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Couture extension continues Sharks’ summer spree

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The San Jose Sharks aren’t messing around this offseason.

The deal won’t become official until Sunday, but Logan Couture is set to sign an eight-year extension with the Sharks worth $64 million.

The signing could kick off a wild next 24 hours for the Sharks, who are reportedly one of the top teams in the running for unrestricted free agent John Tavares.

The team already locked up forward Evander Kane to a seven-year, $49 million contract earlier this spring, further solidifying a forward contingent that was already in the top half of NHL goal-scoring.

Couture was a big part of that, scoring a career-high 34 times to go along with 61 points in 78 games. He had four goals and eight assists in 12 playoff contests with the Sharks.

The move doesn’t change the cap (currently at $60 million and change) for the Sharks this year as Couture’s extension doesn’t kick in for another year.

The Sharks have two pending restricted free agents still to sign in Tomas Hertl (who is going to get paid) and Chris Tierney and have still yet to sign Joe Thornton, who is a UFA and 39 years old but still coveted by the team.

Couture’s signing should make what Sharks choose to do with their captain Joe Pavelski — who is entering the final year on his five-year, $30 million contract — interesting going forward.

But over the next few hours, what Doug Wilson can do regarding Tavares might just cement him as the best GM in the league this summer.

Getting Tavares, without trying to understate this, would be massive for a team that’s solid up front — with Kane, Couture, Pavelski and Hertl — solid on the backend — with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic — and with a quality goaltender in the crease in Martin Jones.

Wilson has done a solid job of laying out a good future for Tavares to walk into if he so chooses.

And now we wait to see if Tavares wants to build there.


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

Sharks get ready to take calculated risks with Couture, and if lucky, Tavares

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The San Jose Sharks figure to be a fascinating study in salary cap management, whether they win the John Tavares sweepstakes or not.

So far, long-standing GM Doug Wilson has put in the work to clean up the few present-day mistakes in San Jose. His work in cleaning the cap of the Mikkel Boedker error while grabbing a few assets for Mike Hoffman was almost devilishly deft. Buying out Paul Martin amounted to “pulling off the Band-Aid.”

With those moves out of the way, the Sharks continue to look intriguing in the near-future, something The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz keys on (sub required) when discussing why San Jose ranks as a sensible potential destination for Tavares.

Locking up Logan Couture when the CBA allows it – which TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports is San Jose’s plan – fits into that bigger picture.

That potential eight-year extension, and almost certainly a lengthy commitment to John Tavares (if – a big if – the Sharks are lucky enough to land him), would bring a brewing question back to the forefront. Will the Sharks eventually wobble off of the tight rope with all of these risky, long-term deals? And if so, how soon?

Now, don’t get this wrong. Plenty of people would do exactly what Wilson is doing if they were in his shoes. Locking up your core pieces for the long term is part of the “cost of doing business.”

Still, it’s reasonable to worry a bit about when the Sharks might look like a team locked into to some problem contracts, not unlike their in-state rivals the Los Angeles Kings.

Consider the possible future:

Logan Couture: Unclear what the cap hit would be. Couture is 29, so he’d begin a potential eight-year extension at 30 years old.

John Tavares: For all we know, even Tavares isn’t sure yet where he’d go. At 27, he could have quite a few prime years remaining. Still, if he’s registering a cap hit in the $11-$12M per season range, any slippage could really hurt. If the Sharks land him, he might start slipping while other key players absolutely plummet.

Already official commitments

Evander Kane26: a seven-year deal that carries a $7M cap hit. Deal expires after 2024-25.

Brent Burns33: Entering second season of an eight-year contract, $8M cap hit. Expires after 2024-25.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 31: Beginning an eight-year extension that carries a $7M cap hit. Contract expires after 2025-26.

Martin Jones28: Beginning a six-year contract, $5.75M cap hit. Ends after 2023-24.

One who might leave soon

This isn’t to say the Sharks lack all discipline, as they might need to convince Joe Pavelski to keep things short-term.

Pavelski, 33, will see his $6M cap hit expire after 2018-19.

