Trying to make sense of the ‘rebuild’ in San Jose

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San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has always maintained that any conversations he had with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau would remain private. So it’s impossible to conclude, exactly, what’s been said between the club and the two veterans since the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead versus the Kings in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.

That said, a lot of people have hazarded a guess. Because, in public, Wilson has thrown out cryptic comments like, “I want players that want to play here, not just live here,” and, “I don’t want to put a name on you, but you’re a guy that hasn’t won, had a long career, you want to go win. You might say, ‘this doesn’t fit for me.’”

Combine those remarks with the Sharks’ decision to not re-sign veteran Dan Boyle and to trade another veteran, Brad Stuart, and then consider Wilson’s stated intention to “turn the team over to the younger core, make some tough decisions, clarify our culture and the hierarchy of our team,” and you’d be excused if your conclusion was this:

Wilson wanted to trade Thornton and Marleau. Except the two players, each of whom hold a no-movement clause, refused to go.

(And you could hardly blame them for refusing to be forced out. The Sharks had only just re-signed the pair in January, giving each player a three-year contract that Wilson said at the time “fit with our team building philosophy.” Translation: they could’ve received more on the open market, but they really wanted to stay in San Jose, so they took a hometown discount.)

In July, Wilson was left to try and clarify the “rebuild.” Or maybe a better word for it was backtracking?

“I can understand when people say there are different types of rebuild,” he told the Mercury News. “We’re not going to finish last to try and draft people first or second. This is not something this franchise can do, because we already have some good players in key positions. You’re not going to see us with 50 points next year — we’re too good a team for that.”

Instead, Wilson said the Sharks intended to rebuild their culture and become a more tightly knit group — a plan that includes giving more leadership responsibilities to young players like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun.

Where does that leave Thornton and Marleau? Hard to say. But it would be a surprise if Thornton were still wearing a ‘C’ and Marleau an ‘A’ come the start of the season.

Could that make for an awkward dynamic in the dressing room? Yep, it could. And that could be a distraction.

On the other hand, it could also turn out for the best. There are many who believe Wilson overreacted to the loss, devastating as it was, to the Kings, who went on to win their second Stanley Cup in three years. After all, the Boston Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead in 2010 and came back to win it all in 2011.

Granted, the Bruins didn’t have the history of postseason disappointments that the Sharks have. But San Jose was a very good team in the 2013-14 regular season. Its reward for finishing with 111 points? A match-up with Los Angeles. Which was a bit unlucky.

At any rate, San Jose is going to be a very interesting team to watch next season. And assuming the Sharks make the playoffs, which they should, an even more interesting team to watch then.

Taylor Hall’s remarkable run of bad luck

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

Taylor Hall deserves credit for that great “lottery ball specialist” tweet when the New Jersey Devils landed the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, but you could picture the star winger making such a joke while gritting his teeth.

You see, as much as Hall seems to be a luck rabbit’s foot for a team when it comes to landing the top pick of a draft – just consider his Edmonton Oilers days on top of this last bit – but that good fortune hasn’t always come from an individual standpoint.

In hopes that we may some day see Hall in, say, a playoff game, let’s recount some of his unluckiest moments. Keep in mind that he’s still just 25.

Injuries

He became the first pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, which means he’ll be compared to Tyler Seguin (though that discussion mercifully doesn’t come up that often).

Hall’s rookie season was limited to 65 regular-season games thanks to the ill-advised decision to fight Derek Dorsett. His first NHL bout ended his 2010-11 campaign; Hall received criticism for the choice, which sometimes overshadowed debuting with 22 goals.

It was reckless to fight, especially with someone like Dorsett, but we’ve seen plenty of players get through skirmishes without anything major happening. Jarome Iginla endeared himself to hockey fans, in some ways, by doing just that … but Hall wasn’t so lucky.

Even if you chalk that first bit up to poor decisions, Hall’s injury luck has often been poor. He was limited to 61 games in his sophomore season, 53 in 2014-15 and missed significant pieces of 2013-14 and last season, too.

Some of the injuries were just downright-freakish.

Click here if you want to remember the time he caught a skate in the head during warm-ups, which left him with a disgusting “Frankenstein” wound and … it’s just gross. If you haven’t seen it, you’re lucky.

While his speedy, courageous style might leave him susceptible to issues, it seems like Hall catches an unusually high number of bad breaks.

Terrible team to bad team

Taylor Hall has been a productive player, keeping his head up even as he’s played for some miserably bad teams.

The Oilers have been pretty clueless for virtually the entirety of Hall’s career; this National Post article provides a handy rundown of their mishaps in rarely finding decent defensemen.

Those struggles likely inspired the team to trade Hall for Adam Larsson, a steady Swedish blueliner.

It says a lot that Oilers fans voted massively in favor of the Oilers winning that trade in at least one poll, as most hockey people agree that the Devils ended up with the upper hand.

Team success can skew the views of certain players, something Hall knows too well as a frequent scapegoat in Edmonton. If you want to roll your eyes, peruse some of the “not captain material”-type takes that Hall likely became all-too-familiar with.

He didn’t even get to truly benefit from Connor McDavid‘s presence, as Hall’s bad injury luck seemed to transition to McDavid for a brief spell; as you recall, McDavid’s season was greatly limited by an lucky fall that came from the same sort of driving style you’d expect to see from Hall.

Who could blame Hall for being jealous of the Oilers’ success now that he’s gone?

