Brent Burns

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Sharks open camp with new captain after Pavelski’s departure

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Sharks wasted little time in replacing Joe Pavelski as captain, giving the role to Logan Couture even before starting camp.

Figuring out who will wear the ”C” on the jersey will be easier than making up for all Pavelski provided the Sharks both on and off the ice over his years in San Jose.

”It’s not going to be the same,” Couture said Friday after the first practice at training camp since losing Pavelski to Dallas in free agency this summer. ”It’s the (bad) part of professional sports when friends move on. That’s the way it goes, unfortunate but we’ll move on with the group we have here.”

Pavelski had a major impact on the ice with his 38 goals, while also leading in the dressing room and on the ice. Teammates like Couture and new alternate captain Tomas Hertl called it ”weird” to not have him around anymore.

Pavelski debuted with the Sharks in 2006 and was captain the past four seasons in San Jose. He helped the team make the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history in 2016 and then helped take them to the conference final last year.

That playoff run featured Pavelski being knocked out with a concussion and getting stitches in his head after a bloody fall in Game 7 of the opening round series against Vegas. The injury sparked a comeback and Pavelski’s return to the arena during Game 5 in the next round against Colorado provided an emotional boost. He scored a goal in his return to the ice in the Game 7 win over Colorado that sent the Sharks to the conference final.

”Losing Pavs is obviously going to be a big hole to fill, the way he played and how established he was in this room,” defenseman Erik Karlsson said. ”Someone else will have to do his job and I think it will be a workload shared with different players throughout the course of the year. We’ll just have to find a way to evolve and try and adapt to the players that we have in this room now.”

Couture will have help with Hertl, Karlsson, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns serving as alternates. Thornton and Karlsson both have captain experience, with Thornton holding that role previously in Boston and for four seasons in San Jose and Karlsson doing it in Ottawa.

Couture, who is entering the first year of an eight-year, $64 million extension, got the nod as a result of his years of leadership since becoming a key part of San Jose’s team in 2010.

”I don’t think it will change anything,” he said. ”It’s really just a different letter on the jersey. I’ll be the same. I’m lucky here in San Jose there are a lot of leaders.”

Couture is coming off one of his most productive season, scoring a career high 70 points in the regular season and then leading the NHL with 14 goals in the playoffs.

Couture is outspoken and honest, holding teammates and himself accountable at all times. He has been at his best in the playoffs, where his 48 goals rank second to Alex Ovechkin since he made his first postseason appearance in 2010. His 101 points rank fourth in that span.

”Logan is the prototypical lead by example,” coach Peter DeBoer said. ”He’s going to go out, he’s going to block a shot, play injured. He’ll sacrifice his own personal stats for the benefit of the team by always doing the right thing. It’s just in his DNA. I also think he has the ability to stand up and be heard with a tough message when it needs to be delivered.”

NOTES: The only player not ready for the start of camp was D Radim Simek, who had season-ending knee surgery last March. … The Sharks play their first of six exhibition games next Tuesday against Anaheim. They will play Vegas twice in the preseason before starting the season with a home-and-home in a rematch of heated playoff series the past two seasons. ”Hopefully we won’t kill each other before the season,” Hertl said.

Which teams should take a chance on Andrei Markov?

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After being away from the NHL for two seasons, Andrei Markov is ready to return to North America. He made that clear during an interview with the Montreal Gazette last month. The Russian blue liner left for the AK Bars Kazan of the KHL two seasons ago and he’s hoping an NHL team will take a chance on him now.

His preference would be to play out the final year of his career with the only NHL team he’s ever played for, the Montreal Canadiens, but that doesn’t appear to be likely at this point.

The 40-year-old needs to play just 10 more games to reach the 1,000 mark for his career. That’s an important milestone for him.

“It’s something you want to be there,” Markov said of reaching that plateau. “It’s important, you know. But most important probably is to try to play one more year in the NHL, to prove that I can still play in that level.”

But can Markov keep up with the current pace of play in the NHL?

After multiple knee surgeries, it became clear that he wasn’t ever going to be the fastest player on the ice anymore. But his hockey smarts were always his biggest asset. There weren’t too many players that thought the game better than Markov when he was at his best. Whether or not the body can still perform at a high level remains to be seen.

Markov was negotiating his own contract the last time he and the Habs failed to come to terms on an agreement (two summers ago), but he’s since hired Allan Walsh to be his agent.