***

Again, the Sharks don’t really have any contracts that look lousy today, now that they took care of mistakes in Boedker and Martin. It’s also easy to understand locking up many of those names, even if you’d ponder different routes in Wilson’s shoes.

There’s also no denying that the Sharks are in a strong position to add talent this summer, and in the near future. While they need to figure out what’s happening with Joe Thornton and sign RFA Tomas Hertl, there’s ample room to work with. Even if Tavares signs elsewhere, the Sharks could explore the market by landing someone like James van Riemsdyk or perhaps making a splashy trade (Erik Karlsson or Ryan O'Reilly, dare we wonder?).

All of that being said, problems could escalate in a hurry if aging curves bite the Sharks in bad way. Things could look shaky, particularly for already-30-plus-defensemen Burns and Vlasic, by 2020 or so.

It doesn’t help that every current contract features some sort of no-trade or no-movement clause, and one would guess that Couture and/or Tavares could ask for the same thing if they wanted to.

Maybe future pain will be worth present gains, and hey, maybe Wilson has even more tricks up his sleeves.

Things can go south quickly in professional sports, as even Jaromir Jagr couldn’t hold off Father Time forever, while Joe Thornton’s receiving a standing eight-count. The Sharks – and probably also John Tavares – must at least take these risks into account.

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.

Pros and cons for each team on John Tavares’ list

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Potential unrestricted free agent John Tavares will begin meeting with the teams on his shortlist on Monday. According to The Athletic writers Arthur Staple and Pierre LeBrun, that list includes: the Islanders, Maple Leafs, Stars, Sharks, Bruins and Lightning.

There’s pros and cons that are attached to every NHL city, so let’s take a look at those points for each of the teams Tavares is reportedly considering.

• New York Islanders

Pros: Well, for starters, there’s some familiarity there. Tavares has spent his entire career with the Isles, so there has to be a certain value attached to that. But beyond familiarity, there’s other reasons he might stay.

Mathew Barzal would be one. He put up some impressive offensive totals during his first full year in the NHL and he’ll only get better as his career advances.

The Islanders have also added a Stanley Cup winning coach in Barry Trotz and they’ve made major changes to their front office that now has Lou Lamoriello as general manager. Those changes have seemingly helped the odds of Tavares re-signing with his current team.

New York also has the most cap space in the league right now, as they can spend over $32 million this summer (that will change if Tavares re-signs).

Cons: Tavares has been with the Islanders for almost a decade and they still haven’t been able to go on a long playoff run. Yes, there are new people in charge, but the roster will remain the same as it was last year.

Speaking of the roster, the Isles still don’t have a number one goalie and they have a hard time keeping the puck out of their own net. That was a major issue last season. Tavares can’t fix everything.

The Isles also have that unique arena situation. They’re getting a new arena but splitting games between two different venues is far from ideal, no matter how convenient the team tries to make it. Who knows how he feels about that?

• Toronto Maple Leafs

Pros: Tavares was born in Mississauga, Ontario, so going to play for the Leafs would be a type of homecoming for him. Going back there might not be a priority for him, but it can’t hurt.

The Leafs have built a team with a solid young core that includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Jake Gardiner. Tavares wouldn’t have to go to Toronto and be the go-to guy, he could go there and be one of the guys.

Although they haven’t had much playoff success over the last decade, adding Tavares would clearly take them to another level. He has to be aware of that.

Cons: Although Toronto is “home” for him, he also knows that it comes with a ton of media pressure. It might not be enough of a reason for him to stay away from the Leafs, but it’s definitely not a selling point.

Like the Islanders, there’s no denying that the Leafs have an issue on defense. It might not be as bad as the situation in New York, but the team isn’t good enough on the blue line right now and adding Tavares won’t fix that.

The Leafs haven’t won a playoff series in quite some time (2004), so if he’s looking for a team that has had playoff success lately, Toronto isn’t the place.

There’s also a bit of unknown with new GM Kyle Dubas. How will the rookie general manager adapt to his new responsibilities? It appears as though he’ll be fine, but we really won’t know for a couple of years.

