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Sharks get ready to take calculated risks with Couture, and if lucky, Tavares

The San Jose Sharks figure to be a fascinating study in salary cap management, whether they win the John Tavares sweepstakes or not.

So far, long-standing GM Doug Wilson has put in the work to clean up the few present-day mistakes in San Jose. His work in cleaning the cap of the Mikkel Boedker error while grabbing a few assets for Mike Hoffman was almost devilishly deft. Buying out Paul Martin amounted to “pulling off the Band-Aid.”

With those moves out of the way, the Sharks continue to look intriguing in the near-future, something The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz keys on (sub required) when discussing why San Jose ranks as a sensible potential destination for Tavares.

Locking up Logan Couture when the CBA allows it – which TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports is San Jose’s plan – fits into that bigger picture.

That potential eight-year extension, and almost certainly a lengthy commitment to John Tavares (if – a big if – the Sharks are lucky enough to land him), would bring a brewing question back to the forefront. Will the Sharks eventually wobble off of the tight rope with all of these risky, long-term deals? And if so, how soon?

Now, don’t get this wrong. Plenty of people would do exactly what Wilson is doing if they were in his shoes. Locking up your core pieces for the long term is part of the “cost of doing business.”

Still, it’s reasonable to worry a bit about when the Sharks might look like a team locked into to some problem contracts, not unlike their in-state rivals the Los Angeles Kings.

Consider the possible future:

Logan Couture: Unclear what the cap hit would be. Couture is 29, so he’d begin a potential eight-year extension at 30 years old.

John Tavares: For all we know, even Tavares isn’t sure yet where he’d go. At 27, he could have quite a few prime years remaining. Still, if he’s registering a cap hit in the $11-$12M per season range, any slippage could really hurt. If the Sharks land him, he might start slipping while other key players absolutely plummet.

Already official commitments

Evander Kane26: a seven-year deal that carries a $7M cap hit. Deal expires after 2024-25.

Brent Burns33: Entering second season of an eight-year contract, $8M cap hit. Expires after 2024-25.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 31: Beginning an eight-year extension that carries a $7M cap hit. Contract expires after 2025-26.

Martin Jones28: Beginning a six-year contract, $5.75M cap hit. Ends after 2023-24.

One who might leave soon

This isn’t to say the Sharks lack all discipline, as they might need to convince Joe Pavelski to keep things short-term.

Pavelski, 33, will see his $6M cap hit expire after 2018-19.

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Again, the Sharks don’t really have any contracts that look lousy today, now that they took care of mistakes in Boedker and Martin. It’s also easy to understand locking up many of those names, even if you’d ponder different routes in Wilson’s shoes.

There’s also no denying that the Sharks are in a strong position to add talent this summer, and in the near future. While they need to figure out what’s happening with Joe Thornton and sign RFA Tomas Hertl, there’s ample room to work with. Even if Tavares signs elsewhere, the Sharks could explore the market by landing someone like James van Riemsdyk or perhaps making a splashy trade (Erik Karlsson or Ryan O'Reilly, dare we wonder?).

All of that being said, problems could escalate in a hurry if aging curves bite the Sharks in bad way. Things could look shaky, particularly for already-30-plus-defensemen Burns and Vlasic, by 2020 or so.

It doesn’t help that every current contract features some sort of no-trade or no-movement clause, and one would guess that Couture and/or Tavares could ask for the same thing if they wanted to.

Maybe future pain will be worth present gains, and hey, maybe Wilson has even more tricks up his sleeves.

Things can go south quickly in professional sports, as even Jaromir Jagr couldn’t hold off Father Time forever, while Joe Thornton’s receiving a standing eight-count. The Sharks – and probably also John Tavares – must at least take these risks into account.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils go ‘heritage’ route with 2018-19 third jersey

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It’s third jersey season and on Tuesday the New Jersey Devils were the latest NHL team to unveil an alternate look for the 2018-19 campaign.

They’re going old school and bringing back the white, red and green uniforms that they wore for a 10-year period between 1982 and 1992. The team is calling it a “heritage” jersey and SportsLogos.net pointed out why:

A “heritage uniform” can only be worn a maximum of six times per season and can be scrapped after one year while a third or “alternate” uniform must be worn a dozen times and for at least three seasons. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

How about those gloves?

Devils

The Devils say they will wear this uniform four times at Prudential Center this season, and considering they’re the white jerseys and not the reds from that era, maybe there’s a chance we see them during a few road games.

