Tomas Hertl

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 11:  Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks is congratulated by teammate Joe Thornton #19 after he scored in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers on February 11, 2017 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Sharks have reason to wait on Thornton, Marleau extensions

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Two of San Jose’s most important and longest-tenured players, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

Given the Sharks are in the midst of their Stanley Cup window — with Thornton and Marleau playing significant roles — it seems odd neither has put pen to paper on an extension yet.

But the Mercury News has a theory on why:

Here’s where it gets interesting. Next season, the NHL is adding a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights. That franchise will participate in an expansion draft. It will happen in June, a few days before the annual entry draft.  Each existing NHL team can protect either seven or eight forwards from being selected by the Golden Knights. However, pending unrestricted free agents will not be eligible for the expansion draft.

In other words, it behooves Wilson and the Sharks not to sign Marleau and Thornton until after the expansion draft. That way, the two players would not count toward the seven or eight forwards on the Sharks’ protected list (the exact number depends on choices the Sharks make at other positions.)

San Jose’s in a fairly unique position for the expansion draft. It is one of four teams not required to protect anybody — Calgary, St. Louis and Washington are the others — and, with the addition of the aforementioned Thornton-Marleau scenario, GM Doug Wilson would have serious flexibility when it comes to exposing players.

Not that he’s willing to divulge any information.

“My position is that I have no comment on that,” Wilson told the Mercury News. “People can anticipate and speculate about what our approach might be.”

ESPN touched on this potential scenario last month, noting that Wilson has some big decisions to make regardless if he chooses the seven forwards-three-defensemen-one goalie protected list, or the eight-skaters-and-a-goalie setup:

If you go 7-3-1, it means you protect just three defensemen — Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and probably Justin Braun — which then leaves Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon, Mirco Mueller and David Schlemko among those exposed.

What if the Sharks decide to go the 8-1 protection format route in order to protect four defensemen? That means only four forwards could be protected: Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl and then take your pick from either Mikkel Boedker, Joel Ward, Melker Karlsson or Chris Tierney. (Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are exempt.)

The risk in letting Thornton and Marleau get to free agency, of course, is that someone makes an offer neither can refuse. But it could be a risk worth taking. It’s fair to assume any potential offer would have to be massive in scope, given Thorton’s and Marleau’s ties to the Bay Area — the latter has spent his entire 20-year career with the Sharks, while the former has been there for over a decade.

Right now, there’s not much information about what type of extensions San Jose is offering. ESPN reported Thornton is eyeing another three-year deal — his last was a three-year, $20.25 million contract — and things are almost entirely silent on the Marleau front.

Hertl’s late goal garners ‘big celly’ as Sharks beat Blackhawks

San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl, top left, scores past Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in San Jose, Calif. San Jose won 3-1. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)p
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Tomas Hertl‘s long wait between goals ended and Patrick Marleau closed in on a major milestone for the San Jose Sharks.

Hertl’s first goal in more than three months broke a tie with 2:03 remaining in regulation after Marleau scored his 499th career goal, helping the Sharks win for the seventh time in eight games, 3-1 over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.

After missing 32 games with a knee injury, Hertl got his first goal since Oct. 27 in his second game back in the lineup when he knocked in the rebound of Brent Burns‘ shot to give San Jose the win in the first game back from the All-Star break.

“I should have buried a couple goals before,” Hertl said. “But I’m happy I scored because it was a long time, like three months. It was a big celly for me.”

Joe Pavelski added an empty-netter to cap a night that nearly included a milestone for Marleau. He had an apparent goal wiped off by an offside call on replay before scoring No. 499 in the second period. That gave Marleau six goals in the past four games as he surges toward becoming the 45th player to reach 500.

“It always feels good when you score and win, so it’s good,” Marleau said. “Hopefully I won’t have too long.”

Read more: A ‘special player’ — Marleau’s latest goal gives Sharks sixth straight win

Martin Jones made 24 saves as the Sharks matched last season’s home win total of 18 games.

Dennis Rasmussen scored and Corey Crawford made 26 saves for the Blackhawks, who have lost three straight games. Chicago led going into the third period in losses to Tampa Bay and Winnipeg before the break before giving up the late tiebreaking goal to the Sharks.

“We had two minutes to go there, we just wanted to make sure we could get it to overtime and look for the extra point,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Three games in a row we’ve given up some points. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

After a slow start to the game with few chances for the first 30 minutes, the action picked up in the last half of the second period. It started when Marleau appeared to score when he took the rebound of Logan Couture‘s missed shot off the back boards and tucked it in for a goal. But the Blackhawks challenged the play, believing Mikkel Boedker was offside on the entry, and replay wiped the goal off the board.

Just a few minutes later with Artem Anisimov in the box for holding, Marleau did get No. 499 when he beat Crawford with a shot from the circle for his 18th goal of the season.

“Patty’s been excellent,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “Best hockey I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here. He’s just got to keep going.”

The Sharks had a chance to add on to the lead, but Crawford stopped Timo Meier on a breakaway. Chicago then got the equalizer when Rasmussen beat Jones with a shot off the inside of the post from the top of the circle on a rush.

But that was all the Blackhawks would get.

“I thought it was better than the last two or three games,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We did a lot of good things. It’s just a tough way to lose in the last couple of minutes.”

