Joe Thornton

Getty

Sharks begin 1st training camp without Marleau in 21 years

1 Comment

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) There was something familiar missing in San Jose when the Sharks opened training camp.

For the first time since 1996, the Sharks took the ice for their first training camp practice without Patrick Marleau on the team as the franchise’s career leader in games and scoring left as a free agent for Toronto this summer.

“I’ve spent a lot of years with him. It is kind of strange,” said Joe Thornton, who came to San Jose in 2005. “It’s his birthday today too. It’s a little weird, but he’s going to do great up in Toronto.”

Marleau had been with San Jose since being picked second overall in 1997 but left the Sharks to sign an $18.75 million, three-year deal with the Maple Leafs in July.

Marleau has 508 goals and 574 assists for 1,082 points. He had 46 points in playing all 82 games last season as he rebounded from a disappointing 2015-16 season by scoring 27 goals, including the 500th of his career. He ranks first in San Jose in career goals, games and points.

Only six players in NHL history have played more games with one team than Marleau’s 1,493 in San Jose. The Sharks haven’t played a game without him on the ice since April 7, 2009.

“Obviously Patty has meant so much to this organization and this group,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “Everyone in this room has pretty much played with him and Patty has done something to help them out. He’ll be missed. … Just by committee somebody will step in and fill that kind of hole. That’s what we’ll need.”

The Sharks made no major additions this offseason so will need to replace Marleau’s 27 goals by getting development from younger players like Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Danny O'Regan, as well as bounce-back seasons from veterans like Thornton, Mikkel Boedker and Joonas Donskoi.

Only Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns are back after scoring more than 12 goals last season.

“When I look back at last year we had key people either have down years or miss significant time with injuries or coming off injuries,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think if we can stay healthy I think we’ve got a large group of guys that can really take a step this year and I expect a step out of them.”

While the Sharks lost Marleau in free agency, they did manage to keep Thornton by giving him a one-year, $8 million contract despite dwindling production last season and offseason knee surgery.

He scored just seven goals – his fewest in an 82-game season since his rookie year in 1997-98 – and was a key part of a power-play unit that uncharacteristically struggled last season. But he still managed 43 assists, teaming with captain Joe Pavelski on San Jose’s top line.

Thornton missed the final week of the regular season and the first two playoff games with a left knee injury before returning for the final four games of a first-round loss to Edmonton. Thornton then underwent surgery to repair his MCL and ACL after the season but was back skating in August and started ramping it up for training camp two weeks ago. Thornton believes the lower-body work he did in rehab this offseason will pay dividends on the ice.

“They feel real strong,” he said of his legs. “I feel a lot of pop out there. They’re probably as strong as they’ve ever been just because I had to rehab that knee so much.”

 

David Pastrnak is a star and the Bruins should be willing to pay him like one

Getty
4 Comments

As training camps draw closer all eyes in the NHL are starting to turn to the situation in Boston where restricted free agent David Pastrnak remains unsigned.

According to general manager Don Sweeney, there is no timetable on when a deal is going to be reached and there seems to be a bit of a gap between the two sides when it comes to the type of contract Pastrnak is going to get.

The Bruins have reportedly offered a seven-year deal worth around $6 million per year, while Pastrnak would reportedly prefer a deal closer to the eight-year pact Leon Draisaitl received from the Edmonton Oilers. Given their ages and overall production to this point, as well as the market for RFA’s of that skill level, it is not a completely unreasonable ask.

There are a couple of problems for the Bruins here, and a big one is simply the optics of the situation.

The Bruins have a 21-year-old player that appears to be on the verge of stardom in the NHL. He not only can be a young, cornerstone offensive player, he already is one. They also have more than enough salary cap room to fit him in.

What keeps the Bruins from getting the benefit of the doubt in this situation (at least from this perspective) is the track record they have in dealing with young, cornerstone offensive players. They tend to toss them aside, having traded Joe Thornton, Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Tyler Seguin and standout defenseman Dougie Hamilton all within the past 12 years (and with three different general managers completing those trades). It creates the perception that the organization as a whole doesn’t properly value high end talent and would rather trade it away — often times for pennies on the dollar — than pay market value to keep it.