What do you think? Already have visions of Stephane Richer, John MacLean and Ken Daneyko dancing in your head?

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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.

Three questions facing Ottawa Senators

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

1. What happens to Erik Karlsson?

It’s only normal that we mention Karlsson’s name a few times thorughout PHT’s Ottawa Senators Day. After all, he’s the face of the franchise, one of the best players in the league and he and his family have been the victims in a pretty strange scandal involving former teammate Mike Hoffman and his fiancee.

Karlsson has been eligible to sign an extension since July 1st of this year, but he hasn’t done so. Based on everything that’s been reported over the last few months, the Sens came close to trading him to the Vegas Golden Knights minutes before February’s trade deadline. In the end, the deal fell through.

Many expected Karlsson to be dealt before the draft, at the draft or around free agency, but Sens general manager Pierre Dorion obviously hasn’t found a deal he’s willing to accept from another team. Ottawa also reportedly made the Swede a contract offer which was below market value. As you can see, he didn’t accept that, either.

So what happens now? It’s mid-August, and a deal hasn’t been made. Either the Sens continue holding out for the best possible return, or they hope that by trading Hoffman, they’ve given themselves a shot at bringing Karlsson back.

For that to happen, owner Eugene Melnyk is going to have shell out some serious coin over the next few years. And, of course, they have to pray to the 28-year-old is willing to look past all the warts and deficiencies of his current team.

The ending to this story should be interesting.

2. Should they keep Brady Tkachuk for the whole season?

Just a few days ago, Tkachuk announced that he was leaving Boston University after just one season. Many people assumed that this meant he was going to turn pro no matter what, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Sure, he can stick with the Sens all season or he could even spend the year playing in the minors. But his junior hockey rights belong to the OHL’s London Knights, which means he could be heading there if things don’t work out in Ottawa.

Do the Sens really want to expose Tkachuk to what’s happening in their locker room right now? Do they want place him in a situation where he’s part of a team that loses more than it wins? We’ll find out in the fall. But in the end, if they feel he’s good enough to play a regular role in an NHL lineup right away, they should keep him.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Pierre Dorion | Breakthrough: Thomas Chabot]

The key will be to see what kind of role Guy Boucher is willing to give him in his first season. Boucher doesn’t tend to trust rookies very easily, so if he doesn’t plan on utilizing him in a top-nine role and giving him some time on the man-advantage, there’s really no point in keeping him in the NHL.

3. Do they have to make a strong push for a playoff spot just because they don’t own their first-round pick in 2019?

The simple answer is no. There’s no point in sacrificing future assets just to make sure the Colorado Avalanche don’t get the first, second or third overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. If the Sens happen to be competitive (against all odds) that’s one thing, but they can’t move youngsters for veterans or hold on to some of their potential unrestricted free agents instead of trading them for pieces.

The fact that they dealt their first-round pick away stinks for them. They just have to live with it now. There’s nothing they can do about. If they’re out of the playoff hunt early and they realize they can’t re-sign Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and/or Erik Karlsson, they have to unload them.

Even if they’re in the chase for a playoff spot, they can’t afford to lose all those guys for nothing. It’s a really delicate situation Dorion and Melnyk are in right now because the organization appears to in shambles and a lot of their key players aren’t locked in to long-term deals.

Sens management can enter the season with a plan, but the players have all the cards right now. There’s no need to do something drastic right now. If they happen to get back on track with this group of players, that’s great. More power to them. That just appears to be unlikely at this point.

They can’t get sucked into chatter about not having their own pick. That’s not a reason to go all in. They have to live with the consequences of making a trade that simply didn’t work out. No one could have predicted that the Duchene deal would have turned out like this. They Sens felt like they had a shot to go for it, so Dorion pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal early on the season. Often, we find out that certain trades or moves don’t work. That’s what happened here. Don’t make it worse by trying to get short-term results.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Building off a breakthrough: Thomas Chabot

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

There’s been a lot of doom and gloom around the Ottawa Senators over the last year. After being one goal away from making it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, the Sens totally fell apart after they made an aggressive trade for Matt Duchene last year.

Finding positives in a lost season isn’t always easy, but Thomas Chabot certainly took a positive step in his development. The 21-year-old got his first extended look in the NHL and he managed to put up a respectable nine goals and 25 points in 63 games.

He averaged 17:31 of ice time during the regular season, but he finished the year by playing over 20 minutes in 10 of his final 12 contests. Even though he’s far from being a finished product, Chabot has shown that he has all the necessary tools to become an impact blueliner at the highest level.