 

Sharks better, faster and deeper than last year’s Cup finalist, says DeBoer

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Head coach Peter DeBoer addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES — One of the central themes going into last year’s Stanley Cup Final was the speed of the Penguins and Sharks.

But once it was over, all anyone could talk about was how much faster Penguins were.

It’s something Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer remembered with a chuckle at Saturday’s All-Star media session, as he prepped to coach the Pacific Division.

“We were fast… until we saw Pittsburgh,” DeBoer said with a laugh. “That’s obviously something we talked about, and I think we are faster.”

To hear the head coach explain it, speed isn’t the only thing San Jose’s upgraded.

DeBoer says this year’s team is notably improved compared to the ’15-16 group — a team that finished with 46 wins, 98 points and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

(A scary proposition for the rest of the Western Conference, this.)

“I like our team,” DeBoer explained. “I think we’re better than last year, sitting where we are right now. The young guys have added a dimension to our team. I think we’re deeper.

“The big question here is going to be health, and energy. There’s no secret and there’s no hiding from the fact that you go to the Final and then find a way to get back there. That’s just reality. But I think if there’s a group that can do it, we’re set up to do it.”

DeBoer’s comments come after GM Doug Wilson made several unheralded-yet-significant changes to the club’s makeup. The speed upgrade was most evident — highlighted by the free agent acquisition of Mikkel Boedker, one of the quickest guys in the league — but getting faster wasn’t just limited to skating ability.

“Speed isn’t just pure speed, it’s puck movement speed too,” DeBoer explained. “We’ve added [David] Schlemko on defense, who’s a puck-moving defenseman. So I think all those factors make us definitely faster than we were a year ago.”

Changes didn’t just happen in the offseason, either. Already this year, the Sharks have parted ways with young veterans Matt Nieto (waived, claimed by Colorado) and Tommy Wingels (traded to Ottawa).

In doing so, Wilson has embraced a youth movement, implementing the likes of Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc.

Labanc, 21, worked his way into the Sharks lineup after starring with the club’s AHL affiliate and has emerged as a regular, with 14 points in 37 games. Meier, the ninth overall pick in 2015, is a little less polished and playing in a smaller role — but both he and Labanc have impressed the veteran core.

“[Labanc], just the ability to get in position to score – I think he’s a very, very smart hockey player. He wants to score every night, which is fun to see as an older player,” Joe Thornton said in late December, per CSN Bay Area. “Timo, just his speed stands out, and how strong he is.

“Both guys are playing huge roles on our team right now.”

The club has also been buoyed by the return of Tomas Hertl.

Hertl, who was one of San Jose’s best forwards in last year’s playoffs, missed nearly the entire Cup Final with a knee injury, then missed almost all of the last two months with more knee problems.

Hertl returned to the lineup in San Jose’s final game before the All-Star break, which essentially put the team at full strength.

That, plus a burning desire to repeat last year’s run — only with a different ending — could make the Sharks a very dangerous team over the next few months.

“The guys are hungry to get back,” DeBoer said. “And I like how we’re positioned.”

First place Sharks get even stronger with Tomas Hertl’s return tonight

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 01:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks in action during the third period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on November 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With wins in six consecutive games and eight of their past 10 the San Jose Sharks have surged to the top of the Pacific Division standings.

On Thursday they host the Edmonton Oilers in a first-place showdown (the Oilers are only two points behind San Jose and could move into a tie with them with a regulation win) and will be getting even stronger on the ice with the return of forward Tomas Hertl.

Hertl, 23, will be making his return to the lineup after missing more than two months with a knee injury. He was activated from injured reserve on Wednesday and has nine points (four goals, five assists) in 17 games. For Hertl his return to the lineup on Thursday is at least an opportunity to get some game action in before getting a few days off to rest during the upcoming NHL All-Star break.

It is also a little earlier than expected, given that just a few weeks ago it was believed that he may not be able to return to the Sharks’ lineup until mid-to-late February.

Before the injury he had spent a significant portion of his ice-time skating alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, a line that was absolutely tremendous a year ago, outscoring opponents by a 34-13 margin and controlling more than 56 percent of the shot attempts in more than 516 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together (via Puckalytics).

Hertl was the Sharks’ fifth leading scorer a year ago with 46 points and put together a strong postseason run for them on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. He was arguably the Sharks’ best player in the first two games of that series before he was injured and missed the final four games of the series.

Sharks are surging, and now it looks like Tomas Hertl’s back

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks reacts after scoring a goal in the second period during the game against Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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Consider this a case of the rich getting richer: the red-hot San Jose Sharks look like they’re getting Tomas Hertl back for Thursday after he was activated from injured reserve (according to the Mercury News).

The Sharks have been able to keep together even with Hertl missing 31 games – he last played on Nov. 17 – with a knee injury. They’ve collected 64 points in 49 games, leading the Pacific Division by one point on the strength of a six-game winning streak.

While Anaheim is San Jose’s closest compeititor for the division crown at the moment, Edmonton isn’t so far behind with 60 points in the same games played, so Hertl’s return will be welcomed that much more.

The 23-year-old only had an assist in his last seven games before being injured, but we’ve seen plenty of flashes (just ask Joe Thornton) of great play from Hertl in the past.

Hertl’s return could even be a nice balm for Sharks fans who didn’t appreciate the Tommy Wingels trade.