The argument against paying Pastrnak a deal similar to the one Draisaitl received, for example, is that the team is paying for potential. He might not pan out. It might not be a great value.

Pastrnak at this point in his career has one monster season and a couple of half seasons where he flashed star potential.

But his production puts him in some pretty rare and special company when it comes to impact players.

Over the past 20 years there have only been 10 players that have appeared in at least 170 games and scored at least 59 goals by the end of their age 20 season: Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Steven Stamkos, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Skinner, Evander Kane, Jordan Staal, Vincent Lecavalier, Nathan MacKinnon and … David Pastrnak. The only player on that list that really didn’t continue on the same path that they showed early on has been Kane, and a lot of that has been due to injury and health.

What stands out about Pastrnak on that list is how little ice time it has taken him to reach that level compared to some of the others. Via Hockey-Reference.

On a per-minute basis his production is off the charts for someone his age.

Players that produce at this level at this age tend to be good enough to sustain it.

It’s not paying for potential. It’s paying for what a player will do for you instead of what a player has done for you.

The Bruins have been fortunate to get some tremendous bargains with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron over the years, and giving Pastrnak $7-8 million per season right now might look like a little bit of an overpay. But not every contract has to be below market value. Plus, if Pastrnak continues on his current path — and there is every reason to believe that he will given what he has done so far, his ability to generate shots and his possession numbers — that contract, too, could look like a bargain in the near future.

Under Pressure: Brent Burns

Getty
4 Comments

This post is part of Sharks Day on PHT…

Brent Burns‘ path to stardom is almost as wild as his beard and almost as odd as his sense of style.

Odd path for an odd guy

Let’s not forget that there were very reasonable arguments made in favor of forward being his ideal position, even as recently as his early days with the San Jose Sharks.

Burns was traded to the Sharks almost exactly six years ago (June 24, 2011) in a deal that sent Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle to Minnesota. As nice a player as Coyle is, Wild fans could be excused for closing a browser in disgust at the mere mention of that move.

Then again, at that time, Burns’ value was at a low point. He had been limited by injuries, only playing 59 games in 2008-09 and 47 games in 2009-10. His final campaign with Minnesota was healthier (46 points in 80 games), but the results were relatively modest … and really, he didn’t make a huge jump until 2013-14, even if there were signs of the star he’d become.

Tough pace to maintain

That breakthrough was shockingly brilliant, and rare as Burns is.

His totals alone have been spell-binding:

2013-14: 22 goals, 48 points in 69 games
2014-15: 17 goals, 60 points in 82 games
2015-16: 27 goals, 75 points in 82 games
2016-17: 29 goals, 76 points in 82 games, culminating with him winning his first Norris Trophy.

That’s a heck of a story, and chances are, Burns will not be bothered by the idea of being “under pressure.”

Still, there’s reason to be just a touch concerned that a dip – but hopefully not a dive – is coming.

Age, injury risks, other potential obstacles

For one thing, Burns is playing on a level that’s incredibly difficult to sustain in this era. Full-fledged forwards with big minutes struggle to generate 22+ goals in three of four seasons, let alone defensemen.

As you can see, he’s also played all 82 regular-season games for three straight seasons. For a big dude, you wonder if the injury bug might bite.

Especially since Burns is older than some might realize.

Despite managing the rare feat of jumping straight to the NHL at 18, Burns’ development suffered because of those injuries, so it might be surprising for some that he’s already 32.

Burns earned his big contract with this four-year run of outstanding play, but the bottom line is that he’ll face increasing scrutiny as an $8 million man than he did making $5.76M.

Blame game?

If age and injuries don’t ratchet up the intensity, the Sharks lost Marleau and there’s the possibility that Joe Thornton may finally slow down considering the huge mileage he’s accrued as a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player.

This is a generally aging team, and a fairly top-heavy one at that, so things could get hairy if San Jose needs Burns to be a defenseman who flirts with 30 goals and a point-per-game pace.

