Marc-Edouard Vlasic

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.

San Jose Sharks: Biggest surprises, disappointments

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 surprises and disappointments for the San Jose Sharks.

Father Time, defense, and other disappointments for Sharks skaters

Upon hearing about Erik Karlsson‘s new contract with the Sharks last summer, many of us cringed at how an aging San Jose roster might look in the future.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, Father Time showed up uncomfortably early. The thing is, while Karlsson didn’t really look like an $11.5 million defenseman in 2019-20, he wasn’t the biggest problem. If I were running the Sharks, I’d be especially worried about Brent Burns and Marc Edouard-Vlasic.

Karlsson sits atop the Sharks’ xGAR chart at Evolving Hockey, along with expected standouts like Timo Meier. It’s not all pretty for the Sharks, though, particularly among expensive defensemen:

Sharks XGAR disappointments
via Evolving Hockey

The possession stats looked shaky, and so did the counting numbers.

After leading the Sharks (by nine points) with 83 points in 2018-19, Burns managed 45 points in 70 games this season. Rolling with Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts, you wonder how much Burns and Vlasic counted as “net positives” this season:

Burns Vlasic RAPM Sharks disappointments
via Evolving Hockey

When it comes to Burns, it’s OK to take some bad with the good. The key is just to make sure he can generate more offense. The Sharks must hope that this isn’t just the sign of a star on the decline at age 35. No, Burns might not be able to be a beast like in 2016-17, but this season presents at least some argument for a “mulligan.”

One way or another, the Sharks need to find a better balance, even if that means accepting mistakes in hopes of creating bunches of chances. Even amid injuries and the COVID-19 pause, it’s tough to stomach no one reaching 50 points (Timo Meier topped all Sharks with 49).

Disappointments meant a lot of pucks in the wrong net for the Sharks

Look, we can argue about the Sharks’ goals against disappointments until we’re blue in the face. Some will defend Peter DeBoer’s system, thus accusing Martin Jones and Aaron Dell of being humanoid Swiss Cheese. Others may point to issues on defense that doomed their goalies. Such arguments may or may not revolve around the flaws of Karlsson and Burns as aggressive scorers from the backend.

Whatever your hypothesis might be, the bottom line is that the Sharks couldn’t patch up those holes.

San Jose declined in goals allowed per game, going from 11th-worst in the NHL in 2018-19 (3.15) to fifth-worst in 2019-20 (3.21). The biggest difference was that they scored almost a goal fewer per game (2.57) than they did in 2018-19 (3.52).

It’s limiting to score a lot of goals while allowing almost as many, but you can win — ugly — that way. If the Sharks tried to play more conservatively this season, that backfired with worse goals allowed and drastically worse goals-for numbers.

There are a lot of questions that swirl around these issues. One of the most painful is: did Doug Wilson do enough to address these issues? Perhaps there were a lack of options, yet with a bunch of seasoned coaches and impressive goalies likely available, will Wilson make the right moves next time around?

An unexpected surprise for the Sharks

For whatever reason, the otherwise-dreadful Sharks sported one of the season’s best penalty kill units.

The Sharks killed 85.7 percent of their penalties in 2019-20, the best mark in the NHL. Interestingly, being penalized frequently (seventh-most times shorthanded at 224) only soured things a tiny bit when you look at volume. Despite the increased workload, the Sharks allowed only 32 power-play goals (Columbus and Edmonton tied for least allowed at 31).

San Jose even scored seven shorthanded goals, so penalty kills were merely a “net” negative of 25 goals this season.

Unfortunately, an unexpectedly modest power play negated many of those strengths.

It zeroes in on a larger point: the Sharks ultimately failed at even-strength this season, and they ultimately don’t even get to enjoy the lottery pick stemming from their massive disappointments.

Hey, at least that PK was killer, though. *awkward laugh*

MORE ON THE SHARKS:

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.

The Buzzer: Oilers dominate latest Battle of Alberta; goalies fight for records, too

Oilers latest Battle of Alberta Leon Draisaitl buzzer
Getty Images

Three Stars

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

The second “Battle of Alberta” of the week ended up lopsided. Leon Draisaitl ended up being a big part of that.

Impressively, Draisaitl collected four assists in Edmonton’s 8-3 win over Calgary. Draisaitl exits Saturday with a commanding lead in the Art Ross race with a resounding 83 points. Last season’s jump to 105 points was incredible, no doubt. Yet, Draisaitl is almost at last year’s assist total of 55, as he reached 54 on Saturday. That’s about a 130-point pace.

The German-born forward has been especially hot lately. Draisaitl pushed his point streak to 11 games, scoring 22 points during that span. That four-point outburst also gives Draisaitl a streak within a streak: five consecutive multi-point games.

In the process, Draisaitl may have solved the riddle of scoring without Connor McDavid.

The Mike Smith – Cam Talbot goalie fight will grab a lot of the attention. And, really, why not? Goalie fights are too odd not to be fun. But Oilers fans should be just as excited about Draisaitl’s dominance.

2. Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens

There’s an argument for Petry over Draisaitl, as they both ended Saturday with an impressive four assists. To me, Draisaitl’s blistering overall play, NHL points lead, and involvement in the “Battle of Alberta” overwhelmed the Petry dish of accomplishments.

Regardless, Petry remains a strong contributor for the up-and-down Habs. Those four assists pushed Petry to 33 points in 53 games in 2019-20. It sure looks like Petry will continue his trend of setting new career-highs (he tied his old mark of 42 in 2017-18, set a new one in 2018-19 with 46, and now has months to flirt with 50+).

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Here is another spot where there are tough calls. Even ignoring other scorers and just focusing on goalies, Lundqvist has competition. Carey Price pitched a 29-save shutout. Curtis McElhinney blanked the Sharks with 30 saves. Ryan Miller didn’t get a shutout, but he stopped 46 out of 47 shots on goal for Anaheim.

But who knows how many more times we’ll see “King Henrik” warrant a three stars nod? Hopefully the answer is “A surprisingly large number of times,” yet it’s unclear.

Lundqvist generated a 33-save shutout against the Red Wings on Saturday. In doing so, Lundqvist earned a shutout for the first time since Nov. 19, 2017. That marks the 64th of his outstanding career. Considering the Rangers’ defensive struggles, Lundqvist and other goalies will have to earn each goose egg.

Also, for what it’s worth: yes, the Red Wings are dreadful, but it was a 1-0 game so New York needed all of Lundqvist’s saves.

Highlight of the Night that’s not a Goalie Fight

No doubt, many will pick Talbot vs. Smith as the highlight of the night. Bask in that glory here, and you know what? This can save you a click:

But it feels worthwhile to give another goalie some of the spotlight. Antti Raanta should practice his “Mortal Kombat” voices after pulling off a scorpion save:

Poor Ryan McDonagh

Consider this one of the lowlights of the night. Sorry, Ryan McDonagh.

Factoids

Scores

BUF 2 – CBJ 1 (OT)
VAN 4 – NYI 3 (OT)
MTL 4 – FLA 0
TOR 2 – OTT 1 (OT)
NYR 1 – DET 0
DAL 3 – NJD (OT)
PHI 6 – COL 3
WPG 5 – STL 2
VGK 3 – NSH 0
BOS 6 – MIN 1
CHI 3 – ARI 2 (SO)
EDM 8 – CGY 3
ANA 3 – LAK 1
TBL 3 – SJS 0

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.

Sharks stick with GM Doug Wilson — for better or worse

Sharks Doug Wilson vote of confidence
Getty Images
1 Comment

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.

Why things might get even worse for already-grim Sharks

Sharks worse Dell
Getty Images
5 Comments

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.