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How Pavelski signing has impacted Sharks, Stars

It’s going to be a big night in San Jose on Saturday as former captain Joe Pavelski will make his first return to the Shark Tank as a visiting player.

Pavelski and the Stars are rolling in on a six-game winning streak and have been one of the league’s best teams since a 1-7-1 start had them buried in the Western Conference standings.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have never really been able to get on track this season and are now in desperation mode as they look to salvage what has quickly become a lost and wasted season. They are going to need to do a complete 180 in the second half just to have even a fighting chance of making the playoffs.

With Pavelski set to make his return, let’s take a quick look how his departure from San Jose has impacted both teams so far this season.

The Sharks never replaced Pavelski’s production

Very little has gone right for the Sharks this season. The goaltending has been bad again, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have rapidly aged, a lot of forwards have taken a step back, and now Logan Couture is sidelined for weeks with an ankle injury.

They also had 38 goals from last year’s team walk out the door when Pavelski signed his three-year contract with the Stars. Even if you assumed (correctly, as it turns out) that Pavelski was going to regress from that number, that goal production from a year ago was still a significant part of the Sharks’ success. He was the leading goal-scorer on the second-highest scoring team in the league, and all of that production just suddenly disappeared. Add in the free agency departure of another underrated forward, Joonas Donskoi, and the Sharks lost nearly 20 percent of their goal total from last year’s team. The only meaningful addition they brought in from outside the organization was a reunion with 40-year-old Patrick Marleau four games into the season. That was never going to be enough. And it hasn’t been.

The Sharks were hoping that at least some of that production could be replaced from within with bigger roles for some of their young players, but it just hasn’t happened. At the halfway point of the season Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, Marcus Sorensen, and even All-Star Tomas Hertl are all on pace for less production this season. The result is a team that is currently the sixth-lowest scoring team in the league (2.65 goals per game).

Maybe the Sharks were right to not match (or exceed) Pavelski’s offer from Dallas. Maybe it would have turned out to be another big contract for an aging, declining player on a team that now seems to have a few of them.

But those goals last year still happened and still need replaced. The Sharks not only lost them, they never found a way to replace them.

Pavelski’s impact with the Stars

Pavelski’s addition in Dallas was significant because he filled their biggest need — scoring depth.

The 2018-19 Stars were one of the most top-heavy teams in the league offensively (and the most top-heavy playoff team), relying almost entirely on Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov to carry the offense. They were so top-heavy that no other forward on the team scored more than 30 points over the full season. Finding someone that could provide a real secondary scoring threat was a must.

That is where Pavelski came in.

While no one should have expected a 35-year-old Pavelski to make a run at the 40-goal mark again, he at least provided some depth that did not previously exist. Whether or not he has provided that depends on how you want to look at it. From a raw numbers perspective, his production is probably viewed as a disappointment. He enters Saturday’s game with only eight goals and 18 total points in 44 games.

As down as those numbers are, it is important to keep in mind that is STILL better than what the Stars were getting a year ago from their depth players. Keep in mind, only four Stars forwards scored more than eight goals during the entire 2018-19 season. Pavelski’s numbers also include a brutal 13-game stretch to start the season where he was virtually invisible offensively. He has been been better since.

Once he started chipping in more offense, the wins followed.

Any intangible impact?

Pavelski has always been held in high regard as a leader, and both teams will probably have a reason to argue on behalf of that. San Jose could easily argue his departure has left a hole in their room. The Stars could argue they needed his sort of veteran presence. Sharks beat writer Kevin Kurz touched on this a little bit in his lead-up for Saturday’s game for The Athletic.

There very well could be something to that. But in the end it’s probably a lot more black-and-white than that.

The Stars were a good team last season without Pavelski and are a good team again this season with him. They are winning with a nearly identical recipe — good defense, great goaltending, offense when and where they can get it.

The Sharks were a good team with Pavelski that also had a huge flaw. They never fixed that flaw, then added to it by losing 52 goals from their lineup with almost none coming back in.

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.

 

 

NHL Power Rankings: Blues take over top spot

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues climb to the top spot thanks to their current eight-game winning streak.

That streak has them running away with the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference, while they also enter the week just one point back of the Washington Capitals in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.

They will not need a great second half just to make the playoffs this season. They have already put themselves in position to not only return, but also make another run at the Stanley Cup.

Also this week the New York Islanders and Colorado Avalanche hit their first slides of the year, the Philadelphia Flyers are back on the good side of their streakiness, and the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers continue to trend in the wrong direction.

To the rankings!

