Sharks

Analysis: Wilson could be taking calculated risk with Thornton, Marleau

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AP

Analysis: Wilson could be taking calculated risk with Thornton, Marleau

The NHL offseason is about to heat up with the draft this weekend in Chicago and the start of free agency on July 1. Here’s what we’re hearing in regards to the Sharks, who could be at an organizational crossroads…

What’s the latest with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau?

It’s been quiet regarding to two franchise cornerstones that could officially become unrestricted free agents in eight days and are free to speak with other teams on Sunday. There has been dialogue, as Doug Wilson has said, but the general manager always prefers to keep contract negotiations private.

We do know that there have never been any gentleman’s agreements between the Sharks and Thornton and Marleau for after the expansion draft. I continue to see this theory suggested by some – both media and fans alike – but it’s simply not true, as we've reported here in the past.

At this point, Thornton and Marleau will surely wait until June 25 to see what kind of offers roll in from other clubs. They should learn pretty quickly what kind of interest is out there.

From the Sharks’ perspective, the term of any potential deal is vital. If Thornton and Marleau still want at least three years – as we’ve reported here previously – that might not work for the Sharks, as their top offseason priority is to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term extensions. 

Wilson could be taking a calculated risk, especially in Thornton’s case, as the general manager no doubt knows that Thornton would prefer to stay in San Jose (it’s less clear how much Marleau wants to return). If there aren’t any other teams out there willing to sign a 38-year-old player coming off of a significant knee injury to a three-year deal, Thornton could settle for a one or two-year deal to stay with the Sharks. If another team is willing to go that long, Thornton could always give the Sharks a chance to match.

Which Sharks players could be on the move in a potential trade?

There have already been a few huge trades as of Friday morning, including the Blue Jackets snagging Artemi Panarin from Chicago for Brandon Saad, the Coyotes acquiring Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the Rangers, and Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago.

Could the Sharks join the party? It’s certainly possible, as the team could probably use another forward or two than can put the puck in the net.

I could see the Sharks dangling Chris Tierney, for reasons that I laid out last week on my Facebook page when I thought that the club might protect a fourth defenseman and leave Tierney unprotected. In short, Ryan Carpenter’s return should make Tierney more expendable; coach Pete DeBoer has been pretty critical of Tierney in the past; and Tierney, a pending restricted free agent, remains unsigned. 

Further, you have to wonder if Tierney might be better off on another team for his own growth. If the Sharks re-sign Thornton, Tierney will be firmly entrenched as the fourth line center behind Thornton, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. Could his camp be pushing for a trade, prompting the Sharks to make sure they kept Carpenter around?

As for other potential trade bait, the Sharks have some organizational depth at defense right now, even after they shipped Mirco Mueller to the Devils. Perhaps they try and move one of their established defenseman for the right price, if they think any of the youngsters are ready to make the leap to the NHL, or maybe they could move one of the blue line prospects for an established veteran scorer.

It’s worth noting, too, that one source texted me last week, “I think there is more coming from Doug and crew.”

Is Micheal Haley going to return?

The only other UFA from the Sharks’ NHL roster last season, other than Thornton and Marleau, is Haley.

There continues to be mutual interest between the two sides. Pete DeBoer likes Haley, he’s a respected guy in the dressing room, and his teammates appreciate the role he plays. That doesn’t mean a deal will get done, as the Sharks have more pressing matters to navigate through first, but Haley could be back in the fall.

The Sharks have some key restricted free agents, too. What’s going on with those guys?

The deadline to qualify restricted free agents is Sunday. Expect the Sharks to qualify Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow.

The remaining RFAs are Nikita Jevpalovs, Mantas Armalis and Patrick McNally. All three could be allowed to walk, and therefore become unrestricted.

All eyes on the goaltenders ahead of Sharks-Golden Knights series

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USATSI

All eyes on the goaltenders ahead of Sharks-Golden Knights series

Don't expect a lot of goals in the second-round playoff series between the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. The goaltending matchup, featuring red-hot shot-stoppers Martin Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury, is arguably one of the best in postseason history. 

Since the NHL changed up its playoff format in 2014, no two opposing starting goalies have entered a round with a higher combined save percentage than  Jones and Fleury (.973). Among goalies that played at least 175 minutes in a playoff round (or, about three games) all-time, Fleury and Jones' first-round performances rank 8th and 20th, respectively, in single-series save percentage. No other goaltenders in the top-20 played another in the following round. 

It shouldn't surprise you, then, that Fleury and Jones sit atop the league leaderboard in save percentage and goals-against average during the Stanley Cup playoffs this year. It's also shouldn't surprise you that both goaltenders stopped pretty much every shot they faced, no matter the type, in the first round. 

In five-on-five situations, where they've played the vast majority of their minutes, neither Jones nor Fleury allowed a goal off of a low-danger shot, according to Corsica Hockey. They each allowed one medium-danger goal, and Jones allowed the only high-danger tally.

