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Futures of Thornton, Kane among key questions for Sharks

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With long-term commitments to Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Martin Jones (not to mention some mid-term deals for less prominent pieces), the San Jose Sharks are largely “set” on defense and in net. They even have backup goalie Aaron Dell locked up through 2019-20.

Things get almost as fuzzy as Joe Thornton‘s beard when it comes to the futures of their forwards, though.

Plenty of questions lingered as members of the Sharks addressed the media on Tuesday.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For one thing, it’s more than reasonable to wonder about how viable Thornton can be. This isn’t as much about his age alone (38, turning 39 in July), but how much can be expected of “Jumbo Joe” after tearing up each of his knees.

In 2016-17, Thornton dealt with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. It turns out that his 2017-18 season was derailed by a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee, as he told reporters including the Athletic’s Kevin Kurz. Yikes.

On the bright side, it sounds like Thornton is willing to be flexible when it comes to making things work with San Jose. The Mercury News’ Paul Gackle is among those who report that Thornton said he’d be willing to a) take a one-year deal and b) accept a cut from the $8 million he received last season.

And that’s where things get fun, at least if you’re a nerd for armchair GM/”franchise mode” discussions. Via Cap Friendly, the Sharks have about $60.49 million committed to their 2018-19 cap as of this moment. With next year’s ceiling expected to be somewhere between $78-82M, that’s ample room for the Sharks to make some interesting moves.

Joe and Evander

On one hand, that could open the door for the Sharks to bring both Thornton and Evander Kane back while also making some other, smaller moves.

There’s a scenario where that could really work for the Sharks. Considering the chemistry Kane developed with Joe Pavelski, the Sharks could have Thornton carry a line, roll with Kane – Pavelski, and then ask Logan Couture to exploit some matchup issues. They could also load up in different ways, maybe putting Pavelski and Kane with Thornton.

The most tantalizing thing for San Jose is that there’s another scenario that could work out even better, at least on paper.

The inevitable Tavares talk

Now, just about any NHL team with a shot at John Tavares should pursue him. It’s a stance that we might as well copy-and-paste at this point. Still, the Sharks hold some key advantages over other pursuers, and they’ve earned specific mentions as an interested party.

Heck, the connection’s been made for more than a year.

They have ample cap space not only to sign Tavares, but also to make some other moves to supplement their group. If Tavares leaves the New York Islanders – a big if, by the way – he’d likely justify such a decision by trying to give himself the best opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. The Sharks stand among the better “win now” teams who also have space to add Tavares. They don’t need to make trades to clear up space for him, either. That’s rare.

It’s to the point that, to some Islanders fans, it might become an irritating meme.

If the Sharks believe they have a real chance at Tavares, they might find themselves delaying other decisions. That’s what happens when you can add the sort of player who not only has a chance to change your fortunes, but perhaps one who could take up close to 20 percent of your cap space.

There’s some precedent to bigger name free agents taking at least a few days to make their big choices. Brad Richards did it, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter added some suspense, and there were even times when things dragged out months when contract details needed to be ironed out, such as when the Devils loophole’d their way to Ilya Kovalchuk. Tavares might want a few nights to sleep on a decision.

Along with that, the Sharks will probably want to really get an idea of how much Thornton has left in the tank. If Evander Kane believes he can get a great deal on the open market, that might mean that his days with San Jose are numbered, even though there were signs that there was a good fit (especially for Kane).

The ripple effects could go beyond 2018-19, too.

Extensions possible

The Sharks also get their first chances to make extension decisions/offers regarding Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. The two forwards will see their matching $6M cap hits expire after next season, so if San Jose wants to lock them up long-term, they can do so as early as July.

The relief is that Thornton’s willing to go one year, so those decisions would not need to clash.

A possible Tavares addition makes that more complicated, though such an addition may also help the Sharks to convince one or more parties to take a little less money. Maybe.

(We’ve seen Connor McDavid take less than the max, so hockey players make that call at times, whether they actually should or not.)

