Sharks face major questions after missing playoffs again

SAN JOSE, Calif. — After missing the playoffs for a third straight season for the first time in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks head into the offseason facing a series of significant questions.

The Sharks are searching for a full-time general manager after Doug Wilson stepped down for medical reasons, must decide on the future of coach Bob Boughner and must find the pieces to get one of the NHL’s top teams from 2004-19 back into contention after a 32-37-13 season that left them in 12th place in the Western Conference.

“We did a step in the right direction this year,” forward Timo Meier said. “It needs a couple more steps and it needs some more things to happen to start winning again.”

The main ingredient needed is more scoring after finishing 30th in the league in goals with 211.

Meier had a career-high 35 goals, Tomas Hertl added 30 and captain Logan Couture had 23 but no one else on the team scored more than 16 goals in the highest-scoring season in the NHL since 1995-96.

“All the playoff teams have 40-50 more goals this season,” Hertl said. “That’s a lot of goals. … I think we need a little more help.”

The Sharks managed to stay in contention until late January but fell off following the All-Star break and won just 10 of their final 39 games.

GM SEARCH

Wilson took a leave of absence in November for an undisclosed medical issue and then announced in April that he was stepping down for good. Assistant GM Joe Will is running the team while a search for a full-time replacement goes ahead. Will said the organization is making progress in finding a full-time GM but there’s no timetable for when that will be finalized.

But he doesn’t expect a change in philosophy for an organization that has no interest in a rebuild.

“I don’t think we’re looking at a scorched earth scenario,” Will said. “We’re not going to start over.”

BOUGHNER’S STATUS

Boughner has a 67-85-23 record since taking over from Peter DeBoer early in the 2019-20 season but the team did show some progress in his first full season after the previous two years were hampered by COVID-19. The players publicly support Boughner, who got the team to play much more cohesively on defense this season. The longer it takes to find a GM, the more likely it might be that Boughner gets another season.

“There are only certain things obviously under my control and I think that that’s what I worry about,” Boughner said. “I would think that from my point of view, for my staff and myself and my players, I think everybody would love to find out sooner than later and have that stability.”

ROOKIE RAVE

The Sharks played a franchise-record 18 rookies this season, tied for the 14th most in NHL history. Those players combined for 34 goals and 60 assists for the most points from a San Jose rookie class since the 2006-07 season. Jonathan Dahlen led the group with 12 goals and 10 assists, but Thomas Bordeleau showed good flashes as a late-season call-up and 2021 first-rounder William Eklund did the same early before spending most of the season in Sweden.

“There’s some great progress being made,” Boughner said. “I think this organization is deeper than it’s ever been with with young talent. But with that comes competition.”

GOALIE CAROUSEL

After having the second-worst save percentage in the NHL the previous two seasons, the Sharks moved into the middle of the pack this season thanks in large part to solid play from free agent acquisition James Reimer. Kaapo Kahkonen played well after being acquired at the trade deadline, while Adin Hill struggled at times as he was hampered by injuries.

Reimer and Hill remain under contract and Kahkonen is a pending restricted free agent. The Sharks will likely try to deal one of the goalies to avoid a glut next season.

KANE’S GRIEVANCE

What the Sharks are able to do this offseason to improve the team could depend on how Evander Kane’s grievance with the team is resolved. The Sharks terminated Kane’s contract in January but he has filed a grievance. If the Sharks win, that will clear $7 million a year off the cap for the next three seasons. But if Kane wins, the contract goes back in the Sharks’ cap and they would likely have to pursue a buyout to clear at some of the hit off their books.

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    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    “I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

    “It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.