Three reasons why this year’s San Jose Sharks team is different

If you ask me, it’s ridiculous to make a Stanley Cup victory the only barometer for a successful NHL season. Yet that’s the way it is with some hockey fans and pundits, at least when it comes to teams who have a reasonable chance at success.

Fair or not, the San Jose Sharks – and their frequently critiqued captain Joe Thornton, in particular – have been dismissed as paper regular season champions who fold once playoff time comes. Perhaps that’s the price they pay for consistent success at the “wrong” time.

Still, with the Sharks claiming their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title, experts are starting to wonder if this might be the San Jose team that breaks through. With that in mind, I thought I’d look at the biggest reasons why this Sharks team is different from previous, some-might-say disappointing editions.

1. Improved scoring depth

While people practically trip over their own feet rushing to blame Thornton for the latest “collapse,” those same folks often overlook the fact that hockey is a team sport. Maybe depending so much on one player – particularly a playmaker whose passing lanes clog up considerably in the postseason – isn’t such a great idea in a time when teams can dedicate far more time to getting matchups right.

Thornton is still a go-to guy in San Jose, but their offense isn’t leaning on him as much as years passed. Jumbo Joe only has 68 points in 2010-11, his lowest total since 01-02 (when he was 22 years old).

Beyond stalwarts Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, the Sharks are generating more offense from lower lines. While Joe Pavelski was a well-respected two-way forward among knowledgeable hockey fans, he truly burst onto the scene during a red-hot 2010 playoffs run.

Beyond “The Big Pavelski,” the Sharks are also reaping the rewards of trusting rookie center Logan Couture. He’s an odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy for his offensive ability (31 goals and 54 points), but distinguishes himself for being a superior all-around player. Devin Setoguchi is another wild card at the wing position, giving the Sharks a more robust set of options when they need a goal.

Add this extra versatility with a roster that was already jam-packed with big, talented players and you have a team that could go all the way.

2. A new workhorse goalie

When reporters took a break from blaming Thornton, they turned their sights on former franchise goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Honestly, those criticisms were often a bit more reasonable, especially judging by the Sharks’ frustrating 2009 playoff series defeat to the Anaheim Ducks.

He began his Sharks career with a shaky start, but San Jose is clearly sold on Antti Niemi as their goalie of the present and future. Niemi has flourished with the increased security of being the clear No. 1 in the middle of the season. He is on a run of starting 34 consecutive games and won 25 games in that span, leaving him with 34 overall.

Of course, Niemi also provides something the Sharks desire almost as much as his steady netminding: the clout that comes with having a Stanley Cup ring.

3. Maybe a bit less baggage?

There will likely always be a segment of the hockey media and fans who won’t let the Sharks off the hook until they raise the Cup. That being said, making it to the Western Conference finals last season (and beating the Detroit Red Wings in the second round) probably validated the team’s efforts to some extent.

They also won’t go into the playoffs as the biggest favorites, being that the Vancouver Canucks are the Presidents’ Trophy winners and the top seed in the West. Sure, San Jose isn’t likely to slip under the radar, either … but maybe a little less pressure will help them succeed.

***

The Sharks aren’t a perfect team. There are still some concerns about their depth on defense and some worries about the health of burly forward Ryane Clowe.

Still, there are reasons to think this San Jose team might have the juice to make some serious noise in the playoffs. Does that mean they will be able to silence their loudest critics or will they just make those points echo louder? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa scored three goals in the first 15:16 minutes of the game, including two on the power play, and held off a late push by Dallas to win 3-2 and even the Stanley Cup Final at one game apiece. Brayden Point opened the scoring by netting his 10th of the postseason and Ondrej Palat and Kevin Shattenkirk each scored to give the Lightning a three-goal lead they would not relinquish.

Since the beginning of their First Round series against Columbus, the Lightning are a perfect 5-0 following a loss this postseason. Tampa last lost consecutive games on March 8th and 10th – its final two games before the pause. Andrei Vasilevskiy has not lost consecutive starts since dropping three straight from Feb. 20-25.

After going 0/14 on the power play in their previous four games, the Lightning scored twice on the man-advantage in Game 2, with both tallies coming in the first period. Point and Palat scored power-play goals 2:59 apart in the first period in the win. Dallas took three penalties in the first 14 minutes of play and the Lightning were able to take control by scoring twice.

Tyler Seguin, who is making his third appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28- year-old has gone 11 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span. His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

How the Lightning built a dominant line at the trade deadline

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After their shockingly disappointing playoff loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets a year ago, it would have been easy for the Tampa Bay Lightning to conclude that they needed to do something drastic to a team that kept falling short in the most frustrating ways come playoff time.

They could have made a major trade.

They could have fired coach Jon Cooper.

Pretty much anything that would have sent a jolt through the team.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It also would have been completely reckless, because that is not at all what the Lightning needed.

Even with their late-round collapses (and one early round collapse) this has still been one of the league’s most successful franchises for six seasons. It is a team that is — and has been — loaded with All-Star talent at every level of the roster.

They didn’t need a massive shake-up. They needed a couple of tweaks. General manager Julian Brisebois and his staff were all smart enough to realize that. Some of those tweaks started in the offseason when they signed Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Maroon to cheap, one-year contracts to add some depth.

But those were nothing compared to the two trade deadline moves (Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow) that helped Tampa Bay build not only one of its most effective lines this postseason, but one of the most effective lines in the entire NHL.

It is one of the biggest reasons they are three wins away from a championship.

The Trades

It all started on February 16 when they sent a first-round draft pick (previously acquired from Vancouver for J.T Miller) and 2019 first-round pick Nolan Foote to the New Jersey Devils for Coleman.

A week later they sent their own 2020 first-round pick, as well as Anthony Greco (who had just been acquired a couple of days earlier) to the San Jose Sharks for Barclay Goodrow and a 2020 third-round pick.

It’s a lot to give up, no question. When the dust settled they sent what amounted to three first-round picks for the two forwards, neither of which would be what anyone considers to be a top-line player.

Coleman was the most notable of the two given his status as a 20-goal scorer in each of the past two seasons. Add in his defensive ability and cap-friendly contract ($1.8 million salary cap hit this season and next season) and he carries a ton of value. So it’s not a shock he carried a steep price in trade.

[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

The price for Goodrow, however, was probably a little more eye-opening because you don’t usually see teams trade a first-round pick for a 27-year-old forward with a career high of 27 points.

He is not bringing you offense. What he does bring you is defense. A lot of it. Over the past two seasons Goodrow was one of the Sharks’ most impactful defensive forwards when it came to suppressing shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals and, yes, actual goals.

Also like Coleman he carries an extremely team-friendly salary cap number ($925,000 per season) through next season.

That means the Lightning added two outstanding defensive forwards, including one with 20-goal ability, for a combined salary cap hit of just $2.7 million through the end of next season.

Individually, those have proven to be two very solid moves.

When put together around Yanni Gourde they have produced a game-changing line.

The Results

The Lightning’s best line this postseason has obviously been its top trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat. They have dominated every phase of the game and two of them (Kucherov and Point) are contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

But the Coleman-Goude-Goodrow line is not far behind them in terms of overall effectiveness, as the table below outlines.

All data via Natural Stat Trick.

(CF% = shot attempt percentage; xGF = expected goals for percentage; CA/60 = total shot attempts against per 60 minutes; xGA/60 = expected goals against per 60 minutes; GA/60 = goals against per 60 minutes).

The top line is dominating across the board, which is exactly what you expect with two All-Stars (including the reigning league MVP) playing next to each other.

But look at the second line. There is a decent gap in terms of possession (shot attempts) and scoring chances (expected goals), but they are shutting teams down at an elite level and have scored goals at a rate similar to the All-Star top line. Keep in mind, this is only 5-on-5 data and Kucherov-Point line has a ton of power play points together to drive the offense. But it is still impressive at how close they are in terms of overall effectiveness at even-strength.

As good as that top line is, it takes more than one great line to compete for a championship and ultimately win one.

Thanks to some shrewd moves at the deadline, as well as the scouting and player development system that produced Gourde as an undrafted free agent several years ago, the Lightning have given themselves a second great line to help drive their team.

It is all still in place for next season as well, and when Gourde’s contract is added in it still only costs them $7.8 million against the cap. Tough to beat that value, especially if it helps produce a championship.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sharks name Bob Boughner head coach, finalize coaching staff

Sharks coach
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The San Jose Sharks finalized their coaching staff on Tuesday by announcing that Bob Boughner has officially been named the team’s head coach, removing the interim tag that he had in the second half of last season.

Boughner replaced Peter DeBoer as the team’s head coach in mid-December.

With Boughner behind the bench the Sharks finished the season with a 14-20-3 record.

They had been 15-16-2 with DeBoer.

Along with the official hiring of Boughner, the team also announced that it has added former AHL Chicago Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson as an associate head coach and long-term NHL forward John Madden as an assistant coach.

“Bob did a tremendous job last season, getting our group back to playing with an identity and structure that we need in order to be successful,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a statement released by the team. “We saw a marked improvement in our play in several key areas during the second half of the season, before losing some key players to injury.

“We’re also very pleased to add Rocky and John to our staff. Both come with a wealth of experience, both in playing the game and as teachers and leaders. With a healthy and motivated group of players, we are confident that this staff will do a terrific job leading our group in the coming years.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Sharks were one of the most disappointing teams in the league during the 2019-20 season, going from the Western Conference Final a year ago to the bottom of the NHL standings.

Making matters worse, they did not even have a lottery pick having traded it to the Ottawa Senators two years earlier for defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Injuries certainly played a role in their decline, but they also struggled to replace forwards Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi after they left in free agency, while also doing nothing to fix their goaltending issue.

There is still a lot of talent on the roster, but some of their core pieces are getting older. They also still have to address the goalie situation.

This is Bougher’s second head coaching job in the NHL. He was also the head coach of the Florida Panthers for two seasons.

He joined the Sharks as an assistant prior to the 2019-20 season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)