San Jose does have to mull over the risk/reward regarding a roster that could get old fast, however. Couture turned 29 in March, so he’d be 30 before an extension would kick in. Pavelski is already 33 and will turn 34 in July. Burns is 33 and Vlasic is 31. Kane is relatively young compared to that group at 26, but sometimes snipers age that much more dramatically.

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These are all situations for GM Doug Wilson to mull over, although the Tavares situation would be a rubber stamp for any executive even halfway worthy of having the gig.

If Tavares is an unrealistic dream – and, again, it’s very dangerous to assume that he won’t stick with the Isles – then the good news is that the Sharks still have space to bring back some key players, maybe dabble in free agency, and maybe even try to make a splashy trade or two.

Falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round might be the sort of thing that gets the Sharks in a Twitter squabble with the Kings, but there could be some really interesting possibilities in this franchise’s future. Wilson just needs to make the right moves … and maybe enjoy some good luck.

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.

Conn Smythe Power Rankings: Fleury running away with it

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A lot has changed in the week since our first Conn Smythe Trophy watch, and by a lot, I mean a couple of the top contenders have been completely eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With Boston’s loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, bringing their season to an end in Game 5, their duo of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand gets removed from the list, as does San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones after they were the latest team to lose to the buzzsaw that is the Vegas Golden Knights.

The new leader in the Conn Smythe race should be pretty obvious at this point, while we also have a couple of new names to consider.

Let’s take a look at this week’s update.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. If Fleury isn’t the front-runner for the award right now then just what exactly are we doing? Along with a series-clinching shutout in each of the first two rounds he has a league leading .951 save percentage this postseason and four shutouts. The Sharks did get to him a little bit more than than the Kings did in round one, scoring at least three goals in four of their six games, but he has still been mostly great for the Golden Knights. This is the best hockey he has ever played in the NHL.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He has always produced in the playoffs. He is once again producing in the playoffs and is having some signature moments along the way that will stand out … especially if they finally conquer the beast that has been the second-round of the playoffs. After helping lead the Capitals back from a 2-0 series deficit in the first-round, he has come back in the second-round with six point in the first five games of their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That includes a last-minute game-winning goal in Game 3 of the series and setting up the game-winning goal with five minutes to play in Game 5.

3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. He is doing everything he can to keep the Penguins’ quest for a three-peat going. And by everything, I mean almost literally everything. Through the first five games of the second round the Penguins have scored exactly one goal without Crosby on the ice. He has 19 points in 11 games, already matching his point total from his 2015-16 Conn Smythe run. The Penguins might lose, but it won’t be because of him.

4. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets. Perhaps the most underrated top-line player in the NHL. He has nine goals in the Jets’ first 10 playoff games and has recorded at least two points in six of their past seven games entering play on Monday night.

5. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. His point production slowed down a bit in round two but he still has 12 in the first 10 games for the Lightning and already three game-winning goals (most in the NHL at this point). During his career he has been one of the best postseason scorers in the league and is a big reason the Lightning have been in the Eastern Conference Final in three of the past four years.

6. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets. Byfuglien has been an absolute monster for the Jets this postseason averaging more than a point-per-game from the blue line, logging more than 26 minutes per night, throwing some devastating hits, and helping the Jets to a 15-6 goals advantage when he has been on the ice during even-strength play. He has stepped up in a big way for a Jets blue line that has been shorthanded at times this postseason.

7. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals. Remember when this guy didn’t start the playoffs? Holtby has the second-best postseason save percentage in NHL history and has been outstanding for the Capitals since getting his starting job back in the first-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Washington is 7-2 this postseason with him in net while he has a .924 save percentage. Goaltending has been a huge advantage for the Capitals in the second round.

8. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. He is the NHL’s leading goal-scorer and point producer this postseason and along with Crosby is trying to carry the Penguins through their second-round series against the Capitals. Maybe he could (or should) be higher. But as I said a week ago trying to separate his production and Crosby’s production is tough. Have to give the edge to the player that is carrying the play and that still seems to be Crosby.