1. St. Louis Blues. The defending champs just keep getting better.

2. Washington Capitals. Before John Carlson this season, you have to go back to the 1991-92 season for the most recent time a defenseman had at least 50 points through his team’s first 40 games of the season (Phil Housley and Brian Leetch both accomplished it that season).

3. Pittsburgh Penguins. They are one of the best teams in the league and are going to be getting Sidney Crosby back very soon.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs. They waited too long to make that coaching change. They are different, better and more dangerous team under Sheldon Keefe.

5. Boston Bruins. Their overtime and shootout luck has been lousy lately, but they do have at least a point in seven consecutive games (4-0-3 record).

6. Philadelphia Flyers. The streakiest, most unpredictable team in hockey is back on the good side of things. They are capable of a 10-game winning streak or a 10-game losing streak at any time, and neither one would — or should — surprise anyone.

7. Dallas Stars. With this defense and goaltending they are going to be a very tough out in the playoffs.

8. New York Islanders. They have won just two of their past six games and given up 26 goals during that stretch. This is their first slump of the season. Nothing to be alarmed about. They are fine.

9. Colorado Avalanche. Like the Islanders, the Avalanche have hit a little bit of a slump the past two weeks and slid just a bit. The type of thing that happens over the course of an 82-game season. Also like the Islanders, they are fine.

10. Carolina Hurricanes. The Dougie Hamilton Norris Trophy campaign needs a bigger PR department.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning. Do not give up on the Lightning just yet. This sleeping giant is starting to wake up.

12. Vegas Golden Knights. Max Pacioretty is playing some of the best hockey of his career and the Golden Knights are starting to rapidly climb the standings.

13 Florida Panthers. Jonathan Huberdeau has three four-point games in the past two weeks and is climbing the point leaderboard.

14. Vancouver Canucks. Jacob Markstrom has solidified their goaltending spot, but what is it going to cost to keep him?

15. Columbus Blue Jackets. A 10-game point streak is keeping them in it. That lost point against Chicago might hurt, though.

16. Minnesota Wild. That slow start where Bruce Boudreau’s job seemed to be in question is a distant memory right now.

17. Arizona Coyotes. They are still in the thick of the Pacific Division race but are cooling off fast.

18. Nashville Predators. An ugly weekend took some of the steam out of their recent strong play. Still, they are only a couple of points out of a playoff spot and have multiple games in hand on every team ahead of them.

19. New York Rangers. They may not be a playoff team just yet, but Artemi Panarin is doing his best to drag them to contention.

20. Calgary Flames. Since that 10-game point streak came to an end they have won just two of the next seven. Before that 10-game point streak they had lost six in a row.

21. Chicago Blackhawks. Sunday’s shootout win in Columbus was just the second for Robin Lehner since the start of the 2015-16 season. The shootout is the Achilles heel for one of the NHL’s best goalies.

22. Montreal Canadiens. Carey Price leads the league in games and minutes played, but he hasn’t been particularly sharp. That’s a big problem for the Canadiens.

23. Winnipeg Jets. The concern here was always what happens when Connor Hellebuyck slows down even a little. That has happened over the past couple of weeks and the results have not been pretty.

24. Buffalo Sabres. They were 8-1-1 after 10 games. They are 9-15-6 in 31 games since. Now they are without Jeff Skinner for the next 3-4 weeks.

25. Edmonton Oilers. We have all seen this movie enough times to know how it ends.

26. Ottawa Senators. D.J. Smith is getting more out of this roster than I thought he would.

27. Los Angeles Kings. There is nothing wrong with the way they play, they just do not have enough talent to make it matter. Combine that with continued decline of Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick and things get bleak really fast here.

28. Anaheim Ducks. They simply have zero offense, and none of the young players on the roster have really taken a big step forward yet to help fix that. 

29. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes added another career first over the weekend by scoring his first career overtime goal.

30. San Jose Sharks. Timo Meier‘s hat trick came at the perfect time for him and the Sharks, but this team is still in a LOT of trouble. They are 2-10 in their past 12 games and are going to need an insane second half just to make the playoffs. Are they capable of that?

31. Detroit Red Wings. Still on track to be one of the worst teams of the salary cap era.

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: Markstrom stops 49 for Canucks; Foegele dominates

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Three Stars

1. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. He is doing everything he can to earn himself a big payday this summer. Markstrom helped the Canucks extend their current winning streak to four games while also jumping back into a playoff spot in the Western Conference. He stopped 49 out of 51 shots in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, stealing two huge points for his team. He has really established himself as a quality NHL goalie over the past couple of years, and this might have been one of his best games yet.

2. Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks. He needed a huge game, and he delivered one. He recorded his first career hat trick to help lift the Sharks to a much-needed 6-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. You can read all about Meier’s game, as well as the Sharks’ big win, right here.

3. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. Foegele was, quite simply, a beast for the Hurricanes on Saturday night. He finished with four points (two goals, including a shorthanded goal, and two assists), was a plus-four, and attempted seven shots during the Hurricanes’ 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals. It is the first four-point game of his NHL career and only the second time he has recorded more than two points in a game. The win helped the Hurricanes keep pace in the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division and snapped what had been a three-game losing streak.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • Ryan Strome had four points (including two goals) and Tony DeAngelo scored an overtime winner for the New York Rangers as they put an end to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ winning streak.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning overcame a brutal start that saw them give up the first 18 shots of the game (and two goals) to earn a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Alex Killorn scored two goals and Victor Hedman had four assists in the win.
  • Bryan Rust scored two more goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they held on for a 6-4 win against the Nashville Predators. Jake Guentzel‘s power play goal with one minute to play in regulation was the game-winning goal.
  • Mark Stone scored two goals in a dominant Vegas Golden Knights win to help them jump ahead of the Arizona Coyotes for first place in the Pacific Division.
  • Mike Hoffman had three points for the Florida Panthers as they overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings, 5-4, handing the Red Wings their fifth consecutive defeat.
  • Ben Bishop made 42 saves for the Dallas Stars and Alexander Radulov scored the shootout winner in a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Highlights of the Night

Mika Zibanejad is on a roll for the Rangers right now and this second period goal off the rush was a real beauty.

Mario Ferraro and Joel Kellman both scored their first career goals for the Sharks on Saturday.

The one highlight of the night for the Coyotes was this tic-tac-toe passing play to set up Michael Grabner for a goal.

Factoids

  • Steven Stamkos recorded his 800th career point for the Lightning on Saturday night.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored the 256th power play goal of his career for the Washington Capitals. That moves him ahead of Teemu Selanne for third on the all-time list. [Capitals PR]
  • Marc-Andre Fleury recorded the 454th win of his career to tie Curtis Joseph for the sixth-most wins in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Joe Thornton recorded career assist 1,079 for the Sharks, moving him into a tie with Adam Oates for seventh most in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Markstrom’s 49 saves were the most by a Canucks goalie since Roberto Luongo stopped 54 shots in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals. Luongo was eventually traded for Markstrom. [NHL PR]

Scores

Dallas Stars 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 4 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Montreal Canadiens 4
Florida Panthers 5, Detroit Red Wings 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 6, Nashville Predators 4
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Washington Capitals 4
Vancouver Canucks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Arizona Coyotes 1
San Jose Sharks 6, Philadelphia Flyers 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.

Meier’s first hat trick comes at perfect time for Sharks (and for him)

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The San Jose Sharks needed a game to stop the bleeding. They got exactly that on Saturday night in a 6-1 dismantling of the Philadelphia Flyers.

And no player on the roster needed a big game more than forward Timo Meier. They ended up getting that, too.

Meier recorded his first career hat trick in the win, snapping a four-game scoring drought.

Even more than the lack of scoring, Meier’s game had badly fallen off in recent weeks. Because of that, he found himself riding the bench for extended periods of time over the past two games. With the Sharks entering Saturday on a four-game losing streak, and coming off of a game where they blew a 2-0 third period lead, an infuriated Bob Boughner threatened several lineup changes for Saturday’s game against Philadelphia.

Meier was assumed to be at the top of the list due to his lack of production and overall play. But Boughner stuck with the same lineup on Saturday (minus a swap of starting goalies) and was rewarded with one of the Sharks’ best overall performances of the season. That included Meier, who now has 14 goals in 40 games this season and is back on a near 30-goal pace for the season.

The 23-year-old signed a four-year, $24 million contract this past summer after scoring 30 goals a year ago.

At this point every game is huge for the Sharks.

They put themselves in a brutal hole in the Western Conference and it is going to take a near miracle to get out of it. But they had to start somewhere, and this game was as good of a time as any. Assuming it takes 92 points to make the playoffs in the Western Conference, that means the Sharks still need to collect 55 points in their remaining 42 games.

That leaves them with little margin for error the rest of the way.

The Sharks now begin a five-game road trip in Detroit on Tuesday. After that, the competition increases significantly in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Washington, and St. Louis. Three of those teams (Washington, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh) are among the top-five in the league in points percentage. With them still sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race it is not a stretch to say this road trip could determine whether or not they get back into contention.

More: Things could get even worse for Sharks

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.

Why things might get even worse for already-grim Sharks

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The San Jose Sharks look like they’re sinking. Unfortunately, most signs are pointing toward things getting even worse in 2020.

