San Jose Sharks 2020-21 NHL season preview

San Jose Sharks 2020-21 NHL season preview
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The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we preview the San Jose Sharks.

San Jose Sharks 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 29-36-5 (63 points); eighth in the Pacific Division; last in the Western Conference.

Leading scorers: Evander Kane (26 goals), Timo Meier (49 points)

It’s no secret that a team’s competitive window can shut violently in sports. Yet, even by Father Time’s already harsh standards, the 2019-20 season was shockingly brutal for the San Jose Sharks.

Many of us chalk that up to one too many key players suffering from the pitfalls of the aging curve. Erik Karlsson — one of those players — merely hopes that it was an aberration. But, truly, it’s tough not to be haunted by what we saw from the Sharks.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t surprising that the Sharks struggled to keep pucks out of their net. Between leaky goaltending and some lax defense, we’ve seen signs of issues before. It just seems like everything got that much worse last season.

The more troubling thing was that the Sharks’ offense dried up. Even in an abbreviated season, it’s jarring to note that there wasn’t a single Sharks player who cracked 50 points. Simply put, the organization believed that Timo Meier and others could take a big step up as Joe Pavelski left town. That belief was shaken, if not shattered.

If nothing else, the pandemic pause and a lack of play-in should at least allow this veteran Sharks squad to be refreshed. They’re going to need a lot of energy to shake off their critics and the terrible season that’s just behind them.

Additions

Subtractions

Joe Thornton (free agency), Aaron Dell (free agency), Melker Karlsson (free agency).

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3 Most Interesting San Jose Sharks

• Bob Boughner

Quite a few NHL teams surprisingly stuck with interim coaches, and the Sharks fall in those ranks.

Frankly, I’m not totally sure why the San Jose Sharks stuck with Bob Boughner. While it became that much clearer that Boughner wasn’t the sole cause of the Panthers’ problems after they struggled in the same way without him, it’s hard to see him as a positive difference-maker.

No, he didn’t get a huge chance as interim Sharks head coach. They were already injured and hopeless.

It would make more sense to stick with a “calming presence”-type choice if you were rebuilding. Unfortunately for the San Jose Sharks, they’re probably stuck with the messes they’ve made — at least for now. With that in mind, wouldn’t you want to roll the dice on a more proven coach in hopes they can pull off a miracle or two? At face value, it seems like this would be a more sensible job for, say, Bruce Boudreau or Gerard Gallant.

That said, Boughner really didn’t get much of a chance in 2019-20. Maybe this will be a year of redemption for Boughner and the San Jose Sharks?

• Devan Dubnyk

Despite all of the quibbles mentioned above, the Sharks bringing back Bob Boughner was reasonable enough. The real head-scratcher involved the Sharks believing that Devan Dubnyk could solve their scary problems in net.

Frankly, it’s tough to overstate just how disastrous Dubnyk’s 2019-20 season was. Even the simple stats are ugly; Dubnyk went 12-15-2 with a hideous .890 save percentage.

Context only makes those numbers look worse. The Wild have quietly grown into one of the staunchest defensive teams in the NHL. So, rather than Dubnyk being able to blame porous defense, he instead stagnated in a nurturing cocoon. Imagine that same wobbly goalie trying to keep his head above water behind a turnstile Sharks defense?

Maybe the logic revolves around pretending the 2019-20 season never happened. That certainly would be comforting for Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks.

If you throw out the utter collapse of last season, Dubnyk ranked between steady (.913 save percentage in 2018-19) to stellar in Minnesota (.918 save percentage or better from 2014-15 to 2017-18).

Goalies are strange beasts, so for all we know, Dubnyk – Martin Jones could stun us all and become one of the best duos of 2020-21. The smart money is on this situation being far less appetizing for the San Jose Sharks, though.

• Erik Karlsson

Here’s an opinion: Erik Karlsson takes a little too much blame for the Sharks’ struggles.

Here’s another opinion: his $11.5 million cap hit (through 2026-27) remains utterly terrifying. Again, he’s not the only problem contract on that Sharks defense (Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s up there, and Brent Burns has his issues, including somehow already being 35 [!]). Still, when you get paid the biggest bucks, you absorb the largest chunks of criticism when your team fails.

Even after losing a few steps, Karlsson remains captivating to watch. His cerebral style and skill may even make you stop scrolling on your phone. And, yes, his occasional misadventures in his own end add to the fun at times, too. (As long as you’re not a Sharks fan.)

Beyond all of the storylines, Karlsson and his fellow Sharks veterans could also be intriguing because they should come into 2020-21 as rested as possible. COVID and other factors could derail that, of course, but it’s possible they might be revitalized. (If memory serves, Mike Modano and Teemu Selanne seemed sharper after the abomination of the full-season lockout let them take a breath.)

Best-Case Scenario

It’s not that difficult to envision a bounce-back season for these Sharks. As stated, those aging players didn’t deal with a grueling postseason. Players like Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl may enjoy better luck (Hertl, for one, hopes to be healthier). And, for all we know, Jones + Dubnyk could surprise us and provide capable goaltending. The dream for the Sharks is that they erase the memory of 2019-20 by coming back strong this season.

Worst-Case Scenario

The scary truth is that 2019-20 might just be a taste of what’s to come for a team that went all-in one-too-many times. There really isn’t an overwhelming reason to believe that the Sharks’ defense will just correct itself. Dubnyk + Jones could easily repeat abysmal performances, leaving the Sharks with a fairly expensive duo of below-average goalies. Hey, at least if things really fall apart again, they won’t be giving the Senators their first-round pick this time.

Pointsbet – San Jose Sharks Stanley Cup odds

Sharks +5000 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

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

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    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

    Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

    The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

    The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

    The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.