 

9. Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators. The Predators are such a deep, balanced team that can get contributions from all over their lineup that there really isn’t a clear-cut Conn Smythe favorite for them at this point. Forsberg has been consistently productive for the Predators, is their go-to-player offensively and has a couple of highlight reel plays on his postseason resume at the moment.

10. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. In all honesty he may have been the Lightning’s best player in their second-round series win over the Bruins. This is what makes the Lightning so dangerous. Not just the fact they have superstars at the top of their lineup, but the fact their farm system keeps producing top-line talent. Point is just the latest in the line of homegrown stars.

Related

Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the best hockey of his life
Alex Ovechkin is putting the Capitals on his back
The Penguins’ top line is doing all of the heavy lifting
Byfuglien continues to be key difference-maker for Jets

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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.

Tierney save one of few things going Sharks’ way

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Luck can be a cruel thing in hockey, and that thought has been especially evident for the San Jose Sharks in their do-or-die Game 6 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

There were times when the bounces felt a little ridiculous during the first period, which ended 0-0 despite Marc-Andre Fleury being sent scrambling. Plenty of posts were hit, and there were some brutally close calls.

At least the Sharks got this wonderful tweet for their troubles.

Jonathan Marchessault scored the opening goal of Game 6 on one that, while a tough chance, some might ding Martin Jones for. Cameras caught Jones’ teammates consoling him, but his fellow Sharks did him one better on what stands as one of the few “lucky” moments for the Sharks; watch as Justin Braun and Chris Tierney both made “saves.” Tierney’s block was particularly impressive:

Sometimes, such nigh-heroic moments stand as turning points during a game.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

It may end up being a footnote, however, as this blink-and-you’ll-miss it 2-0 goal by Nate Schmidt really let the air out for the Sharks and their fans during the second period.

Ouch. The Sharks will need to score at least two goals against a red-hot Marc-Andre Fleury to keep their season alive. Watch the remainder of Game 6 – whether it ends in regulation or San Jose once again force overtime – on NBCSN. You can stream it here.

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.

Golden Knights survive late Sharks attack to take 3-2 series lead

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Vegas Golden Knights fans, are your heart rates returning to normal yet?

The Golden Knights hopped back on their magical playoff ride on Friday night in Sin City, but they sure didn’t make it easy on themselves after amassing a 4-0 lead through the first 50 minutes of the game.

Few figured the Golden Knights were going to roll over and die off after getting shutout in Game 3, and while they showed no signs of any lingering effects in Game 5 early following their worst loss of the playoffs two days earlier, things certainly got shaky in the third period.

Vegas was on cruise-control until the final 10 minutes, when the San Jose Sharks began their all-out assault on Marc-Andre Fluery’s net.

In a span of 6:09, the game went from a comfortable 4-0 rout to an uncertain 4-3 scoreline thanks near-epic comeback effort from the Sharks.

Earlier in the game, Alex Tuch scored two goals, including a third-period marker — a slick redirect that spelled the end of Martin Jones‘ night. Tuch’s goal proved to be an ever-important, being the fourth strike in what ended up being a 5-3 win and a 3-2 series lead for Vegas.

Jones allowed four goals on 31 shots while Fleury, who appeared to be on his way to his fourth playoff shutout this season alone, ended up stopping 27-of-30.

Kevin Lablanc, Tomas Hertl and Mikkel Boedker provided the quick strikes for San Jose, but with the Sharks’ net empty, Jonathan Marchessault slid a shot from his own blue line into the open cage to seal San Jose’s fate.

The Sharks are now in must-win mode as the series shifts back to the Shark Tank on Sunday night.


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

WATCH LIVE: Bruins try to even up; San Jose-Vegas face pivotal Game 5

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Game 4: Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET (Lightning lead 2-1)
NBCSN
Call: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
Series preview
Palat, Lightning strike down Bruins to take 2-1 series lead
Stream here

Game 5: San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
NBCSN
Call: John Forslund, Joe Micheletti
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Series preview
Martin Jones stands tall as Sharks even series
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Stream here

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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub