Joe Thornton

Getty Images

Sharks open camp with new captain after Pavelski’s departure

1 Comment

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.

Caps’ Ovechkin leaner if not lighter going into 15th season

Getty Images
1 Comment

CHICAGO (AP) – Alex Ovechkin doesn’t think he’s any lighter going into his 15th NHL training camp.

”The same 260,” he said.

That might be a slight exaggeration for a player listed at 235 pounds, though the Washington Capitals captain worked to be leaner and quicker. When the season starts, he’ll be 34.

He’s made a concerted effort with different summer training to keep up with the ever-quickening pace of the league while remaining undecided about his long-term future.

”The game is getting faster, so you have to get ready for more speed in the game and don’t try to lift too much weight and just be quicker,” Ovechkin said.

The Russian star who was named playoff MVP in 2018 for leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup plays more like a freight train than a Porsche. His physicality makes him stand out in the modern NHL trending toward speed and skill and has helped make him the best goal-scorer of this generation.

Ovechkin’s 658 goals put him 12th on the all-time list, and there’s still speculation he could catch Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 if he keeps producing at his now typical level. It could take Ovechkin playing until he’s 40 to even approach Gretzky, and he’s not ready to commit to anything beyond the two years left on his current contract.

”After two years, let’s talk,” Ovechkin said Friday at the annual NHL/NHLPA preseason player media tour. ”We’ll see what’s gonna happen in two years. Of course, I want to play till I can’t play.”

Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down. He scored 51 goals last season and was the oldest to eclipse the 50-goal mark since Phil Esposito in 1974-75.

He and the Capitals could agree to a contract extension as soon as July 1, the same situation they’re in with longtime running mate Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby. If that’s on his mind, Ovechkin isn’t showing it.

”I’m not close to that,” he said.

Ovechkin could go the way of countrymen Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk and go home to play in the KHL once this contract is up. Or he could be like San Jose’s Joe Thornton and go year to year based on how he’s feeling.

”I don’t want to be the guy who go out there and just like play (like) a joke,” Ovechkin said. ”If I’m gonna be in the same level, yeah.”

If Ovechkin maintains this level, 894 isn’t out of the question. If he keeps up his trademark durability, he’ll surpass 700 goals this season and isn’t ruling out taking a shot at Gretzky.

”It’s always a chance,” he said. ”I have to play the same way, I have to do the same thing, I have to use my chances and we will see.”

Joe Thornton back with Sharks for another season

Getty Images

Joe Thornton will be back in a San Jose Sharks jersey this fall, his 22nd season in the NHL.

Thornton, 40, signed a one-year contract worth a reported $2 million for the 2019-20 season, which will be his 15th with the organization. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the contract has no bonuses, just straight salary.

The deal for the now-former unrestricted free agent continues a string of one-year contracts for Thornton, who has now signed them in three consecutive years.

“Probably play another 10 years,” Thornton quipped at the 2019 NHL Awards. “We’ll wait and see, but I’m thinking 5 to 10 right now. I got nothing else going on.”

Thornton scored 16 times and helped out on 35 others in 73 games last season, pushing his career points total to 1,478 as he passed Teemu Selanne and Stan Mikita to sit 14th on the NHL’s all-time scoring list.

Thornton needs 22 points to become the 14th player in NHL history to reach the 1,500-point milestone. He sits 53 points back of Paul Coffey for 13th on the all-time list and 55 back of Mark Recchi for 12th.

“Words cannot equate the impact that Joe has had on this franchise since his arrival in San Jose in 2005,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a release on the team’s website. “Joe is a generational player who seemingly blazes past an existing Hall-of-Famer with each game he plays. His leadership and dedication to the organization and his teammates is inspiring. He has the rare ability to make the players around him better and we’re excited to see him healthy and back wearing the Sharks crest.”

The Sharks have kept their summer dealings mostly in-house, highlighted by the long-term deal they struck with Erik Karlsson, along with restricted free agent deals with Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, among others.

San Jose reached the Western Conference Final last season before an injury-depleted roster ultimately fell to the eventual Stanley Cup-winning St. Louis Blues in six games.

The deal comes as a $3 million pay cut for Thornton, who made $5 million last season and $8 million the year prior. The Sharks have just over $2.6 million remaining under the salary cap and a roster of 22 players.

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


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

Marleau, Sharks reunion appears unlikely

Getty Images
2 Comments

It doesn’t appear a return to the San Jose Sharks will be in the cards for Patrick Marleau.

Marleau spent 19 years in the Bay Area before leaving in free agency two seasons ago to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs traded Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes over the summer to clear cap space. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, bought out the remaining year on his contract, making him a free agent.

