Sharks

Analysis: Sharks GM Wilson has made the right moves, so far

Analysis: Sharks GM Wilson has made the right moves, so far

SAN JOSE – It’s been a whirlwind few days around the Sharks organization. To quickly recap for those that have been sunbathing, scarfing down hot dogs or sparking up fireworks: Joe Thornton is back for another year, Patrick Marleau is off to Toronto, and crucial pieces Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are locked up long term.

For the 15th straight summer Doug Wilson is overseeing the transition from one year to the next. And so far, he’s looking pretty good.

Marleau’s departure, of course, is the most emotional moment for the fan base since the 2016 Stanley Cup Final – maybe even more so. I get the impression many Sharks supporters would have preferred to keep him around at any cost. Detractors will point to the team’s inability to win a Stanley Cup in the 19 seasons has was on the roster, and his frustrating nature of going extended stretches without having an impact, but my sense is that they are in the minority.

But Wilson offering him anything close to the three-year, $18.75 million contract that Marleau got in Toronto would have been nonsensical. Frankly, the two-year, $10 million offer that was reportedly on the table for Marleau might have been too much for a team that has $52.5 million tied up in contracts for just 11 players in 2018-19 (and Thornton a pending free agent again). 

Wilson may have only tacked on that second year in his attempt to placate Thornton, who was desperately trying to keep Marleau in the dressing room. Frankly, it’s fair to wonder if the organization is a bit relieved that Marleau didn’t take that final two-year offer.

Offering Marleau a third year in 2019-20 at the age of 40 was a deal breaker for Wilson for good reason. Not only will the Sharks have Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones making big money, but Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are both due to be unrestricted. If Tomas Hertl develops into the player the organization still hopes he’ll become, he could be making a pretty penny by then. Mikkel Boedker will potentially still be on the books. Prospects like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will have expiring entry-level deals, and if they or others in the system become full time NHL’ers, they could be getting big raises, too.

Paying an old, declining winger $5 million or more that season was a risk that Wilson was rightfully not willing to take.

As for Thornton, we predicted here before the NHL draft that Wilson might be making a calculated risk, knowing that Thornton – who originally wanted a three-year deal – was too committed to the area to sign anywhere else. That seems to be how this played out. Thornton’s one-year, $8 million deal is an expensive one, but it still makes sense from a team perspective considering his importance on and off the ice. The Sharks have the cap space to give Thornton that kind of money, and they are also protecting themselves with the one-year term in case Thornton has any problems with his surgically repaired left knee.

And if Thornton comes back strong next season, Wilson now knows for certain that the future Hall of Famer doesn’t want to play anywhere else. Getting Thornton to agree to another one-year deal, if that’s what Wilson wants, shouldn’t be nearly as complicated next time with Marleau already gone.

Don’t overlook, either, how Wilson managed to painlessly extend Jones and Vlasic to contracts that are fair for both sides. Had those contract talks lingered into the season it would have been an unnecessary distraction.

That’s not to say that the general manager should now pack up his bags and go on a two-month vacation until training camp begins. The Sharks still have cap space to add another impact player, and I would argue they should be on the lookout for another forward, probably though a trade now that the free agent market has dried up. I would be surprised if they paid the kind of price that Colorado reportedly is seeking for Matt Duchene, but perhaps others like Vegas’ James Neal or Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk are possibilities.

So far, though, Wilson has made the right moves in what has already been an eventful offseason.

Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived

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AP

Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived

It turns out the top-six winger the Sharks needed to replace Patrick Marleau was on the roster all along.

Joonas Donskoi skated on Logan Couture’s line in Monday night’s shootout loss to the Ducks, and was San Jose’s best player. He scored the Sharks’ only two goals, and tied for the team-lead among forwards with four shots on net.

Donskoi added another goal in the ninth-round shootout, but his two goals in regulation were his sixth and seventh on the season. With those goals, he surpassed his total from an injury-riddled campaign a year ago, and stands three tallies clear as San Jose’s second-leading goal-scorer this season.

Due to Melker Karlsson’s injury, Donskoi skated with the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer, Logan Couture, and rekindled the strong chemistry the pair has shown since the Finnish winger arrived in San Jose in 2015.

Of the nine lines Couture has skated on for at least 50 minutes dating back to the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the three best in terms of puck possession have had Donskoi on his wing. Those three combinations have controlled at least 54 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, according to Corsica Hockey.

Adding Tomas Hertl, who’s already a strong possession player, to that line bodes well for an even stronger second line moving forward. With Karlsson on the wing, the line controlled only 47.7 percent of the shot attempts, per Corsica, meaning the Sharks have been routinely out-possessed with them on the ice.

That was not the case with Donskoi in Karlsson’s place, as Donskoi posted positive possession numbers alongside Couture and Hertl on Monday, according to Natural Stat Trick. The results were there, as evidenced by the game’s opening goal, but it’s a good sign that the process was, too.

The same, frankly, can be said of Donskoi’s entire season up to this point. He likely won’t convert on over 18 percent of his shots all season, of course, but the Sharks have the puck more often than their opponents when he’s on the ice, and should continue to generate pressure, chances, and ultimately goals, even if Donskoi’s personal scoring comes down.

When Karlsson comes back, Donskoi should remain on Couture and Hertl’s line. That would allow the former to slide into a role better-suited to his game, and the latter to bolster San Jose’s top-six forward group.

Donskoi’s earned an extended look in that spot thanks to his resurgence, and subsequent emergence, this season. Thanks to him, replacing Marleau’s production suddenly seems much less daunting.

Two Donskoi goals not enough as Sharks fall to Ducks in shootout

Two Donskoi goals not enough as Sharks fall to Ducks in shootout

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Antoine Vermette beat goalie Martin Jones in the ninth round of a shootout to give the Anaheim Ducks a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Monday night.

Corey Perry, Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour also scored during the tiebreaker for Anaheim.

Joonas Donskoi, Tim Heed and Brent Burns had shootout goals for the Sharks. Tomas Hertl missed his attempt in the ninth round, leaving Vermette a chance to win it.

Perry and Rickard Rakell scored in regulation for the Ducks. Reto Berra made 40 saves in his first start of the season.

Donskoi had two goals for the Sharks, including the tying score in the third period. Jones stopped 28 shots.

Donskoi helped create his own goal by knocking the puck away from a Ducks defender and getting it to Logan Couture for a give-and-go as the Sharks took a 1-0 lead 3:31 into the game.

The Ducks came back in the second period to even the score 45 seconds in. After winning a faceoff in the San Jose zone, Brandon Montour sent a sharp pass to Perry's stick. Perry settled it and fired into the net for the equalizer.

Rakell gave the Ducks a 2-1 advantage midway through the second, just as a power play ended. Perry took a shot that bounced off Jones' pads, and Rakell knocked it into the net before Jones could cover up.

The Sharks snapped an 0-for-17 streak on the power play with a goal midway through the third to tie it. Donskoi tracked down a rebound and flipped it off Berra's right pad and into the net for his second career multi-goal game.

NOTES: Ducks D Cam Fowler returned to action after missing 12 games with a knee injury. ... Sharks C Melker Karlsson missed the game with an upper-body injury. ... Sharks forward Kevin Labanc, who hasn't played much recently, started on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Donskoi was moved to the second line. ... Ducks G Ryan Miller missed the game with a lower-body injury. Berra made his fourth appearance this season. ... Perry has seven points in his last five games. ... Rakell has a point in seven of his past eight games, with a total of 11 during that span. ... The Sharks scored their second power-play goal in eight November games.

UP NEXT

Ducks: Host the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Sharks: Play at the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday.