Evander Kane

What is the Sharks’ long-term outlook?

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 long-term outlook for the San Jose Sharks.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The San Jose Sharks had a strong core for years that helped lead to consistent playoff appearances over the last decade. But general manager Doug Wilson is looking for the next crop of players to usher in a new era of hockey in San Jose. Joe Thornton and Brent Burns are still around but the organization is relying on Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson and others to lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.

The Sharks stumbled this season through the first 70 games and currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. San Jose will not even be rewarded with a top draft pick due to the trade with the Ottawa Senators for Karlsson in September of 2018.

Thornton entertained the idea of waiving his no-movement clause at the NHL Trade Deadline if a true contender wanted to acquire the savvy centerman. There was a lack of interest but if Thornton is interested in chasing the Stanley Cup next season, there is a strong chance he will not be back in the Bay Area.

Despite the horrific season in San Jose, there is still plenty of talent on the roster. Timo Meier led the team in points with 49, Evander Kane was closing in on a 30-goal season and Karlsson still had 34 assists in only 56 games. In addition, Couture and Hertl missed time with injuries and should provide further offensive firepower.

Long-Term Needs

The most glaring weakness for the Sharks has been their play between the pipes. Martin Jones had a sub .900 save percentage and a 3.00 goals against average. The 30-year-old goaltender still has four additional years remaining on his contract and will be a difficult asset to move via trade.

San Jose also has significant cap space tied up in several long-term contracts and has to solve problems from within. Between Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Karlsson, the Sharks have more than $26 million committed through 2024-25.

Looking at the forward group, Couture, Kane, Meier, Hertl all have lengthy contracts and Kevin Labanc will need a new deal after taking an extraordinarily team-friendly agreement last summer. Similar to every NHL team, Wilson and his staff need to find the right pieces at a bargain price to fill out the roster.

Long-Term Strengths

The Sharks have taken great pride in building a culture that allows players to thrive. Thornton was a key figure in building the foundation, but he has passed on the characteristics of a strong locker room to his teammates.

Trade acquisitions are able to seamlessly fit in both on and off the ice while young players looking to earn their stripes at the professional level feel comfortable right from the beginning.

While Thornton could switch uniforms in the upcoming offseason, it will be up to Couture, Burns and others to make sure that culture isn’t lost.

The Sharks struggled mightily with the departure of Joe Pavelski this past summer but are too skilled to have a second straight dreadful season. If their play in net can improve, and key players can remain healthy, the Sharks could bounce back next season.

MORE ON THE SHARKS
• Looking at the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks
• Sharks biggest surprises and disappointments so far


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

Bettman: NHL players in isolation while season is on hold

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NHL players are staying away from rinks and self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic that has put their season on hold.

Players have been instructed to remain at home in their team’s city and avoid practice facilities and crowded places. Within the next two weeks, they could be allowed to return and skate and work out in small groups while games are not being played.

”What we now asked our clubs and our players to do is to go home, isolate to the extent possible for the next few days,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday. ”How many days exactly we’re working on with the medical people. And then we’ll be looking to progress in terms of activities once we get a handle on whether or not anybody in the short term is going to test positive.”

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association laid out more specific guidelines and sent them to players and teams in a memo read to The Associated Press by a person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the memo is private.

The memo states team facilities are currently closed to players, except those requiring treatment for what the memo refers to as ”disabling injuries.” The next step, following the direction of health officials, would be opening the facilities and allowing players to skate and work out in small groups.

Idealistically, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said team facilities would open to players by next week, though he noted there are variables that could push back that timeline.

”I think we’re in a let’s relax and take stock of where we are (mode).” Fehr said. ”You do as much as you can as soon as you can when conditions permit. But I’m not going to try and guess when that will be. It’ll be as soon as you can.”

There’s no timetable on when games might resume.

Agent Pat Brisson, who represents Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby and others, is advising his clients to be safe and take precautions but also open-minded and positive.

”At the end of the day, I do believe we will continue,” Brisson told The AP. ”It’s a time to also reflect, whether we have four or five days or a week, you can relax, recharge, recover and re-align yourself and reset.”

After announcing Thursday the season would be put on ”pause,” Bettman remains optimistic of resuming play and eventually awarding the Stanley Cup.

”That would be the goal,” Bettman said in a phone interview with The AP and the NHL’s website. ”Health, safety, well-being of the NHL family, especially and including our fans, is most important. If the business considerations and the money were the only thing, then we and a bunch of others would keep playing.”

Bettman and Fehr each independently said they were not aware of any player testing positive for the new coronavirus. They added they can’t be certain no one is feeling ill or awaiting test results.

