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.

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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.

NHL adds times, exhibition games to 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers playoff schedule

Dates times NHL 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers exhibition schedule
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Hockey fans got a decent idea of how they’ll get their playoff fix (COVID-19 permitting) when the NHL shared an outline of a schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The NHL shared more specifics regarding dates and times for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Tuesday, though, and also the exhibition schedule.

You can now plan your NHL playoff viewing schedule accordingly from July 28 – Aug. 5, with other game times to be determined starting on Aug. 6.

Speaking of to-be-determined, broadcast information will come later.

NHL return-to-play exhibition schedule

As you can see, the NHL exhibition schedule begins on Tuesday, July 28 and runs through Thursday, July 30:

NHL exhibition game schedule 2020 Stanley Cup
via the NHL

Dates, times, NHL playoff schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Check out the most updated schedule information for each series involved in the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, via the NHL:

STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS BY SERIES

EASTERN CONFERENCE (all games at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto)

(All times, TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

Round-robin

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE (all games at Rogers Place, Edmonton)

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets

Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m.
Tuedsay, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

Round-robin

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

* – if necessary

Day-by-day version of playoff schedule for NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Prefer a day-by-day format instead? Want both? The NHL also shared that version, if it works better for you:

STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS DAY-BY-DAY SCHEDULE

(All times ET; TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)

Saturday, Aug. 1

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 1, 12 p.m.
Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 1, 4 p.m.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 1, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 1, 3 p.m.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 1, 10:30 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 2

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Round-robin

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins, 3 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 1, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Arizona Coyotes vs, Nashville Predators, Game 1, 2 p.m.

Round-robin

St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche, 6:30 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 1, 10:30 p.m,

Monday, Aug. 3

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 2, 12 p.m.

Round-robin

Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 4 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 2, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 2, 2:30 p.m.

Round-robin

Dallas Stars vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 2, 10:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 4

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 2, 12 p.m.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 2, 4 p.m.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, Game 3, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, Game 2, 12:30 p.m.

Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets, Game 3, 6:45 p.m.
Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 2, 10:45 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 5

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, Game 3, 12 p.m. ET

Round-robin

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins, 4 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 3, 8 p.m. ET

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes, Game 3, 12:30 p.m.

Round-robin

Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars, 6:30 p.m,

Best-of-5 series

Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Game 3, 10:30 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 6

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 3, TBD
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, Game 4*, TBD

Round-robin

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild, Game 3, TBD
Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets, Game 4*, TBD

Round-robin

Vegas Golden Knights vs. St. Louis Blues, TBD

Friday, Aug. 7

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, Game 4*, TBD
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 4*, TBD
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 4*, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes, Game 4*, TBD
Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild, Game 4*, TBD
Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Game 4*, TBD

Saturday, Aug. 8

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 5*, TBD
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 5*, TBD
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche, TBD

Sunday, Aug. 9

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 5*, TBD
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 5*, TBD
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues, TBD

Islanders sign goalie Sorokin to $2M deal for next season

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The New York Islanders on Tuesday signed goaltender of the future Ilya Sorokin to a $2 million contract for next season.

The deal includes $1 million in salary and a $1 million bonus. A day earlier, the Islanders signed Sorokin to an entry-level deal for the remainder of this season even though he’s not eligible to play.

Sorokin, 24, is considered one of the top prospects at any position not currently in the NHL. A third-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, he was among the Kontinental Hockey League’s best goalies this past season with a 1.50 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.

Two other teams signed Russian prospects Monday who can’t compete in the resumption of this season. The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Alexander Romanov for three years, and the Minnesota Wild signed forward Kirill Kaprizov for two years.

All three players are burning a year by signing for this season, a way of getting to more lucrative contracts sooner in the future.

The Islanders are one of several teams going into the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoffs with a goaltending competition. Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll let it play out between Russian Semyon Varlamov and German Thomas Greiss to determine who might start Game 1 of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers on Aug. 1.

While Varlamov is under contract for three more seasons — perhaps in later years to mentor Sorokin — Greiss is a pending free agent. Sorkin backed up for the gold medal-winning Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and showed his NHL potential over several KHL seasons and world championships.

Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin are 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award finalists

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Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche, and Artemi Panarin of the Rangers have been announced as the finalists for the 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL.”

The is voted on by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov won the award last season.

Draisaitl and Panarin are first-time finalists, while this is the second time that MacKinnon is up for the award. The winner will be announced at some point during the conference finals.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

The case for Leon Draisaitl: The 2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner, Draisaitl led the NHL with 110 points and finished third in the league with 43 goals. He played every game for the Oilers this season and was first in points per game (1.55), assists (67), and power play points (44). He was second in power play goals (16) behind David Pastrnak and second in even strength points (66) behind Panarin. A win would mark the third time the Oilers have taken home the award in the last four seasons. Connor McDavid was voted the TLA winner in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The case for Nathan MacKinnon: After missing only one game for the Avalanche this season, MacKinnon finished fourth with 93 points and led his team in scoring by 43 points. He was also seventh in goals (35), third overall in even strength points 962), fourth in power play points (31), and fifth in points per game (1.35). The 2019-20 season was the third straight year he finished with at least 35 goals and 90 points. It was also the third consecutive season he finished with exactly 58 assists. He would become only the second player in franchise history to win the award following Joe Sakic in 2000-01.

The case for Artemi Panarin: The Bread Man’s first year on Broadway was nothing short of spectacular. He set career highs in goals (32), assists (63), and points (95), led the NHL in even strength points (71), and was third in points per game (1.38). Prolific in production, he recorded points streaks of 12 and 13 games this season. He would become the second Ranger to win the award joining Jaromir Jagr (2005-06).

NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES
• Wednesday, July 15: Jack Adams Award, Calder Trophy
• Thursday, July 16: Lady Byng Trophy, Masterton Trophy
• Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy
• Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy
• Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Oilers remember Colby Cave as training camp opens

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As the Oilers skated for the first time together since the March 12 NHL pause, Colby Cave looked on from above.

With Rogers Place sporting some fresh ice, the image of the late Cave was on the scoreboard as the Oilers practiced Monday as training camps opened for the 24-team Return to Play.

Cave, 25, died April 11 after suffering a brain bleed. He was set to be one of the team’s Black Aces when play resumed.

“Colby was an unbelievable young man, great teammate. Obviously a friend to everybody in our locker room,” said Tippett. “He would be with us today if he hadn’t passed. He planned to be with our group. He’s with us in spirit.”

[Related: Cooper Marody honors late Colby Cave with tribute song]

The Oilers are preparing for their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Oilers, which begins Aug. 1. Cave played 44 games with the Oilers in the last two seasons and spent most of 2019-20 with AHL Bakersfield. He had many friends on the roster, and his teammates will use his memory as inspiration going forward.

“This is first time we’ve all been together in a big group since Colby passed,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “Those emotions are still fresh, and it makes it even more real now that we’re all together and he’s not able to join us. He’s going to be in our thoughts and in our hearts as we go forward and move through training camp and into the [playoffs], and hopefully, go on a deep run here.

“We’re going to play for Colby, and he’ll be with us throughout.”

MORE: Day 1 of NHL training camps: Uncertainty about Crawford, and more

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.