And, as tough as it is to score at a great clip as a player gets older, there’s at least some concern that people might be more critical of his defensive game.

This isn’t to say that Burns is a bad blueliner. Really, he ranges between good to superb by just about every metric.

Instead, there’s evidence that Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a truly elite guy in his own zone, boosts other Sharks defensemen, as Tyler Dellow argues for The Athletic (subscription required).

Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – teams put guys with bigger paychecks in tougher situations because of said paychecks. It’s understandable, yet it can also make for tougher sledding.

If such a scenario occurs in San Jose and Burns gets (ahem) burned quite often, the knives might be sharper considering his bigger checks. That’s especially true if the Sharks regress, which is a real risk considering their aging roster.

***

Look, the naked truth is that it’s tough to bet against Burns.

There are elements of his game – his size, his shot, a hockey IQ that might sneak up on you thanks to the caveman aesthetic – that are likely to age well.

Even so, expectations can be cruel to a player, particularly one coming off a Norris Trophy win and entering a higher tax bracket.

Looking to make the leap: Timo Meier

Getty

This post is part of Sharks Day on PHT…

Timo Meier appeared in 34 regular-season games for the San Jose Sharks in 2016-17, and he also suited up for five postseason contests.

Even so, that felt a bit like a dress rehearsal for the ninth pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.

Meier was held pointless in the playoffs, and he wasn’t a whole lot more effective in the regular season, generating three goals and three assists while averaging 12:28 TOI per game.

Those limited opportunities stand out, and so does a lack of bounces. The Swiss-born forward managed 85 shots on goal in those 34 contests, connecting on just 3.5 percent of them.

It’s easy, then, to imagine a big jump forward if the Sharks give him more ice time and if the puck bounces the right way. Even if Meier is at a more middle-of-the-road shooting percentage, it could be a big difference.

And, let’s be honest, the Sharks could use an infusion of youth. With Patrick Marleau out of town, there’s an opportunity for someone out there, and it’s plausible that Meier could leap over the likes of, say, Mikkel Boedker and Joel Ward.

The experiment could be especially successful if Meier is the latest beneficiary of the Joe Thornton boost.

Thornton has enriched the careers of many up-and-coming snipers, with Jonathan Cheechoo standing as one of the handiest examples. Meier seems especially adept at producing goals (take, for instance, 14 goals versus nine assists at the AHL level in 2015-16), so there could conceivably be some synergy there.

Naturally, that might be asking for too big of a leap from Meier, who will turn 21 in October.

Still, it’s worth consideration, especially if the Sharks decide that they might want to spread out their offense by at least experimenting with having one Joe (Thornton) on one line and Joe Pavelski on another.

Developing a Meier-type from a promising prospect into a productive NHL player could make a big difference in sustaining the Sharks as legitimate contenders, for all we know.

Logan Couture’s teeth are still sore from horrifying mouth injury

Getty

Still jarring and gross: the image of Logan Couture‘s mouth after taking a puck to the mouth about five months ago.

Still sore: Couture’s mouth.

Yep, the San Jose Sharks star hasn’t totally gotten over that injury, which forced him to have false teeth up top and some painfully sore ones on his bottom row. NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz transcribed the unfortunate details Couture shared with NHL Network this week:

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth.

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

As someone who’s endured more than a few unpleasant trips to the dentist, stories like these always lead to queasiness. This classic PHT post about Keith Tkachuk’s agony always comes to mind in situations like these.

Speaking of queasy, this is footage of when things were really bad for Couture. That link is provided because some will inevitably want to look, but treat this like the other gross things on the Internet that you wish you never saw and just move on.

(Seriously, the healing process continues on this end.)

Anyway, about the only bit of good news is that Couture can still train more or less as usual. He endured that injury late in the regular season (March 25), and while he suited up for the Sharks’ first-round series, it sure seemed like both Couture and Joe Thornton were limited in those six games against the Edmonton Oilers.

As much as dental agony seems like a uniquely “hockey” problem, this situation sounds especially rough for Couture.