Joe Thornton

Sharks Doug Wilson vote of confidence
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Sharks stick with GM Doug Wilson — for better or worse

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The San Jose Sharks are sticking with GM Doug Wilson despite a huge letdown of a season.

Majority owner Hasso Plattner gave Wilson a vote of confidence on Thursday. While it makes sense to comment on a disappointing season, it’s interesting to see it in an official release.

“While we are all very disappointed in the team’s performance thus far this season, Doug has a long history of leading our team to success,” Plattner said as part of the statement. “The last time we failed to meet our winning standards in the 2014-15 season, we were able to quickly rebound and re-establish a winning culture for the next several years. I am supportive of Doug’s plan to get our team back on track.”

Wilson has overseen a long run of Sharks success

Wilson deserves credit for a remarkably strong and consistent run since being named GM in May 2003. The oft-tanned executive must make other GMs feel like he’s a shark smelling blood at times. While the Joe Thornton trade is Wilson’s masterstroke, he often wins other trades — sometimes by a lot.

The Sharks have also won a lot since he took the reins.

The Sharks won four Pacific Division titles in a row from 2007-08 to 2010-11, grabbing the 2009 Presidents’ Trophy along the way. Those peak years ended with heartbreak, yet a run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final silenced a lot of the “choker” claims.

Each time the window appeared ready to close on the Sharks, Wilson would pull a rabbit out of a hat, drafting gems like Logan Couture or trading for key players such as Brent Burns.

Sharks seem stuck

Unfortunately, the 2019-20 season might represent Wilson running out of magic.

Strangely, the Sharks are so stuck that they might just be better off sticking with Wilson, though.

An incoming GM would only be able to do so much about an aging, expensive defense and other concerns. So, again, hoping Wilson has some tricks up his sleeves ranks as an understandable gamble.

Back on Jan. 13, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported (sub required) that the Sharks are looking more at a “reset” than a tear-down, trades-wise. LeBrun points to sensible pieces to auction, such as defenseman Brenden Dillon and defensive-leaning forward Melker Karlsson.

Maybe Wilson could pull off a sequel to getting a bucket of picks for marginal players, like he did with Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray in 2013? If anyone can pull that off again, it’s Wilson.

The Sharks see little incentive to tank since Ottawa owns their 2020 first-rounder anyway. Taking baby steps seems like the only reasonable option, really.

How Wilson must succeed where he once failed

For all of the smart (and/or “smart at the time”) moves Wilson made, goaltending continues to doom the Sharks. Navigating that problem with better results should be Wilson’s top priority, even if it’s a tricky challenge.

Martin Jones served as a nice answer for a while, but the Jones – Aaron Dell tandem has been a disaster for some time. The Sharks could no longer outscore such problems in 2019-20. Jones and/or Dell show up on the wrong end of far too many charts like this GSAA one from Charting Hockey:

Jones, 30, stands as one of the more cringe-inducing Wilson contracts. He’s been abysmal, has a no-trade clause, and the $5.75M AAV runs through 2023-24. (You just cringed, didn’t you?)

(Did I mention that a different GM would face a huge mess if they wanted to blow this up? Yeah, it’s a dicey situation.)

Whether it’s making life easier for Jones or finding a different answer in net, the Sharks need to fix this. Doing so quickly is crucial, too, with an aging core.

Honestly, many of us — probably Wilson included — figured that this team would hit a wall eventually. It’s just that the wall popped up faster than expected, and the Sharks went splat.

It’s up to Wilson to make sure that the Sharks leap over that hurdle next time around, kind of like a … well, a killer whale.

Otherwise it could be, you know, crushing.

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: Metro deadline preview; Should Sharks trade Thornton?

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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.