Reports suggested that Marleau would have liked to return to the city where he’s spent the majority of his career, but as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Wednesday, there doesn’t seem to be a fit.

It’s hard to imagine Marleau, who will turn 40 in 10 days, is shooting for big money given that he’s already getting paid, so it seems like the Sharks are the hesitant ones in this case. They have just under $4.7 million in cap space to work and, it’s assumed, Joe Thornton still to sign.

Thornton made $5 million last year, and even if Marleau would come on the cheap, it doesn’t appear possible to fit both aging players on the same roster.

Marleau had his worst statistical season since his rookie year (and not counting the 2012-13 lockout) with 16 goals and 21 assists after playing the full 82-game schedule for a sixth consecutive year.

Marleau’s agent said his client will pursue other opportunities. Even with his advanced age, there is sure to be suitors for a veteran like Marleau, who guys like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews raved about.

If nothing else, Marleau brings leadership, durability and a mentoring presence to a locker room. Those things still count for something, and it likely comes on the cheap.

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


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

Pominville and other bargain bin NHL free agents to consider

Getty Images

With training camps nearing, it’s not surprising that you won’t find a ton of great NHL-ready options in free agency as of Sept. 3.

That’s especially true once you start crossing certain names off of the list with the help of context. Jake Gardiner’s either dealing with back issues, or waiting for a team (possibly the Maple Leafs) to sort out cap issues before signing a deal. Justin Williams just announced that he’s taking some time off, at best. Patrick Marleau’s potential options seem cloudy. Joe Thornton appears primed to sign with the Sharks, eventually (maybe).

When you knock those four names off of the list at a place like Cap Friendly, things start to look pretty stark.

Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile to bat around a few names, even if there might only be one or two players who end up being worth anything more than a tryout. Let’s consider some that stand out; feel free to bring up other UFAs who might be worth a mention in the comments.

Jason Pominville: One of the few on this list that I’d consider signing to an actual one-year contract, rather than merely a PTO, if it came down to it. Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reports that the Montreal Canadiens are considering Pominville, but also reports that nothing is “imminent,” so you’d assume another bidder could roll in.

On one hand, yes, Pominville is 36. There’s some risk that his already marginal potential would boil down to zero considering all of his mileage.

Yet, you’ll note that Pominville managed a respectable 31 points despite minimal ice time, and while much of that offense came alongside Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel, Pominville was one of the best fits with those two. Teams probably won’t ask Pominville to play on a top line very often, but he could be a cheap option to plug into different scenarios.

Pominville comes off reasonably well by a number of metrics, and his RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey looks positive enough:

If it wasn’t already clear, we’re so deep in the discount aisle, we’re actually looking at the stuff that’s in some sad bin outside the store. By those standards, Pominville is reasonably intriguing.

Brian Boyle: At 34, Boyle is no longer the type of center you’d ask to play a “shutdown” role, and he struggled once he was traded to the Predators last season, but this assessment from after that move away from New Jersey still captures Boyle’s value:

If your team’s coach is barking incessantly about adding a big body, you could do worse than Boyle, especially if a team could use someone to screen goalies on the power play. Boyle is a very large human, after all.

Troy Brouwer is another gritty option who could be decent filler.

Thomas Vanek: While Boyle’s largest utility is defense (and being large) at this point, Vanek is all-offense, to the point that he’d likely torment many coaches, particularly since that offense isn’t flowing like it once was.

Still, one could see an argument for Vanek being a power play specialist on a team that lacks a trigger. Is he enough of a net positive to really be worth considering? Debatable.

Tobias Rieder: He was never good enough for an Oilers executive to give him the scapegoat treatment, and it’s undoubtedly been a rough couple of years, but he’s a speedy winger, so there’s at least some appeal there.

Ben Hutton: OK, look … Hutton was abysmal last season. There’s a reason the defense-starved Canucks passed on bringing him back.

Still, Hutton stands out from a pack mostly consisting of way-past-their-prime veterans (Dion Phaneuf, Dan Girardi) in that he’s merely 26 years old. Could Hutton be a serviceable bottom-pairing option after being played well out of his depth with 22:21 ATOI last season? Maybe 2017-18 is a better guide. While Hutton provided marginal offense (six assists in 61 games), his possession numbers were somewhat OK, at least relative to his (bad) teammates, while Hutton averaged a more reasonable 18:25 per night.

There aren’t many signs pointing to Hutton being a “good” defenseman, but could he be an upgrade over a team’s sixth or even seventh option? It’s not out of the question, as the bar is pretty low for bottom pairing defensemen.

***

Ideally, your team already has better options than the names mentioned above. Still, there could be some use for players like Pominville, particularly for squads lacking depth.

Now, if your team is looking for a goalie? Well, you could always cross your fingers …

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.