Dallas Stars

Nichushkin says surgically repaired hip is pain-free

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With all the big moves Dallas made this summer — Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Antti Niemi — it’s easy to forget that one of the club’s biggest acquisitions could come from in-house.

Valeri Nichushkin, who missed 74 games last year following hip surgery, is currently working out with teammates and giving positive reviews on his health:

Nichushkin, 20, lost nearly all of his sophomore campaign to the hip ailment, which he tried to play through at the beginning of the year, only to go under the knife in mid-November. That prevented him from following up on a rookie year in which 14 goals and 34 points and finished 12th in Calder voting; Nichushkin did return for a handful of games at the end of the regular season, and also represented Russia at the 2015 World Hockey championships.

Now at full health, the big-bodied Russian should slot into Dallas’ dynamic top-six forward group, one that projects to feature last year’s Art Ross winner Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky and Sharp.

Stars re-sign Eakin: four years, $15.4 million

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Cody Eakin has cashed in on the best offensive season of his young career.

On Friday, Dallas announced it had signed Eakin to a four-year contract extension which, per the Dallas Morning-News, is a $15.4 million pact with a $3.85M average annual cap hit.

Eakin, 24, is coming off a solid season in which he posted career bests in goals (19) and points (40). He’s making $1.9 million annually on his current deal, which has one year remaining.

It’s a nice payday for the former Washington draftee and good value for Dallas. It stands to reason that, at a relatively young age, Eakin has yet to reach his ceiling; this spring, he joined fellow Stars teammates Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin on Team Canada’s gold medal-winning side at the 2015 Worlds and had a strong tournament, scoring four goals and six points in nine games.

It’s also worth noting that, along with top-two centers Spezza and Seguin, the Eakin extension now puts all three of Dallas’ top pivots under contract through 2018.

San Jose Sharks ’15-16 Outlook

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The last time the San Jose Sharks missed the playoffs in back-to-back years was in 1996 and 1997, but they’re in danger of it happening again.

Whether or not they’ll be able to prevent that will depend largely on their goaltending. With Antti Niemi gone, San Jose is going with a combination of Alex Stalock and Martin Jones between the pipes. There’s certainly potential there, but the duo only has 83 games worth of NHL experience between them.

Stalock wasn’t that great last season either and while Jones had an impressive 2.25 GAA in Los Angeles last season, his .906 save percentage left something to be desired. Besides which, Los Angeles only called on him 15 times last season and just 11 of those were starts. So it’s entirely possible that neither will be ready to take the reigns in 2015-16 and that alone could sink the Sharks.

If their goaltending proves to be adequate though, then they still might run into issues offensively. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will both be 36 years old by the time the season starts and they declined somewhat last season. The Sharks no longer need them to be the team’s offensive leaders, but they do have to be significant contributors and if their age is catching up with them then that could be a big problem.

At the same time though, the Sharks do have reasons to be hopeful. They have some promising young players, including Tomas Hertl, who has shown flashes of brilliance but struggled in his sophomore season. Still, he’s just 21 years old and could be major part of this team going forward. On the defensive side of things, Brent Burns is coming off of a great campaign and newcomer Paul Martin should help solidify their top-four.

San Jose has the potential to be competitive this season, but it all comes back to Stalock and Jones as it’s hard to see this group doing much if neither of those two step up.

It’s San Jose Sharks Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The San Jose Sharks.

After suffering a reverse sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, Sharks GM Doug Wilson declared San Jose a “tomorrow team” in a summer that drew confusion and criticism from some, but went “exactly the right way,” according to the general manager. When all was said and done though, the result that San Jose missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

At the age of 35, Patrick Marleau took a significant step back offensively as he scored just 19 goals after reaching the 30-goal milestone for five straight campaigns, not including the lockout shortened season. Joe Thornton, who turned 36 in July, also saw a longstanding streak end as he recorded less than 70 points (65) in a season where he played in at least 70 games for the first time since 1999-2000.

San Jose still wasn’t bad offensively. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture recorded 70 and 67 points respectively while Brent Burns tied for second among defensemen with 60 points. The Sharks just weren’t great in that regard though and their goaltending proved to be uninspired as well. Antti Niemi was a mixed bag and Alex Stalock, who had been a superb understudy in 2013-14, declined substantially last season.

With mediocrity being the Sharks’ calling card at both ends of the ice, they finished with a 40-33-9 record and were eight points behind Calgary for the third Pacific Division spot.

Off-season recap

Head coach Todd McLellan and the San Jose Sharks mutually agreed to part ways after failing to make the playoffs, which led to Peter DeBoer being named as the team’s new bench boss.

With that done, Sharks GM Doug Wilson moved on to the team’s biggest question mark going into the summer: the goaltending. Niemi was slated to become an unrestricted free agent and Wilson made his intentions clear by trading the netminder’s negotiating rights to Dallas. He later acquired Martin Jones, who enjoyed two strong season as the Kings’ backup goalie, to battle with Stalock for the top job.

San Jose also signed defenseman 34-year-old Paul Martin to a four-year, $19.4 million contract and forward Joel Ward to a three-year deal worth just under $10 million.

Once again the core of the Sharks hasn’t fundamentally changed, but at the same time the 2015-16 version of the team will certainly feature noteworthy differences from its predecessor.

Dallas Stars ’15-16 Outlook

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If there’s one safe bet with the Dallas Stars, it’s that they’ll be one of the most exciting teams in the NHL next season.

That being said, “entertaining” and “successful” don’t always go together in professional hockey.

More than a few times today, PHT’s discussed a few curveballs that might befuddle this team. Even so, this team stands to be electric and boasts one of the highest ceilings of any team in the NHL.

As risky as spending $10.4 million on good (but maybe not elite) goalies might be, there’s a perfectly reasonable possibility that Dallas will find the right formula to make it all work. That’s on head coach Lindy Ruff, as mentioned earlier on Saturday.

Let’s remember though that sports are, ostensibly, about entertainment; it would be a borderline travesty if the Dallas market doesn’t light up the box office for this time.

Just ponder their offensive attack for a minute.

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn stand as one of the dynamic duos of the NHL. Jason Spezza has his flaws, yet he’s also often a brilliant playmaker. Patrick Sharp boasts a handsome two-way game and 2015-16 could be much kinder to Valeri Nichushkin and Ales Hemsky.

John Klingberg’s potential is almost as impressive as his braids were embarrassing.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Stars can justify all the hype with wins and a deep playoff run. Either way, they’re just about guaranteed to be appointment TV for anyone with even a remote interest in the sport.

That’s a victory in itself.