• Craig Berube is looking forward to taking part in his first All-Star game. (NHL.com)

• Which coach will be the next one to get the axe? (The Hockey News)

• Here’s a trade deadline preview for the Metropolitan Division. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Sportsnet takes a deeper look at the relationship between defensemen in the NHL. (Sportsnet)

• Find out how Zach Hyman‘s father bankrolled a hockey empire. (Toronto Star)

Cory Schneider might be on his last legs with the New Jersey Devils. (All About the Jersey)

• Has Ryan Dzingel been a good pick up for the Carolina Hurricanes? (Cardiac Cane)

• The Rangers will probably be sellers at the deadline, but how trade-able are all their players? (Blue Line Station)

Bo Horvat had a really good month of January. (Canucks Army)

• The San Jose Sharks may have to give Joe Thornton his Ray Bourque moment. (Fear the Fin)

• The Ducks need to make some moves if they’re going to improve, but who should they get rid of? (Anaheim Calling)

• B.C. police officer Meghan Agosta will be participating in this weekend’s All-Star Game. (Kelowna Now)

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.

What Hurricanes should expect from Justin Williams

Hurricanes
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Now that Justin Williams is officially back with the Carolina Hurricanes the waiting game is on for when he makes his season debut. Coach Rod Brind’Amour isn’t putting a timeline on it and just wants to make sure the 38-year-old winger is up to speed.

Once that happens he has the potential to be a significant addition and make an already talented, deep Hurricanes roster even better.

Let’s take a look at what they can — and should — expect from him once he makes his debut.

Even at 38 Williams has not slowed down

If there is a concern with Williams at this point it has to be the fact that he is going to be one of the oldest players in the league, having just turned 38 back in October. There are only four other players in the league age 38 or older this season (Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Ron Hainsey).

The thing that should give the Hurricanes a lot of optimism about Williams’ ability to produce is the fact his game never really showed any sign of slowing down in recent seasons. Everything about his level of production has remained remarkably consistent.

Durability? He has that, having missed just three regular season games since the start of the 2011-12 season, and none during his two most recent seasons in Carolina.

Production? Still very much there. He has yet to shown any sign of dropping off, averaging 20 goals and 50 points with fairly strong shot rates in each of the past four seasons.

While it is inevitable that every player will slow down as they get deeper into their 30s, there are some decent comparable players to Williams that suggest he could still have another year of similar production.

Dating back to the start of the 2000-01 season, Williams is one of five forwards that averaged between 0.60 and 0.70 points per game between the ages of 34-37 (minimum 300 games during that stretch).

The others: Patrick Marleau, Andrew Brunnette, Luc Robitaille, and Keith Tkachuk. Marleau and Brunnette came back in their age 38 seasons and maintained a very similar level of production. Robitaille missed his age 38 season due to the 2004 lockout, and came back at 39 and scored 15 goals in 65 games. Tkachuk retired.

Great value beyond just offense

What makes Williams such a big addition is that his game is far more than just offense. It always has been. Williams is an ice-tilter. When he is on the ice you know the puck is going to be at a certain end of the ice and that his team is going to be in control.

He has consistently been one of the best possession players in the league, and even the past two years in Carolina had some of the best defensive metrics not only among Hurricanes forwards, but also the entire league.

There were 350 forwards that played at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey the past two full seasons. Williams ranked among the top-20 in shot attempt share, scoring chance share, and expected goals share (via Natural Stat Trick). Defense doesn’t slump, and the type of high hockey IQ that Williams has had throughout his career doesn’t go away. So even if his finishing ability and offensive production slides a little, he is still going to be able to provide a lot of value.

The Hurricanes get even deeper 

When the Hurricanes’ roster gets discussed a lot of the focus tends to fall on their blue line, and for good reason. They are loaded on defense with young, impact players that are some of the best in the league. But their forwards are nothing to sleep on, either.

That group is also better than it was a year ago, even before the addition of Williams.

Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are bonafide top-line stars. Andrei Svechnikov is turning into a superstar. They added strong depth players like Ryan Dzingel and Erik Haula (an outstanding player when healthy) over the summer. Martin Necas is blossoming into good, young NHL player. They have good options on every line, and that doesn’t even include Nino Neiderreiter who can still be better than he has shown.

Now they just added a top-six caliber winger without giving up anything in return.

With Williams having a half season to rest and coming in fresh with no wear and tear, combined with his all-around play, he could be one of the most significant additions an Eastern Conference team makes before the trade deadline.

Related: Hurricanes sign Williams to 1-year contract

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.

 

Stanley Cup Playoff race: Second half record every team needs

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With half of the 2019-20 season officially in the books we are starting to get an idea as to which teams have a realistic chance of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and which teams do not. It’s extremely rare for teams to overcome point deficits of even four or five points at this stage of the season, and the standings rarely change much down the stretch.

There are, of course, exceptions to that. They are rare, but they do exist. Every team currently on the outside of the playoff picture is going to look at the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues as a reason for optimism. Exactly one year ago today they were 17-20-4 and needed a near miraculous second-half turnaround just to get into the playoffs. They finished the regular season on a 28-8-5 record from that day on, nearly came back to win the Central Division, then went on a run through the playoffs to finally claim the franchise’s first ever championship.

All it took was finding a new franchise goalie out of nowhere to completely alter their season. Not everyone has that card to play in the second half.

But, if you are a fan of a team currently on the outside of the playoff picture, let’s take a quick look at what that team is going to need to do the rest of the way to make the playoffs.

Let’s start with the Eastern Conference

Right now the Philadelphia Flyers hold the second Wild Card spot in the East and with their current points percentage are on track for 96.4 points this season. So let’s say the cutoff to make the Eastern Conference playoffs this season is 97 points (it was 98 points a year ago, but we will stick with 97 for now).

Here is a complete look at the Conference showing what every team has currently done, and what they will need to do the rest of the way to reach the 97-point mark.

Teams are ranked by their current points percentage. 

Washington, Boston, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have all given themselves a pretty good cushion and have some margin for error in the second half. They basically have to play just a little over .500 (Washington and Boston could actually play below that) the rest of the way and still have their spot secured.

Carolina and Toronto also look to be a solid position, but don’t have quite as much margin for error.

Philadelphia and Florida have almost nothing separating them (a game-and-a-half basically), while Columbus is going to need to maintain its recent hot streak for the next few months.

Everyone after Columbus? They are going to need a miracle. Is there a roster there that you can see making a Blues-type turnaround? Who there is just a goalie away from fixing it? Nobody.

Now the Western Conference

The target for the West is slightly lower than the East, and right now the line to get is sitting at 95 points.

Same deal as above, let’s look at where everyone is and where they have to get to.

The West is definitely the weaker of the two conferences. Once you get beyond the Central’s Top-three of St. Louis, Colorado, and Dallas everything just devolves into mediocrity. Arizona, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vegas, and Vancouver are all kind of lumped in together in the Pacific, and you know at least three of them are getting in because of the divisional playoff format.

Yes, it appears as if Edmonton is actually in a position to salvage this season and get Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl back to the playoffs.

Everybody after Vancouver is in a world of trouble.

It is a testament to how much Nashville struggled in the first half that it still needs that sort of second half just to get a wild card spot in what is a very watered down Western Wild Card race.

The same thing is true for San Jose, only with even more emphasis. How does that roster, sit in that spot, in that conference?

Can the Sharks do it?

If there is a team in the NHL that could possibly do what the Blues did a year ago that might be the one you look at — at least before Logan Couture’s injury. It is a team that is built to win now (just like the Blues were), a team that still has high-end talent (just like the Blues did), and could fix a lot of problems with a significant upgrade in goal (like the one the Blues got).

But I just don’t know that this Sharks team has shown any sign of actually being able to do that, or the desire to actually pursue a goaltending upgrade.

Add in the fact their top forward is now out for several weeks and this season that was supposed to be one more Stanley Cup push for Joe Thornton looks like it might just end up being a completely wasted season.