A spokesman for the Carolina Hurricanes said broadcaster John Forslund was feeling fine and had not been tested but was self-isolating after using a hotel room previously occupied by someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The NBA’s Utah Jazz, who had players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell test positive, were at the hotel just before the Hurricanes.

It was Gobert’s positive coronavirus test prior to a game Wednesday night that shifted talk from playing in empty arenas to postponing entirely. Bettman told owners the first positive test result by any player would mean ”all bets are off.” There are some 700 players among the 31 NHL teams across North America.

”It was clear to me that no matter what scenario we came up with that we continued to play with, either with or without fans, it was inconceivable, certainly unlikely, that we were going to get through the rest of the regular season at minimum without somebody testing positive,” Bettman said.

Unlike NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who said his league’s season would be suspended at least 30 days, Bettman would not put a timeframe on the NHL hiatus. The Stanley Cup is typically awarded in early June after two months of playoff games.

”I think the scope of what this is still unknown to all of us,” agent Stephen Bartlett told The AP. ”I think the only thing that we can counsel people is to take a deep breath and take whatever steps necessary and prudent to keep yourself healthy. And rest assured, especially for our athlete population, that those guys are in the very best of shape.”

Players are in midseason shape with roughly a dozen games left before the playoffs.

”It’s very difficult for the players, but at the same time, you have to also appreciate what’s going on in society,” agent Allan Walsh said. ”The players do realize that we’re dealing with a life and death situation for many.”

Players seem to be on board with the NHL’s response. San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane tweeted the NHL ”has done the right thing in taking this pause to help the risk of spreading this virus.”

Bettman said it is not the NHL’s independent call when to resume play and did not rule out the possibility of games in empty arenas. Fehr expects any decisions on returning to play to be a joint effort between the league and NHLPA.

”During this period, everybody’s trying to do the best they can and to work things out so that we can stay on the same page and make the resumption of play as smooth as possible,” Fehr said.

No one really knows what that’ll look like. The NHL is working on a variety of contingency plans, all of which include trying to play a full 82-game season in 2020-21 – even if that means starting later.

”This is a rapidly evolving situation and there are a lot of unknowns and we’ve got to make sure that we understand all the ramifications of everything that’s coming at us and how we respond,” Bettman said.” And most of all, we want to do the right things and use common sense.”

Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now

Michael Peca knows all about NHL work stoppages.

The two-time Frank Selke Award-winning forward endured two lockouts and lost another season due to a contract dispute with the Buffalo Sabres during his 14-year career, which ended with Columbus in 2009.

Never could Peca have imagined a season – never mind essentially the entire North American sports schedule – being placed in limbo because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s weird because nothing like this has ever happened, and it’ll probably never happen again, hopefully,” Peca said Thursday, when the NHL joined numerous pro sports leagues in suspending its season.

“It’s like, `Is this even real?’” he added. “But there’s a big-picture purpose to it. … It’s about making sure we can slow down if not cease, but more likely slow down how quickly it’s spreading.”

The NHL placed the final month of its season on ice – for now – but hopes to eventually resume play and still award the Stanley Cup.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league followed the NBA’s lead after Utah Jazz players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive for COVID-19.

With the two leagues sharing numerous facilities and locker rooms across North America, Bettman said: “It now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.”

The NHL Players’ Association backed the decision, calling it “an appropriate course of action.”

The decision left numerous unanswered questions, ranging from when games might resume to what shape players might be in once they return. The stoppage also raised concerns over what the economic impact might be on the bottom line in the league’s 31 markets.

As Nashville Predators president Sean Henry put it: “We’re working through really uncharted territory.”

Henry wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the season not resuming.

“I think there’s a fear for all of us of that,” he added. “We all want answers. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of them.”

There have only been two years in which the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded since 1893. It happened in 1919, when the final was canceled after five games because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and then again in 2005, when an NHL lockout wiped out the entire season.

Though disappointed, players understood the reasoning.

“Nothing is more important than everyone’s health and safety. The league did the right thing today,” Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno wrote in a post on his Twitter account. “We have the best fans in the world, and we’ll get through this together.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

While players will continue to be paid, they won’t be allowed to practice together for at least the short term, the Predators’ Henry said.

The NHL has not said any player has tested positive for COVID-19. The Washington Capitals, who used the same visiting locker room as the Jazz at New York’s Madison Square Garden, said they will closely monitor the health of players, coaches and staff.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who followed the Jazz into two arenas last weekend and occupied the same locker room while in Boston, said deep cleaning and sanitizing was done before they arrived.

