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.

Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

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The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

“Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

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Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

“I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

“You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

“He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

“It was fine,” he quipped.

Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

Game 4 is Saturday night.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.

AROUND THE RINK

Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.