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.

The Buzzer: Pastrnak’s third hat trick; Big games for DeAngelo, Rinne

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Three Stars

1. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators. An incredible night for Rinne as he stopped 29 shots against the Chicago Blackhawks then scored the first goal of his career. What a way for new coach John Hynes to get his first win with the team. Rinne is just the 12th different goalie in NHL history to score a goal during a game. Read more about it here.

2. Tony DeAngelo, New York Rangers. He continued his breakout season with one of the most productive individual performances by a defenseman in NHL history. He finished with three goals, two assists, seven shots on goal, was a plus-3, and was on the ice for all six of the Rangers’ goals in a 6-3 win over their top rivals, the New Jersey Devils. Read all about his game and just how rare it is right here.

3. David Pastrnak Boston Bruins. The Pastrnak show continues to roll on in Boston. He recorded his third hat trick of the season (and his seventh since the start of the 2018-19 season) to open up a four-goal lead over Auston Matthews in the race for the Rocket Richard Award. He already has 35 goals in his first 45 games this season and is just three goals away from his career high which he set a year ago (in only 66 games). Since the start of the 2018-19 season he has 73 goals in 111 regular season games. That is a 54-goal pace over 82 games. He is currently on pace for 64 goals this season. If he can maintain that it would be the most since Alex Ovechkin scored 65 goals during the 2007-08 season.

Other notable performances on Thursday

  • Nikita Kucherov scored two goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they extended their winning streak to nine games. Read more about it here.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, the Montreal Canadiens have now lost eight games in a row after giving up four consecutive goals to the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Noel Acciari continued his stunning season in Florida with two more goals (he now has 17 in 41 games this season) in a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Alexander Steen scored his first two goals of the season as the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues crushed the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Cam Talbot stopped 42 out of 43 shots and Johnny Gaudreau scored his 12th goal of the season to lead the Calgary Flames to a huge win over the Minnesota Wild.
  • Alec Martinez scored his first goal of the season and Jack Campbell stopped 44 out of 46 shots as the Los Angeles Kings stunned the Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Ben Bishop stopped all 27 shots he faced for the Dallas Stars as they shut out the Anaheim Ducks. They have now won six games in a row.
  • In their first game without injured forward Logan Couture the Sharks were able to pick up a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets thanks to goals from Kevin Labanc, Joe Thornton, and Brent Burns. The Blue Jackets have just two regulation losses over their past 16 games. Both of those losses have been against the Sharks.

Highlights of the Night

Of course we have to start with Pekka Rinne’s first career goal.

Look at this set-up by Jonathan Huberdeau as he fakes out the Canucks on this highlight reel play.

It did not get his team a win but Kyle Connor scores a beauty of a goal.

Blooper of the Night

Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins made this save lot more difficult than he needed to.

Factoids

  • Anze Kopitar recorded his 600th career assist for the Kings on Thursday night. [NHL PR]
  • With 60 points, Artemi Panarin has more points through the first 43 games of a season than any Rangers player in franchise history, topping the mark previously held by Wayne Gretzky. [NHL PR]
  • Connor McDavid reaches the 70 point mark in just his 46th game of the season for the second year in a row. It is the first time an NHL player has reached the 70-point mark in 46 games or fewer in consecutive seasons since Jaromir Jagr reached it for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 1998-99 and 1999-00 seasons. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 5, Winnipeg Jets 4
Edmonton Oilers 4, Montreal Canadiens 2
Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Arizona Coyotes 0
Florida Panthers 5, Vancouver Canucks 2
New York Rangers 6, New Jersey Devils 3
St. Louis Blues 5, Buffalo Sabres 1
Nashville Predators 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2
Calgary Flames 2, Minnesota Wild 1
Dallas Stars 3, Anaheim Ducks 0
Los Angeles Kings 5, Vegas Golden Knights 2
San Jose Sharks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 1

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.