“He’s certainly looking to play on a team where there’s a role for him,” Walsh told TSN 690 radio in Montreal last week. “We believe that he can really help any team’s power play, that he can contribute meaningful five-on-five minutes, that he can serve as a veteran presence in the room, and he’s always been known as a bit of a quiet guy but he’s also been known as a quiet leader. He’s always been in amazing physical shape in his entire career and he’s in great shape right now.”

Walsh went on to say that his new client isn’t looking to sign a PTO and he’s looking to play for a team that’s ready to win right away.

Keeping all that in mind, which teams would be the best fits for Markov? Let’s look at some options.

• San Jose Sharks: We know that the Sharks are top-heavy on their defense with players like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, but they also have Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brenden Dillon. The issue with San Jose last year was that they didn’t have enough depth to fill out their blue line every night. During the postseason, there were many nights when Joakim Ryan was playing less than 10 minutes per game (sometimes less than five minutes). Ryan is no longer there, but they now have Tim Heed, Dalton Prout and Radim Simek on the fold. Markov on an affordable contract could be an intriguing fit in San Jose.

• Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers’ defense is a little more crowded than San Jose’s right now, but there’s an obvious connection between their team and Markov’s camp. Of course, Markov played for assistant coach Michel Therrien for many years in Montreal and he also played part of a season for Alain Vigneault a long time ago. Again, the Flyers have young depth on the blue line, they added Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, but maybe they can find a way to make it work.

Florida Panthers: Markov has spent a good chunk of the summer training in Florida, so he’s familiar with the area. The Panthers made it clear that they want to start winning with a little more regularity. That’s why they signed Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year deal this off-season. They also added Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman this summer. Aaron Ekblad, Michael Matheson, Keith Yandle and Stralman will make up the top four, but Mark Pysyk, MacKenzie Weegar, Ian McCoshen and Joshua Brown will battle for the five, six and seven spots on defense. There’s room for Markov if they believe he can play.

Nashville Predators: Like the Sharks, the Preds are also top-heavy on defense. Even after trading P.K. Subban away, they still have Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm. Youngster Dante Fabbro is also expected to play a big role in Nashville this season, so the top four is full. Beyond that, there are some question marks. Also, the Preds also owned the worst power play in the NHL last season. Could Markov help them improve in that area?

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.

Ovechkin now has his own cereal: Ovi-O’s

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Honestly, there may never be enough strange pro athlete product endorsements, particularly when some of the proceeds go to charities.

That thought comes to mind upon the delightful unveiling of “Ovi-O’s,” Giant Food’s Alex Ovechkin-themed cereal. The flavor of the cereal is honey nut, which seems a little mundane for such a vibrant personality as Ovechkin, but we’ll let it slide because a portion of the proceeds from the limited-edition cereal will go to Maryland’s Children’s Cancer Foundation, Inc. The cereal goes on sale on Sept. 17, when Ovechkin will (somehow, already) turn 34.

The box will be hard to miss thanks to Ovechkin’s smile:

As you might expect, footage of Ovechkin eating the cereal (and occasionally failing to eat the cereal) is good fun, too:

To add some strangeness to the promotion, there’s apparently an augmented reality game to accompany the cereal. Let’s imagine it’s an “Ovechkin’s office simulator.” Via the press release:

In addition, the Capitals teamed up with Balti Virtual to bring the Ovi O’s box to life with an augmented reality game, Ovi O’s Slapshot presented by Giant, using Snapchat’s Lens Studio. Customers who have purchased Ovi O’s can scan the box in Snapchat to access this interactive hockey game which gives fans the ability to control Ovechkin as he shoots the cereal at moving targets. After time runs out, players can share their score on social media to compete with friends or scan the box again to keep playing.

Again, stranger product endorsements usually are sequestered to players appearing in low-budget local business commercials, but sometimes we get moments that transcend athletes awkwardly reading off of cue cards, as if they’re in real-life ads from “The Detroiters.”

To me, it’s tough to top Jaromir Jagr having his own peanut butter with secret healing powers. Every now and then, we also had other NHL players getting their own answer to “Flutie Flakes,” with Brett Hull’s Frosted Flakes ad being especially nifty:

(Glorious, even beyond the kid with the bowl cut.)

