Tomas Hertl

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Jannik Hansen practices on Sharks’ top line

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Jannik Hansen is starting right at the top.

At today’s Sharks practice, the speedy winger, acquired last week in a trade with the Canucks, was skating on San Jose’s top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Mikkel Boedker comprised the second line. Then came the trio of Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, and Melker Karlsson. And finally, on the fourth line, it was Marcus Sorensen, Chris Tierney, and Joel Ward.

That Hansen is starting on the top line should come as no surprise. The 30-year-old spent time in Vancouver with the Sedin twins on the Canucks’ top line. And if it’s not a fit with Thornton and Pavelski in San Jose, Hansen has the versatility to play further down the lineup.

Hansen is expected to make his San Jose debut tomorrow against the visiting Washington Capitals.

The Sharks also assigned forward Kevin Labanc to the AHL today.

Related: Hansen adds more speed to Sharks, who were already faster

Hansen adds more speed to Sharks, who were already faster

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The San Jose Sharks couldn’t handle the Pittsburgh Penguins’ speed.

And so, after losing the Stanley Cup Final in six games, the Sharks decided they had to get faster.

First came the signing of winger Mikkel Boedker, whose “tremendous speed is his best attribute,” said GM Doug Wilson on July 1.

The Sharks also signed defenseman David Schlemko, who brought “puck-movement speed” to the third pairing, in the words of head coach Pete DeBoer. 

Then, when the season started, there was a quasi-youth movement, as players like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier received opportunities with the big club.

And finally, last night, the Sharks acquired right winger Jannik Hansen in a trade that sent Nikolay Goldobin to Vancouver.

“Jannik is a versatile, gritty player who plays with speed and is talented on both sides of the puck,” said Wilson. “We think he is a perfect fit for the style of our team, which has earned the right for us to make this move and add to our NHL roster as we push towards the playoffs.”

Wilson probably undersold Hansen’s speed a touch. Even at 30 years old, Hansen is still very fast.

Where DeBoer puts his newest player remains to be seen. On the third line with Tomas Hertl is one possibility. That could bump Joel Ward down to the fourth line, which may be a better spot for the 36-year-old who’s struggled offensively this season.

The thing about Hansen is that he’s versatile enough to play up and down the lineup. In Vancouver, he started out as a checker. Eventually, he was skating with the Sedins on the top scoring line.

The Sharks’ next game is tomorrow at home against, of all teams, the Vancouver Canucks.

Related: The Penguins played great defense their own way

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

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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

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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.”