New Jersey is making some nice strides toward being a more competitive team, and Hall’s a big part of that sunnier outlook. It has to sting to take all those steps back to the painfully familiar rebuilding stages after suffering through all of those with the Oilers.

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Look, Hall is nicely compensated for his play. He also was the top pick of a draft, so it’s not like he’s totally anonymous.

Still, it’s difficult not to root for the guy to soak in the accolades that come with greater team success, as Hall has been a fantastic power forward in some not-so-fantastic situations.

In other words, here’s hoping a little more luck goes his way … on the ice rather than in the carousel.

Poll: Nico Hischier vs. Nolan Patrick

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

To some extent, the New Jersey Devils probably don’t care that much if Nolan Patrick ends up being slightly more effective, overall, than Nico Hischier.

As Taylor Hall can attest, the Devils lucked into the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, so GM Ray Shero was probably delighted that he would be able to pick between the two prospects. Rather than choosing Patrick or finding a trade, he made Hischier the first Swiss-born number one pick in NHL history.

Sports are about competition and comparisons, so it should be fun to measure the two forwards’ accomplishments and development as time goes along.

We might as well take hockey fans’ temperature now, though. Before we do, a quick “tale of the tape” – and an apology to the other prospects in the 2017 NHL Draft. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be keeping this poll to Hischier vs. Patrick. Feel free to make a case for Miro Heiskanen (pictured, chosen third by Dallas) or any number of other candidates in the comments, though.

Hischier (draft profile): Scored 86 points in 57 games for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads in 2016-17. Broadly speaking, Hischier seems to rate as the most creative player and has already impressed the Devils with his skating ability.

Apparently his favorite movie is “Happy Gilmore.”

Patrick (draft profile): The Winnipeg native was on the radar a bit longer than Hischier, in part because he managed 102 points in 71 games in the WHL in 2015-16. Last season hurt his stock quite a bit; while he was able to score well over a point-per-game (46 in 33), injuries limited him in 2016-17. Those issues might have limited more than people even realized, as it turns out he needed two hernia surgeries instead of one.

Generally speaking, Patrick is praised for his two-way play, which could help him be a quick fit for Philly. Both forwards are listed as centers.

Oh yeah, and Reid Duke gave him the nickname “Doctor Pat.”

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OK, so with all of that information, let’s get after it: did the Devils make the right call or should they have selected Patrick at No. 1 instead?

Hampus Lindholm’s skate-sized puppy will make your day

Via Lindholm's Instagram
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Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm gets a lot of love from the analytics community, and it’s easy to see why. His all-around game is strong, even if he doesn’t blow you away on offense.

If you’re not the chart or decimal-counting type, and for whatever odd reason Lindholm doesn’t pass your “eye test,” then maybe all of that praise is lost on you.

Well, consider this: Lindholm can now place “ridiculously cute doggo” on his resume. Because, goodness, look at this little thing:

The newest Anaheim Ducks fan🐶🦆 #quackquack

A post shared by Hampus Lindholm (@hampuslindholm47) on

Cruelly, Lindholm didn’t provide a name for the furball. Perhaps its name is Puppus?

Anyway, Lindholm’s dog is the highlight of a charmingly goofy Instagram feed, it seems. Apparently there’s another dog too, and it seems cool:

Hopefully his antics brightened your weekend, as the world still seems to rattle off some pretty grim headlines.

The Philadelphia Flyers also seem fascinated with puppies in their own way, by the way:

Zacha should be ready for big step forward for Devils

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

Ever since Ray Shero took over as the team’s general manager the New Jersey Devils have tried to add a lot of offensive punch to their lineup. They have traded for Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson. They signed Brian Boyle this summer. They drafted Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick this summer and are hoping that 2015 third-round pick Blake Speers can make the leap to the NHL on a full-time basis this season.

But their top pick in that 2015 class might be one of the most important players on the roster this season when it comes to whether or not the Devils can show significant signs of improvement in their rebuild. That pick, of course, was No. 6 overall selection Pavel Zacha.

After spending all but one game of his draft year back in the Ontario Hockey League playing for the Sarnia Sting, Zacha got his first full-time look in the NHL during the 2016-17 season and it was a bit of a mixed bag, something that is to be expected for a 19-year-old, especially one that bounced around between two different position — seeing time at both center and wing — and started the season recovering from a hip injury.

With just seven points in his first 37 games it was looking like his rookie season was going to be a bit of a disappointment.

He was able to salvage it in the second half, however, with a strong finish that saw him record a very respectable 17 points over the final 33 games. He also seemed to fit in more comfortably on the wing and took more of a shoot-first mentality with the puck, getting more shots on net as the season progressed. All of that is a good indication that he was starting to figure it out at the NHL level and could be poised for a big step forward in year two. He spent the offseason training in New Jersey working firsthand with the team’s trainers and coaches to help get there.

The Devils are going to need him to for a couple of reasons.

Not only because he is a top draft pick from just two years ago, making him a central part of the team’s ongoing rebuild, but also because of the injury suffered by Travis Zajac that is going to sideline him for at least four-to-six months. That is a pretty massive blow to an already thin Devils lineup. It’s not yet known where the Devils see Zacha on a full-time basis, but the center position was kind of turned upside down over the past couple of months with the additions of Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle along with the injury to Zajac. He played his best hockey last season on the wing, but they might have a need down the middle. No matter where he fits in the lineup if the Devils are going to become a better offensive team both now and in the future players like Zacha are going to have to play a key role in it.