Since the world needs more esoteric cereals inspired by hockey players, we thought we’d throw out a few NHL-themed suggestions:

Connor’s Cereal of Sadness: Really, you can change the name, but crucially, it would have to parallel Connor McDavid‘s experiences with the Oilers. In other words, one great ingredient surrounded by a bunch of slop. Maybe it could be Raisin Bran, only it was a box full of the blandest bran flakes available with just one raisin?

(OK, OK, Leon Draisaitl could make it two raisins.)

Gen-o’s: The Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t possibly stand pat while their rival Capitals have a cereal, right?

Since Sidney Crosby hasn’t signed off on being a cover star of an EA NHL video game, let’s assume that only Evgeni Malkin would be game for the cereal box treatment. Bonus points if the cereal is black and gold.

UFA Flakes: You don’t realize that they’ve already expired, so you can only chew on with regret as you ponder their cheaper, tastier days.

Voodoo Goalies: Keeping with the mascot theme of “Count Chocula,” Voodoo Goalies presents a mystery with every box. Some bowls are worthy of a Vezina; others just ruin your day.

Brent Burns Bran: All kinds of weird stuff in here. Is that beef jerky?

Mitch Marner Munch: Taking forever to hit shelves, and we get the sneaking suspicion that it’s holding up other cereals from returning to stores, too.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Wild can surprise; Improving in-arena experience

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Who will the Minnesota Wild protect ahead of the 2021 expansion draft? (Hockey Wilderness)

• Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau thinks his team is going to surprise a lot of people. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

• Here are 10 questions facing the Dallas Stars this season. (Dallas Morning News)

• The Brent Burns trade is the second most important in San Jose Sharks franchise history. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Which players on the Predators roster are facing the most pressure in 2019-20? (Predlines)

Ryan Reaves can chirp somebody for you for a small fee. (Knights on Ice)

• Who will skate on the New Jersey Devils power play this year? (All About the Jersey)

• Nova Caps Fans ranks the defensive units in the Metropolitan Division. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Here are five things to look forward to with the Blue Jackets this season. (The Cannon)

• ESPN breaks down six ways the NHL can improve their in-arena experience for fans. (ESPN)

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.

Sergachev’s development huge X-factor for Lightning

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

One of the things that makes the Tampa Bay Lightning such a dangerous team is they not only have a collection of All-Stars, but also another wave of young talent coming behind them that serve as a perfect complement. You see it at forward with players like Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, and Anthony Cirelli starting to emerge as impact players to go along with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

The same thing is happening on the blue line where they have an all-world talent in Victor Hedman, and two really good veterans in Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk. But we know what they are capable of and what should be expected of them.

The most intriguing player on the defense this season might be third-year pro Mikhail Sergachev.

A top-10 pick by the Montreal Canadiens back in 2015, the Lightning acquired Sergachev in the Jonathan Drouin trade one year later and had huge expectations for him when he joined the organization. He has immense talent and potential, and has already shown flashes of becoming a cornerstone player.

He hasn’t yet been given a huge role (averaging just 15 minutes per game during his rookie season, then 17 minutes in year two) but has made the most of the minutes he has been given. Especially when it comes to driving the team’s offense. Over the past two years Sergachev has averaged 1.28 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, a number that places him 10th among ALL defenders in the NHL, and tops among all defenders on the Lightning (yes, even ahead of Hedman and McDonagh).

Even more impressive is that he has averaged 0.60 primary assists per 60 minutes, a mark that has trailed only the San Jose Sharks Norris duo of Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

He has done all of that while also posting great possession numbers, helping the Lightning to outshoot and outchance their opponents when he is on the ice. In short, he has been wildly productive in his minutes and has already shown he can be an elite playmaker.

Has that production come in a sheltered role that includes limited minutes and is heavy on the offensive zone starts? Of course it has, but even with that there are not many defenders that are able to produce the way he has during their age 19 and 20 seasons in the league. Not many defenders at ANY age are capable of producing that well.

Does he still have some areas to improve defensively? For sure, after all, he is still only 21 years old and has played just two full years in the league. He is far from a finished product. But he has shown over the past two years that he is more than capable of handling the role he has been given in Tampa Bay and has definitely earned a bigger role and some tougher assignments this season.

The Lightning already have a really good defense thanks to Hedman, a strong No. 2 in McDonagh, and a nice bounce-back candidate in Shattenkirk. But they have another potential monster in Sergachev lurking below the surface that could be on the verge of joining Hedman as a superstar at the top of the lineup if he can put it all together in a more expanded role. If he does that this season, already loaded Lightning roster becomes even more intimidating.

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.