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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.

Dual-role players? Defensemen as wingers show it can be done

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Brendan Smith caught his breath for a few seconds on the bench before New York Rangers coach David Quinn called his name again.

Smith had just skated a shift as a defenseman and was needed at forward, too. The natural defenseman hopped over the boards and got back on the ice at a different position.

”The more I do it, I get more comfortable,” he said.

Smith is one of a couple of throwback-style players bouncing between forward and defense this season. He and Florida’s Mark Pysyk are the latest to follow the lead of Hall of Famers Red Kelly and Mark Howe and present-day Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien, and their experience could open the door for more multiposition players in a sport that usually defines being a center, wing or defenseman very specifically.

”It’s definitely different,” Pysyk said. ”I think guys at this level probably could make the switch given enough time to get comfortable with their new position because everybody skates well.”

Kordell Stewart earned the nickname ”Slash” by playing quarterback and wide receiver in the NFL and slugger/pitcher Shohei Otani can star for the Los Angeles Angels in multiple ways in baseball. But specialization in hockey starts early as it does in other sports – forwards, defensemen and goalies all tend to be identified as such at a young age.

Smith as recently as Thursday shifted from his regular wing position back to defense to fill amid injuries, and the same night, Pysyk – back for another stint at forward – scored his third goal of the season. For one game in November, (almost) lifelong defenseman Tyler Lewington played a few shifts up front for the salary-cap strapped Washington Capitals when they could only dress 11 forwards.

”There’s a lot more to a forward’s game than I thought before,” said Lewington, 25, who hadn’t played forward since he was 10. ”It’s something that’s not easy.”

This kind of thing was more common in the 1920s and ’30s, Kelly played his first 12-plus seasons in Detroit as a defenseman and next eight-plus in Toronto as a forward, winning the Stanley Cup eight times – four at each position. Howe played his first three World Hockey Association seasons as a left winger alongside dad Gordie and brother Marty before switching to defense full-time.

Before video was more prevalent, Howe used to watch game replays late at night to figure out how to hone his game on the blue line. He made the Hall of Fame primarily for his time as a defenseman. Before and after his transition, he noticed differences like fewer scoring chances in practice as a defenseman – and more idle time on the bench as a forward biding his time for the next shift.

Now pro scouting director with the Detroit Red Wings, Howe called Smith the perfect example of a player who can adjust to the variations of playing forward and defense.

”(As a defenseman) it’s more of a game of you go when you can, but you have to be responsible defensively. You have to learn to read and when to jump up in the play,” Howe said. ”As a forward, you’re learning at key points of the game: ‘When do you try to make a play? When is it a smart play to dump the puck in the corner? When you definitely not want to turn a puck over?’ And with both (positions), you take different chances.”

While Pysyk hadn’t played defense since he was 6 or 7 until earlier this season, Quinn knew from recruiting Smith to Boston University that this dual role was possible. Quinn asked Smith last season to try it, and it worked so well that it has stuck, with Smith also killing penalties as a defenseman.

”You’ve got a guy who obviously plays forward 5-on-5 but he’s been one of our better (penalty) killing defensemen,” Quinn said. ”It gives you a little bit of flexibility on your roster, which is always nice game in and game out.”

Three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville trusts Pysyk the same way. He won the Cup in 2010 with Chicago moving Byfuglien back and forth and using the combination of his big frame, hard shot and smooth skating as an advantage.

”That versatility was a great asset to have in playoff series,” Quenneville recalled. ”Sometimes you could put him on a forward line to create space, I’d like to say, on power play (as a) net-front presence, but then you’ve got a big shot at the point. You could multitask with him in the course of the games.”

The same was possible for Burns when he played forward and defense with Minnesota earlier in his career. He became a full-time defenseman before a 2011 trade to San Jose and won the Norris Trophy as the best player at that position in 2017.

Quenneville likes having a defenseman at forward at times because they tend think of the game more conservatively.

”They usually have that mindset of being above the puck, so they keep themselves in the play, and defensively they have that responsibility,” Quenneville said. ”You get to handle the puck a little bit more, but I think they’re always in that position where offensively they’re complementing the guys they’re playing with, being either the safety guy or the extra guy that’s always going to be in the right spots.”

Pysyk, who’d prefer to play defense but can do both, is still getting used to the idea that he is not always the last guy back.

”It’s weird seeing a pass go past you and then chasing it from the other end,” he said.