Sens head coach Guy Boucher trusted Chabot enough to pair him with Erik Karlsson last season (the two played almost 400 minutes together). Having one of the best defensemen in the NHL by his side definitely helped the youngster grow. Without Karlsson by his side, Chabot had a CF% of 44.82 percent. With Karlsson, that number jumped up to 52.93 percent. That’s a significant difference.

“I’ve been following the (Karlsson) situation closely,” Chabot said, per NHL.com. “And I’d obviously like for him to stay with us. I had the chance to play with him last season and I learned so much from watching him work. He’s talented at everything he does. Even his own teammates, we sometimes can’t believe the plays that he makes.

“He’s a mentor to me, I’m trying to model my playing style after his. He’s also a really cool guy outside the rink.”

Losing Karlsson would hurt Chabot and the Senators, but it looks like he’ll eventually be playing for a different organization, so they’ll have to face reality sooner or later. But losing Karlsson will also mean that this blue line will become Chabot’s. He’s the one who has the most upside, which means they’ll need him to take charge.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Pierre Dorion | Three Questions]

Parting ways with a franchise player like Karlsson is never ideal for any organization. In this case, at least the Senators can say that they have a potential stud waiting in the wings. Is he ready for that kind of responsibility right now? Probably not. But at least they can rest a little easier knowing that they have a potential number one defenseman coming.

No matter what moves are made, they’ll need Chabot to take another positive step forward in a hurry. He’ll have to find a way to avoid that sophomore slump that many second-year players go through when they get to the NHL.

As bad as things look in Ottawa, at least they can say they have a young building block on defense.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

 

Under Pressure: Pierre Dorion

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

There aren’t many teams in a more difficult spot heading into the 2018-19 season than they Ottawa Senators. Not only were they one of the worst teams in the NHL last season, they also have this whole Erik Karlsson trade thing they have to deal with.

Karlsson is entering the final year of his contract, and it doesn’t sound like the relationship between player and team will continue beyond this upcoming season. Naturally, general manager Pierre Dorion, who submitted an offer to his franchise defenseman this summer, will have the unenviable task of trying to bring him back or he’ll have to land the best possible return for the Swede.

Making a trade won’t be easy. As we mentioned, Karlsson has one year left on his contract, which definitely brings down his value. Maybe they get a better return if the allow a team to negotiate an extension with him ahead of time, but those kinds of things don’t usually happen for in-season deals. That means that Dorion has to pull the trigger quickly, too. Yikes. That’s not an ideal situation for the Sens GM to be in.

To make things even more complicated, many reports have suggested that owner Eugene Melnyk wants any team trading for Karlsson to also take on Bobby Ryan‘s massive contract, which has four years remaining with a cap hit of $7.25 million. Again, that’s another thing that could hamper Karlsson’s trade value.

In the end, no matter what they get back for Karlsson, there’s no way the Senators will be a better team after that trade is completed. How do you replace a defenseman that has scored 74, 66, 82, 71 and 62 points over the last five seasons? Easy, you don’t.

It’s a lose-lose situation for Dorion.

[2017-18 review | Breakthrough: Thomas Chabot | Three Questions]

As if finding a solution to this Karlsson situation wasn’t difficult enough, he’ll also have to work out contract extensions with pending unrestricted free agents Mark Stone and Matt Duchene.

Stone and the organization avoided salary arbitration at the last minute by agreeing to a one-year, $7.35 million. You’d have to believe that another strong season from the winger would mean that he’d get a long-term extension for significant dollars.

The 26-year-old has found the back of the net between 20 and 26 times over his first four seasons in the NHL and he’s managed to surpass the 60-point mark in three of those years.

Dorion also made a bold move when he traded for Duchene during the 2017-18 campaign. Unfortunately for the Sens, that didn’t end up working out the way they had hoped. Colorado got better after the deal, Ottawa fell apart.

Duchene still managed to put up a respectable 49 points in 68 games as a Senator, but how will he feel about being part of another rebuild? One of the reasons he wanted out of Colorado was because he was tired of losing. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s willing to commit to this organization long term.

Somehow, Dorion will have to convince Stone and Duchene that staying with the Senators is the best move for each players’ career. That’ll be easier said than done, especially if Melnyk refuses to fork out the money necessary to keep them in the fold.

Even though Ottawa has some young talent coming through their pipeline, no team can survive if they lose Karlsson, Duchene and Stone, even if they get a respectable return in a trade.

Oh, and by the way, Dorion will have to make all this work without his first-round draft pick at his disposal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.