• Dallas Stars

Pros: The Stars have a dynamic attack led by Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. Adding Tavares to that mix would make them even more dangerous. That has to be enticing for the 27-year-old. Oh, and they also have John Klingberg on the blue line doesn’t hurt.

Like the Isles, the Stars also have a new head coach in Jim Montgomery. Obviously, he’s not as proven as Trotz, but he was in demand this spring.

Who doesn’t like money? The fact that there’s no state income tax in Texas is a huge plus for a guy who’s about to sign a long-term deal worth a lot of cash.

If you hate winter, the weather isn’t too shabby, either.

Cons: As talented as Dallas’ attack is, they’ve missed the playoffs in back-to-seasons and in eight of the last 10 years. Adding Tavares to the roster helps, but a lot of their shortcomings are things he can’t fix (like in Toronto and in New York).

The Stars have $19.8 million in cap space right now, but they only have 14 players under contract right now. Adding Tavares will cost roughly $12 million per year, so how much money will be left over to fix the rest of the issues on the roster?

No disrespect to Dallas, but it’s not a traditional hockey market. If that’s one of the things Tavares is looking for, he won’t find it there.

• San Jose Sharks

Pros: Sharks GM Doug Wilson has created almost $19 million in cap space for his team to make a serious push at Tavares. Unlike the Stars, the Sharks already have 19 players under contract for 2018-19.

In San Jose, he’ll be surrounded by players like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton (maybe), Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones. That’s a solid group.

The Sharks have also made it to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, and they’ve gone at least two rounds in two of those years. That’s not too shabby given the parity in the NHL.

It’s California, baby!

Cons: That appearance in the Stanley Cup Final seems like it was a lifetime ago. Can they get back to that level if Tavares signs there? That remains to be seen.

The core players aren’t exactly spring chickens. Couture (29), Pavelski (33), Thornton (38), Burns (33) and Vlasic (31) are all close to 30 or over 30. Tavares would step in and become the youngest player of the bunch.

Kane and Melker Karlsson are the only forwards signed beyond next season. If things don’t work out this year, how different will the team look starting in 2020?

• Boston Bruins

Pros: The Bruins proved to be one of the better teams in the league from November on. Bruce Cassidy had them playing smart and fast hockey. If they could get Tavares to buy in to what they’re selling, that would be unreal.

This could be good or bad, but Tavares wouldn’t have to play on the top line if he joins the Bruins. Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand have incredible chemistry, so teams will focus most of their attention on them. That would leave Tavares with some juicy matchups.

Boston also has an incredible group of young talent and strong prospects coming through their pipeline. So even though they have older guys, there is a fresh batch of talent coming through the pipeline. Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and company could make the decision easier for Tavares.

Cons: Tavares is still one of the elite players in the NHL. How would he feel to playing second fiddle to the top line? There’s plenty of ice time and power play time to go around, but it’s still something that has to be considered. He’s been the top guy on his team since the day he stepped onto NHL ice.

As of right now, the Bruins have under $12 million in cap space. Sure, moves can be made, but they also have potential free agents that they’d like to bring back (Riley Nash being one). They have to add a backup goaltender if they let Anton Khudobin walk, too.

• Tampa Bay Lightning

Pros: Look at the Lightning’s roster, they’re stacked. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej, Palat, Tyler Johnson, Brayden Point, J.T. Miller, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Can you imagine if they add Tavares?

It’s not a traditional hockey market, but their recent success has given them quite a bit of national attention over the last couple of years. He still wouldn’t have to deal with a crazy amount of media on a daily basis.

Yes, weather and a lack of a state income tax comes into play here, too.

They’ve also gone at least three rounds in three of the last four years.

Cons: For whatever reason, the Lightning haven’t been able to get over the hump. Sure, they’ve been to the conference final three times in four years, but they’ve come up just short.

Tampa also has $10.5 million in cap space and they still have to re-sign Miller and a couple of role players.

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.

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.

***

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.