San Jose Sharks: Biggest surprises, disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the San Jose Sharks.

Father Time, defense, and other disappointments for Sharks skaters

Upon hearing about Erik Karlsson‘s new contract with the Sharks last summer, many of us cringed at how an aging San Jose roster might look in the future.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, Father Time showed up uncomfortably early. The thing is, while Karlsson didn’t really look like an $11.5 million defenseman in 2019-20, he wasn’t the biggest problem. If I were running the Sharks, I’d be especially worried about Brent Burns and Marc Edouard-Vlasic.

Karlsson sits atop the Sharks’ xGAR chart at Evolving Hockey, along with expected standouts like Timo Meier. It’s not all pretty for the Sharks, though, particularly among expensive defensemen:

Sharks XGAR disappointments
via Evolving Hockey

The possession stats looked shaky, and so did the counting numbers.

After leading the Sharks (by nine points) with 83 points in 2018-19, Burns managed 45 points in 70 games this season. Rolling with Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts, you wonder how much Burns and Vlasic counted as “net positives” this season:

Burns Vlasic RAPM Sharks disappointments
via Evolving Hockey

When it comes to Burns, it’s OK to take some bad with the good. The key is just to make sure he can generate more offense. The Sharks must hope that this isn’t just the sign of a star on the decline at age 35. No, Burns might not be able to be a beast like in 2016-17, but this season presents at least some argument for a “mulligan.”

One way or another, the Sharks need to find a better balance, even if that means accepting mistakes in hopes of creating bunches of chances. Even amid injuries and the COVID-19 pause, it’s tough to stomach no one reaching 50 points (Timo Meier topped all Sharks with 49).

Disappointments meant a lot of pucks in the wrong net for the Sharks

Look, we can argue about the Sharks’ goals against disappointments until we’re blue in the face. Some will defend Peter DeBoer’s system, thus accusing Martin Jones and Aaron Dell of being humanoid Swiss Cheese. Others may point to issues on defense that doomed their goalies. Such arguments may or may not revolve around the flaws of Karlsson and Burns as aggressive scorers from the backend.

Whatever your hypothesis might be, the bottom line is that the Sharks couldn’t patch up those holes.

San Jose declined in goals allowed per game, going from 11th-worst in the NHL in 2018-19 (3.15) to fifth-worst in 2019-20 (3.21). The biggest difference was that they scored almost a goal fewer per game (2.57) than they did in 2018-19 (3.52).

It’s limiting to score a lot of goals while allowing almost as many, but you can win — ugly — that way. If the Sharks tried to play more conservatively this season, that backfired with worse goals allowed and drastically worse goals-for numbers.

There are a lot of questions that swirl around these issues. One of the most painful is: did Doug Wilson do enough to address these issues? Perhaps there were a lack of options, yet with a bunch of seasoned coaches and impressive goalies likely available, will Wilson make the right moves next time around?

An unexpected surprise for the Sharks

For whatever reason, the otherwise-dreadful Sharks sported one of the season’s best penalty kill units.

The Sharks killed 85.7 percent of their penalties in 2019-20, the best mark in the NHL. Interestingly, being penalized frequently (seventh-most times shorthanded at 224) only soured things a tiny bit when you look at volume. Despite the increased workload, the Sharks allowed only 32 power-play goals (Columbus and Edmonton tied for least allowed at 31).

San Jose even scored seven shorthanded goals, so penalty kills were merely a “net” negative of 25 goals this season.

Unfortunately, an unexpectedly modest power play negated many of those strengths.

It zeroes in on a larger point: the Sharks ultimately failed at even-strength this season, and they ultimately don’t even get to enjoy the lottery pick stemming from their massive disappointments.

Hey, at least that PK was killer, though. *awkward laugh*

MORE ON THE SHARKS:

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.

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    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.