Boughner calls out unnamed Sharks who are probably Meier and Labanc (and maybe others)

Head coach Bob Boughner slammed unnamed players following Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings. He wondered how you could dress 12 players when only “eight or nine” showed up. Again, Boughner didn’t mention anyone by name, stating only that they know who they are.

Boughner made the sort of comments you’d hear from a coach when their team is … well, in a tailspin.

The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz pointed out that Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc were benched for more than half of the third period, so they likely rank among those Boughner was hinting at.

No doubt, Labanc and Meier have been a bit disappointing this season, with Meier mired in a four-game scoreless drought, and Labanc at five games.

When your team is 1-8-2 in its last 11 games, there’s usually plenty of blame to spread around. Frighteningly, the Sharks’ schedule hints at things getting even worse, to the point that it may only matter so much even if efforts improve.

Sharks schedule could make a bad situation worse

Saturday ends a grim seven-game homestand for the Sharks where they’ve only managed three of a possible 12 standings points (1-4-1). Closing out a back-to-back set against a rested Flyers team that’s on a four-game winning streak won’t be easy.

Win or lose, the path only gets bumpier from there, with eight of the Sharks’ next 10 games on the road.

Zoom out and you’ll realize that the Flyers bookend what could be a nightmare two months, actually:

Dec. 28 vs. Philadelphia
Dec. 31 @ Detroit
Jan. 2 @ Pittsburgh
Jan. 4 @ Columbus
Jan. 5 @ Washington
Jan. 7 @ St. Louis
Jan. 9 vs. Columbus
Jan. 11 vs. Dallas
Jan. 14 @ Arizona
Jan. 16 @ Colorado
Jan. 18 @ Vancouver
Jan. 27 vs. Anaheim
Jan. 29 vs. Vancouver
Feb. 1 vs. Tampa Bay
Feb. 4 @ Calgary
Feb. 6 @ Edmonton
Feb. 10 vs. Calgary
Feb. 14 @ Winnipeg
Feb. 15 @ Minnesota
Feb. 17 vs. Florida
Feb. 20 @ New Jersey
Feb. 22 @ Rangers
Feb. 23 @ Islanders
Feb. 25 @ Philadelphia

Over their next 24 games, the Sharks play eight at home and 16 on the road. Yikes.

The Sharks have played five more games at home (22) than on the road (17) so far in 2019-20, so while things even out a bit from late February through April, this perilous stretch lines up almost perfectly with the Feb. 24 trade deadline. The Sharks’ 6-9-2 road record doesn’t portend happy times, either.

A grim long-term future

The Sharks parallel the 2018-19 versions of their hated rivals the Kings in uncomfortable ways.

Like Los Angeles with Drew Doughty, the Sharks made a massive bet on an aging defenseman (in their case Erik Karlsson), figuring that short-term gains would justify likely long-term pains. In both cases, the pain instead essentially kicked in right as those contracts began.

Looking at the Sharks’ scary salary structure at Cap Friendly, they look mostly stuck. It’s not just Karlsson (29, $11.5M AAV through 2026-27) and Brent Burns (somehow already 34, $8M AAV through 2024-25) whose aging curves prompt indigestion. Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s play has plummeted, and the 32-year-old’s $7M AAV only expires after 2025-26. With Logan Couture at 30 and Evander Kane at 28, plenty of other core members are older than some might realize, too.

Should Sharks make trades?

Yes, that’s a very grim, remarkably Kings-like outlook. And, really, the Kings are a few promising prospects ahead of their disliked neighbors, to boot.

Looking at the few shorter-term contracts — assuming the Sharks are smart enough not to turn heel on a very good, if struggling, winger in Timo Meier — there are a few possibilities.

  • It would be odd to see the Sharks trade Kevin Labanc after he signed that sweetheart one-year, $1M deal. That said, he’s clearly in the doghouse, and maybe a contender would pay a pretty penny for such a cheap rental? Either way, he’s a pending RFA; even if this continues as a disaster season, he’s likely due a raise. Would San Jose really want to pay up if they keep fading?
  • Brenden Dillon is 29 and will see his $3.27M AAV expire. Elliotte Friedman already mentioned Dillon as a rental candidate in the Dec. 18 edition of “31 Thoughts,” and it’s easy to see why some teams would be interested in the pending UFA. That’s especially true if San Jose retained some of that salary.

Don’t get too tank-happy, though, Sharks fans. The Senators own the Sharks’ 2020 first-round draft pick, so while San Jose has incentive to stockpile futures, they don’t have the same incentive to lose as many games as possible as, well … the Senators do.

***

Overall, the Sharks’ outlook is troubling. Maybe things go swimmingly and they turn things around, but it seems far more likely that the Sharks will sink.

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.