It’s San Jose Sharks day at PHT

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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 San Jose Sharks. 

2017-18
45-27-10, 100 pts. (3rd in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in six games to the Vegas Golden Knights, second round

IN
Antti Suomela

OUT
Joel Ward
Mike Hoffman
Mikkel Boedker
Jannik Hansen
Eric Fehr
Paul Martin

RE-SIGNED
Evander Kane
Joe Thornton
Logan Couture
Tomas Hertl
Chris Tierney
Dylan DeMelo

– – –

The San Jose Sharks proved that life will go on without Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.

The two had been mainstays in the Sharks lineup for years — and a big factor in their success and cohesiveness as a team — but Marleau departed for Toronto prior to last season and Thornton spent roughly half of the season nursing injury.

And still, the show went on.

The Sharks battled to a third-place finish in the Pacific Division with 100 points, securing a date with the Anaheim Ducks in the first round where they swept their California rivals in four games.

It was in the second round where the Sharks hit a road bump, namely Marc-Andre Fleury. They simply couldn’t beat the Vegas Golden Knights goaltender, suffering the same fate as the Los Angeles Kings before them and the Winnipeg Jets after.

But given what they were able to do (mostly) without two of the pillars of the team (at least up until Marleau left), it’s both impressive and assuring for Sharks fans that the talent they’ve developed is able to carry the torch into the future.

The big news of the season came on trade deadline day when the general manager Doug Wilson trade for Evander Kane, injecting the team with a former 30-goal scorer. Kane put up nine goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Sharks after the trade — including a four-goal game — and five more points in nine playoff games, the first time he had played in the postseason.

[Under Pressure: Kane | Breakthrough: Meier | 3 Questions]

The relationship blossomed and the Sharks handed Kane a seven-year, $49 million contract in May. That’s a lot of money for a forward who is now being paid like a franchise player and has yet to record a 60-point season in the NHL.

But there’s optimism.

For one, Kane feels accepted.

“The one thing about this team, this group and this organization is they allow you to be yourself,” Kane told TSN.ca. “They embrace you for who you are and it’s a very unselfish group that makes it super-easy to come into and mesh well with.”

And Kane now has a litany of talent that the Sharks have that can feed him the puck.

Speaking of that talent, the Sharks have made just one addition this summer, signing free agent center Antti Suomela to a one-year contract after he led the Finnish Liiga in scoring with 60 points in 59 games. The Sharks have chosen to focus re-signing their core pieces that are going to propel them for years to come.

Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, Dylan Demelo and Jumbo Joe, who is back for another season at 39 years of age, have all re-upped with the club.

Suomela will compete for a fourth line spot with prospect Dylan Gambrell.

The Sharks still have $4.3 million in cap space, so another late-summer move isn’t out of the question.

Prospect Pool

Ryan Merkley, D, 18, Guelph Storm (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick

Merkley was drafted 21st over this past June and slides right into the top prospect ranking for the Sharks. Merkley is fast. Very fast. And he gets up and down the ice and side to side as quick as anyone. Merkley excels as an offensive defenseman. He had 13 goals and 67 points in 63 games in the Ontario Hockey League this season. He was on a lot of teams’ do-not draft lists but could become one of the best defensemen to come out of the draft.

• Dylan Gambrell, C, 21, University of Denver (NCAA) – 2016 second-round pick

Gambrell has a legitimate shot to make the Sharks as their fourth-line center this season, a spot that will be up for grabs come training camp. The three-year veteran at Denver signed an entry-level contract this past spring and played three games with the Sharks. If he doesn’t make the club, he’ll play with the Barracuda. But Wilson believes Gambrell has the IQ for the NHL.

“We believe his speed, combined with his high-end hockey IQ, make him ready to be an NHL player,” Wilson said when they signed Gambrell. “We are confident that, with his skill-set, he will make an impact with our team.”

• Antti Suomela, C, 24, Jyvaskyla (Liiga) – Free agent signing

Suomela comes into the fold on a one-year, entry-level contract with the Sharks after pacing the Finnish Elite League in points this past season. He helped lead Jyvaskyla to a Champions Hockey League championship and was named to the league’s all-star team. As mentioned with Gambrell, the Sharks have a need on the fourth line and both he and Suomela will be tasked with filling it.

MORE: PHT Time Machine: 1991 dispersal draft and birth of the Sharks

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

avalanche injuries
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.