Smith, who is in his 10th NHL season, is more comfortable on defense but thinks he could be a ”slash” player if need be.

”The biggest adjustment would be to change your mindset of defensive to offensive and knowing where to be at the right time because there’s so many moving parts,” Smith said. ”The hardest part is making sure that you can mentally prepare yourself for it.”

Vegas Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith sees his brother playing two different positions and knows he – and many others – wouldn’t be able to handle it.

”I can’t skate backward, can’t stop anyone,” Reilly Smith said. ”It takes a lot of versatility to be able to do that.”

How Pavelski signing has impacted Sharks, Stars

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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.

 

 

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.

The Buzzer: Nylander keeps Maple Leafs rolling; Canucks make it 6 in a row

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Three Stars

1. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. Following a restricted free agent contract dispute and a down 2018-19 performance, Nylander became a popular target for criticism in Toronto. Not anymore. He continued what is turning out to be a massive breakout season on Thursday night by scoring two more goals and adding an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 6-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets. The Maple Leafs are now 14-4-1 under new coach Sheldon Keefe and 8-0-1 in their past nine games. Nylander has 19 goals and 38 total points in 41 games this season. That puts him on a pace for 38 goals and 76 points over 82 games. That level of production makes his $6 million cap hit a bargain.

2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon got the Avalanche rolling with a late first period goal and never slowed down as the cruised to a huge 7-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. He recorded his fourth four-point game of the season, most in the NHL. It is his ninth since the start of the 2017-18 season, tied for second-most in the league (behind only Nikita Kucherov) during that stretch. Read more about the Avalanche’s big win here.

3. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Miller continues to be a massive addition to the Canucks’ lineup and helped them win their sixth game in a row with his second four-point game of the season. He opened the scoring with an early first period goal, then added three assists, including the lone assist on Adam Gaudette‘s game winning goal in a wild 7-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He has at least one point in five of the Canucks’ six games during this streak and continues to help push them toward a playoff spot. They paid a steep price to get him, but he has been worth it so far.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Pierre-Luc Dubois‘ overtime goal against the Boston Bruins helped the Columbus Blue Jackets improved to 8-0-4 in their past 12 games.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 38 shots to help the Tampa Bay Lightning pick up a huge 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau remained hot and Evgeni Dadonov had three points as the Florida Panthers used a four-goal second period to storm by the Ottawa Senators.
  • Brent Burns scored an overtime goal and Aaron Dell made 36 saves to help the San Jose Sharks get a much-needed 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • All 12 Arizona Coyotes forwards recorded a point in their 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Max Pacioretty continued to be a dominant force for the Vegas Golden Knights as he scored two more goals in their 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Johnny Gadreau had a goal and an assist for the Calgary Flames as they beat the New York Rangers.

Highlights of the Night

It did not result in a win, but Patrik Laine finished with 13 shots on goal for the Winnipeg Jets and scored this beauty of a goal after turning Morgan Rielly inside out.

Thanks to this beauty of a Nico Hischier goal the New Jersey Devils were able to win their third game in a row. It is their first three-game winning streak of the season. Read all about it here.

Jack Eichel helps the Buffalo Sabres get a huge win by scoring the game-winning goal on a penalty shot in overtime.

Blooper of the Night

This is only a blooper in the sense that it should NEVER HAPPEN if you are the New York Rangers. They allowed Calgary’s Mikael Backlund to score a shorthanded goal in a 3-on-5 situation. That was the difference in a 4-3 Flames win.

Factoids

  • Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau became 12th, 13th, and 14th players in NHL history to play in four different decades in their NHL careers. [NHL PR]
  • David Pastrnak is the first Bruins player since Cam Neely during the 1993-94 season to score his 30th goal in 42 or fewer games. [NHL PR]
  • With his assist on Brent Burns’ overtime goal, Joe Thornton collected the 1,080th assist of his career to move him into sole possession of seventh place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Columbus Blue Jackets 2, Boston Bruins 1 (OT)
Buffalo Sabres 3, Edmonton Oilers 2 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
New Jersey Devils 2, New York Islanders 1
San Jose Sharks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 6, Ottawa Senators 3
Toronto Maple Leafs 6, Winnipeg Jets 3
Calgary Flames 4, New York Rangers 3
Arizona Coyotes 4, Anaheim Ducks 2
Colorado Avalanche 7, St. Louis Blues 3
Vancouver Canucks 7, Chicago Blackhawks 5
Vegas Golden Knights 5, Philadelphia Flyers 4

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.