Their save percentage against each type of five-on-five shot represented an improvement over the regular season, but some of their biggest improvements were arguably a result of improved play in front of them.

During the regular season, Jones ranked 46th out of 51 goaltenders that played a minimum of 1000 five-on-five minutes in medium-danger save percentage (.900), while facing the 11th-highest percentage of medium-danger shots. In the postseason, Jones has faced the lowest percentage of medium danger shots (25.53), and has the fourth-best save percentage (.958), per Corsica. 

Fleury, meanwhile, cleaned up on high-danger shots in the first round while his teammates limited those opportunities. In the regular season, Fleury's five-on-five high-danger save percentage (.768) ranked 44th out of 51 goalies (minimum 1000 minutes), according to Corsica. While he faced the 10th-lowest percentage of high-danger shots (16.91), he faced an even lower one (9.28) against the Los Angeles Kings. 

If the first round was any indication, though, the improvements of both goaltenders will be tested in the second. In four games against the Golden Knights, 42.71 percent of the five-on-five shots Kings netminder Jonathan Quick faced were of the medium-danger variety, the third-highest percentage of the 18 goalies that played at least 100 five-on-five minutes in the playoffs entering Monday. Against the Sharks, nearly a fifth of the five-on-five shots Ducks goaltender John Gibson saw were high-danger, the fifth-highest percentage (19.51 percent) among those aforementioned goalies, per Corsica. 

Some regression should be expected, but just how much is anyone's guess. Jones has plenty of playoff pedigree, and although Fleury doesn't (.912 career playoff save percentage entering this postseason), he's in the middle of what is easily the best season of his career. Plus, an additional four-to-seven games may not be enough of a representative sample size to expect any meaningful returns to normalcy. 

In other words, if you like to see pucks cross the goal line, there's a good chance this series will disappoint you. 

Sharks will have hands full with top Golden Knights line

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USATSI

Sharks will have hands full with top Golden Knights line

The Vegas Golden Knights are not a one-line team, but one line will worry the Sharks most in the second round. 

The top trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith was one of the league's best this season. Only Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen were on the ice for more five-on-five goals together in the regular season (47) than Vegas' first line (46), according to Corsica Hockey. In just under 700 five-on-five minutes together, they controlled 55.54 percent of the shot attempts, 56.55 percent of the shots, 56.41 percent of the expected goals, and two-thirds of the goals, outscoring opponents 46-23. 

They did so playing primarily against the team's top players. According to HockeyViz, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith spent an above-average amount of time matched with their opponent's top-four forwards and top-three defensemen. Per Corsica, no Vegas forwards faced competition that accounted for a higher percentage of their team's ice time, a higher percentage of shot attempts, or a higher percentage of expected goals in the regular season.

Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant continued to use them this way in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings. They were attached to the hips of Los Angeles' top line, playing nearly an hour of five-on-five time against Anze Kopitar alone, according to Natural Stat Trick. Kopitar's next-most common forward opponent, James Neal, played only 15 minutes against him five-on-five in the entire series. 

When the Sharks and Golden Knights face off in Sin City later this week, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith will undoubtedly see a lot of San Jose defensemen Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Gallant will likely primarily ice his first line against Peter DeBoer's top trio of Joonas Donskoi, Evander Kane, and Joe Pavelski, especially if recent history is any indication. Smith was injured the last time the teams played on March 31, but Marchessault and Karlsson played (at least) three more minutes against Donskoi, Kane, and Pavelski than any other San Jose forwards. 

It will be interesting if those same matchups are used when the series shifts to SAP Center for Games 3, 4, and possibly 6. On March 22, the last Sharks-Golden Knights game in San Jose, Mikkel Boedker, Logan Couture, and Tomas Hertl drew Marchessault and Karlsson (Smith was hurt then, too) most of the game. Boedker, Couture, and Hertl functioned as San Jose's shutdown line in the first round, playing most of their minutes against Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, who consistently remained on the Anaheim Ducks' top line.

No matter which Sharks line draws Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith, it will need to improve on its first-round performance. San Jose's top-six forwards, who spent most of their time against Anaheim's top-two lines, were the team's six-worst forwards in terms of five-on-five corsi-for percentage (none eclipsed 43 percent), and only Couture was not outshot, according to Corsica Hockey. None of them were outscored five-on-five, but that was largely owed to the team's strong finishing ability and the outstanding play of Martin Jones in net. 

Jones is a proven playoff performer, but the Sharks were unlikely to continue to score on nearly 12 percent of their five-on-five shots before factoring in the presence of Marc-Andre Fleury, the playoff leader in five-on-five save percentage, in the opposite crease. That's even less likely now. Plus, the Golden Knights are far more disciplined (plus-16 penalty differential in the regular season) than the Ducks (minus-60), so San Jose likely won't be able to mask any five-on-five mismatches with a strong power play.  

Thus, it'll go a long way for the Sharks if their top-six forwards keep pace with Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith. Getting the best of the matchup would go even further.