “They wanted to get national. That’s why it was important to have L.A. and at that time Oakland, and then all the others followed in.”

Owners each paid the $2 million expansion fee, and the Los Angeles Kings and California Seals joined the fold along with the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota North Stars. New owners needed the draw of facing traditional opponents while the old guard owners wanted to make sure their teams could still win, so the expansion teams went into the new West Division with the champions of East and West meeting for the Stanley Cup.

The goal was to help the new teams but not hurt the old ones.

“When they made expansion, they took the players that were expendable, put them on a team and called them a team,” said Bob Kelly, who was part of the early Flyers teams. “We didn’t have the real identity that an Original Six team has or the history behind that. (We were) just happy to be in the NHL.”

It worked in most places, as an Original Six team won the Cup the first six years before Kelly and the Flyers’ “Broad Street Bullies” teams broke through with back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975.

“Really, the Original Six was kind of who we were, and then all of a sudden here we are an expansion team and seven years later we were able to win the Cup,” Kelly said Wednesday. “That’s what you dream about as a kid.”

Despite the Oakland-based Seals never catching on and moving to Cleveland before folding in 1978, the NHL expanded to such places as Vancouver, Buffalo, Long Island and Washington, and reached 21 teams with the integration of the World Hockey Association in 1979.

Hockey returned to the Bay Area with the San Jose Sharks in 1991, and after the North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993, Minnesota got the Wild in 2000. The NHL returned to Atlanta (which didn’t work) and Denver (which did) and has landed in nontraditional markets like Phoenix, South Florida and Tampa.

The league stands at 30 teams and is considering expanding once again to either 31 or 32, with Las Vegas and Quebec City under consideration.

Goalie nods: Coyotes turn back to Domingue for key game against Vancouver

Arizona Coyotes' Louis Domingue waves to the crowd after the Coyotes' NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. Domingue earned his first NHL shutout as the Coyotes won 1-0. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP
Leave a comment

Tonight is a big game for the Arizona Coyotes, as they host Vancouver, one of the teams they’re jockeying with for the final wild-card spot in the West.

If the Coyotes can beat the Canucks in regulation, they’ll move to within two points of Colorado for that final wild-card spot, with three games in hand on the Avs. Not only that, Vancouver’s playoff hopes would be dealt a significant blow.

Of course, that’s a pretty sizable “if” the way the Coyotes have been playing. The Desert Dogs are winless in their last four, with 21 total goals surrendered.

“We have to shore up some things and our goaltending has to be better,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told reporters, while confirming that Louis Domingue would get the start versus the Canucks.

Domingue, the NHL’s rookie of the month in January, has struggled of late, allowing five goals in each of his last three starts. In the Coyotes’ last game, they turned to Anders Lindback, only for Lindback to surrender five goals himself in a 5-2 loss to Anaheim.

For the Canucks, Ryan Miller is expected to start, after Jacob Markstrom got the win last night in Denver.

Elsewhere…

Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers in Pittsburgh, where Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start for the Penguins.

Craig Anderson for the Senators in Detroit, where Petr Mrazek will make his third straight start for the Red Wings.

Sabres recall Justin Bailey, son of former Bills linebacker

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Justin Bailey, drafted #52 overall by the Buffalo Sabres, looks on after he was drafted in the second round during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

The Buffalo Sabres have recalled forward Justin Bailey from AHL Rochester.

It’s the first time Bailey, a second-round pick in 2013, has ever been called up to the NHL. The 20-year-old joins the big club after piling up 11 points (5G, 6A) in his last eight games for the Americans.

Most Sabres fans will know that Bailey is from Buffalo (technically, Williamsville), the son of former Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey. (To learn more, click on this Buffalo News story from July.)

The Sabres play Thursday in Philadelphia, where Bailey will reportedly make his NHL debut.

To make room for Bailey on Buffalo’s roster, Zemgus Girgensons (lower body) was placed on injured reserve.