Kevin Labanc

What is the Sharks’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the San Jose Sharks.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The San Jose Sharks had a strong core for years that helped lead to consistent playoff appearances over the last decade. But general manager Doug Wilson is looking for the next crop of players to usher in a new era of hockey in San Jose. Joe Thornton and Brent Burns are still around but the organization is relying on Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson and others to lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.

The Sharks stumbled this season through the first 70 games and currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. San Jose will not even be rewarded with a top draft pick due to the trade with the Ottawa Senators for Karlsson in September of 2018.

Thornton entertained the idea of waiving his no-movement clause at the NHL Trade Deadline if a true contender wanted to acquire the savvy centerman. There was a lack of interest but if Thornton is interested in chasing the Stanley Cup next season, there is a strong chance he will not be back in the Bay Area.

Despite the horrific season in San Jose, there is still plenty of talent on the roster. Timo Meier led the team in points with 49, Evander Kane was closing in on a 30-goal season and Karlsson still had 34 assists in only 56 games. In addition, Couture and Hertl missed time with injuries and should provide further offensive firepower.

Long-Term Needs

The most glaring weakness for the Sharks has been their play between the pipes. Martin Jones had a sub .900 save percentage and a 3.00 goals against average. The 30-year-old goaltender still has four additional years remaining on his contract and will be a difficult asset to move via trade.

San Jose also has significant cap space tied up in several long-term contracts and has to solve problems from within. Between Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Karlsson, the Sharks have more than $26 million committed through 2024-25.

Looking at the forward group, Couture, Kane, Meier, Hertl all have lengthy contracts and Kevin Labanc will need a new deal after taking an extraordinarily team-friendly agreement last summer. Similar to every NHL team, Wilson and his staff need to find the right pieces at a bargain price to fill out the roster.

Long-Term Strengths

The Sharks have taken great pride in building a culture that allows players to thrive. Thornton was a key figure in building the foundation, but he has passed on the characteristics of a strong locker room to his teammates.

Trade acquisitions are able to seamlessly fit in both on and off the ice while young players looking to earn their stripes at the professional level feel comfortable right from the beginning.

While Thornton could switch uniforms in the upcoming offseason, it will be up to Couture, Burns and others to make sure that culture isn’t lost.

The Sharks struggled mightily with the departure of Joe Pavelski this past summer but are too skilled to have a second straight dreadful season. If their play in net can improve, and key players can remain healthy, the Sharks could bounce back next season.

MORE ON THE SHARKS
• Looking at the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks
• Sharks biggest surprises and disappointments so far


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

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.

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.

Oilers snap Sharks’ win streak with big win

After a dreadful start to the 2019-20 regular season, the San Jose Sharks started to look like the perennial playoff contender we have become used to seeing.

A six-game winning streak helped steady the ship in the Bay area, but the Sharks ran into the dynamic tandem of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and fell to the Edmonton Oilers, 5-2.

While the Sharks don’t have the ultimate trophy to back up their run over the past decade, they have long been the class of the Pacific Division.

However, with a new culture in Edmonton, the Oilers are looking to establish themselves as the new elite team in the Western Conference.

Oilers kept foot on the gas pedal

A strong start helped the Oilers capture an early two-goal lead. But their response after Kevin Labanc cut their lead in half is why they left the arena with two points against a division rival. Not only did Jujhar Khaira score late in the first period to restore a two-goal advantage, James Neal recorded his 13th of the season to keep the game out of reach.

Neal has enjoyed a bounce-back season after an extremely tough season with the Calgary Flames last year.

Dave Tippet has installed a system that allows skilled players to flourish in the offensive zone as long as they handle their responsibilities on the other end of the ice.

Through 23 games, the results have been favorable in Edmonton.

Draisaitl deserves more respect

When mentioning the top players of the game throughout the NHL, Draisaitl is often left off most lists.

Connor McDavid’s tantalizing skill set usually overshadows Draisaitl, but the German forward is quietly leading the NHL in points (16 goals, 28 assists) and should be considered a favorite for the Hart Trophy.

Draisaitl is currently riding a 13-game point streak while McDavid extended his own point streak to eight games.

The Oilers have eyes on returning to the postseason but will need more secondary scoring to compete for a Stanley Cup. The question general manager Ken Holland will have to answer is, do they have the pieces internally, or does Edmonton need to make an acquisition?

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.