In Dallas, Stars forward Alexander Radulov has been sick, but team president Brad Alberts said no players had yet been tested.

Alberts said he’s encouraged a majority of employees to work from home. Players have also been encouraged to quarantine themselves in the event they might have contracted the virus.

Retired NHL forward and Minnesota Wild assistant director of player development Matt Hendricks noted how different this hiatus is to past stoppages.

“This is kind of no-man’s territory,” Hendricks said.

“When we were locked out, we had the ability to go and skate and train,” he said. “But this one’s a little bit different in the sense that you really don’t want to expose yourself if you don’t have to. … So going into public gyms that might not be the best thing to do to put yourself at risk and put others at risk.”

In Buffalo, former Sabres and Wild forward Jason Pominville said it can’t be easy for players to stop competing a month before the playoffs were scheduled to begin..

“They just want to play, they’re in a rhythm, not a lot of practices, playing a lot of games and then, all of a sudden, it’s shut down for who knows how long,” said Pominville, who hasn’t filed his retirement papers since completing his 15th NHL season last year.

He’s spent this season playing in a local beer league. Upon learning of the NHL pausing its season, Pominville playfully reached out to former Sabres teammate, Kyle Okposo.

“I was like, `Hey bud, if you or any of the boys are looking to skate, my beer league’s not canceled yet, and you guys are welcome,’” Pominville said, laughing. “We’re always looking to get better.”

Blackhawks remain in playoff race with 6-2 win against Sharks

The Chicago Blackhawks are trying to make one last push for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They ended a two-game skid with a 6-2 win against the San Jose Sharks Wednesday. Patrick Kane scored twice, and Alex DeBrincat dished out three assists and the Blackhawks moved to within six points of the Western Conference wild card. Rookie forward Dominik Kubalik notched his 30th of the season in addition.

Evander Kane and Timo Meier scored in the Sharks’ fourth straight loss.

Blackhawks power play connects

Chicago’s power play ranks near the bottom of the NHL in terms of efficiency. However, they snapped an 0-14 streak against the Sharks’ No. 1 penalty-killing unit and scored twice in the victory.

Kane opened the scoring for the Sharks with a power-play goal of his own, but the Blackhawks answered in the second period with back to back goals on the man advantage.

Duncan Keith scored his third of the season at 4:33 of the second period to even the score at 1-1. The Blackhawks alternate captain slung a wrist shot from the blueline that sailed past the glove of Aaron Dell. Kirby Dach provided a screen to distract the Sharks goaltender.

DeBrincat recorded the second of his three assists with a pretty cross-ice pass to Kane at 16:33 of the middle frame. Kane split the defenders and darted toward the back post before finishing the beautiful feed.


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

Avalanche hold off Sharks as Colorado keeps close to Blues

The Avalanche were able to hold off a late push from the Sharks to win 4-3 on Sunday.

San Jose received a late opportunity after Evander Kane was struck by a high stick, and while the Sharks narrowed Colorado’s lead, the Avs ultimately won. With that, the Avalanche remain within striking distance behind the Blues (90 to St. Louis’ 92 points) while holding a game in hand.

[Read up on the Blues’ win here]

As is often the case, Colorado’s top guys delivered for the win.

MacKinnon, Landeskog key in Avalanche finding a way to hold off Sharks

Nathan MacKinnon looked especially dangerous while generating one goal and two assists. Gabriel Landeskog matched that production (1G, 2A), too. It’s not easy to push too much optimism about Mikko Rantanen being injured, but if Vladislav Namestnikov (1G, 1A) can fit in with MacKinnon like he once did with Nikita Kucherov in Tampa Bay, the Avs might be onto something. J.T. Compher also collected two assists, including on Joonas Donskoi‘s game-winner.

To some surprise, the Avalanche have enjoyed strong goaltending this season, even as Philipp Grubauer is on the mend. In Sunday’s case, Pavel Francouz merely needed to survive, getting the win while making 22 out of 25 saves.

If you need to sprinkle in some dopey humor into your Sunday night/Monday, consider that Joe Thornton reached the often unspoken milestone of 420 goals in this loss. The puns, they’ll probably be a little hazy.

Those who observe the Avalanche being powered by the usual suspects may believe that the team hasn’t come that far in 2019-20. On the contrary, they’ve shown quite well in rolling with various punches, and could be quite impressive if Rantanen can return close to full speed.

But, yes, make no mistake about it: MacKinnon is still the high-horsepower engine that still runs this team, and few moments in hockey are as exciting as when he’s in the driver’s seat.

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.