Sharks

John Tavares’ pending free agency needs more drama

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USATSI

John Tavares’ pending free agency needs more drama

In case you haven’t heard, New York Islanders captain John Tavares could become an unrestricted free agent next summer. 

It’s only the biggest national storyline this season. The longer Tavares remains unsigned, and the closer we get to the trade deadline, speculation about the center will only intensify. If he’s not traded and remains unsigned, things will reach a fever pitch. 

And for good reason. Tavares is an elite center, a perennial All-Star among the league’s best players, regardless of position. He’ll attract plenty of interest if he’s made available at the trade deadline, and/or if he becomes a free agent. 

The Sharks may be one of those teams, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported their interest back in April. They’ll have plenty of cap space, and a need for a top center as Joe Thornton continues to age, so the Sharks should be interested. 

There should be plenty of intrigue as Tavares takes the ice at SAP Center tonight. Yet the discussion surrounding Tavares’ potential free agency is, well, kind of boring. 

Perhaps it’s because the season isn’t even two weeks old. Perhaps it’s because Tavares is saying all of the right things. Perhaps it’s because of the tight-lipped nature of the sport. Perhaps it’s because it’s so rare to see a star of Tavares’ stature actually hit free agency. After all, Steven Stamkos didn’t after signing an eight-year extension with Tampa Bay in 2016, and Brent Burns re-signed with San Jose eight months before he could have hit the open market. 

Whatever the reason, there’s no fun in any of it. 

Free agency is one area where the NHL should take one out of the NBA’s book. Comparing pucks and hoops is comparing apples and oranges, but the NBA does free agency drama so much better. 

If Tavares was an NBA player, he wouldn’t be a sport-stopping free agent like LeBron James or Kevin Durant. He’s probably on the level of Paul George, and the Los Angeles Lakers have already been fined for tampering with George...with a year left on George’s contract. 

So let’s hope for more front office drama, and read-between-the-lines flirting between Tavares and his rumored suitors. Let’s see more photoshopped images of Tavares in other teams’ jerseys, and premature purchases of a “Tavares 91” jersey from increasingly desperate fanbases. 

It doesn’t have to end with a Jim Gray interview, but a little more intrigue surrounding John Tavares’ free agency is welcome. That is, unless you’re an Islanders fan. 

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

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USATSI

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

The San Jose Sharks were shut out for the first time this season on Thursday night, but it sure didn't feel like it.

You’d be forgiven, albeit mistaken, if you didn't think the loss was their first goose egg of the season. San Jose’s been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this year, and has scored two or fewer goals in all but two of their six games in November.

The Sharks controlled play, but their raw possession numbers were misleading: Through the first two periods, San Jose was outshot 23-18, and poured it on in the third looking for the game-tying goal.

In order to break out of his team’s extended slump, head coach Peter DeBoer appeared to throw his lines in the proverbial blender. The changes weren't very significant, though, as DeBoer worked mostly around the edges.

Joe Thornton remained with Joe Pavelski, while Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier rotated in on their wing. Joonas Donskoi swapped in with Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, and on and on.

The core pair of each line remained intact, while DeBoer swapped complimentary wingers. Subtle changes, unsurprisingly, didn't lead to drastically different results.

He’s been amenable to bigger changes at times, briefly breaking up longtime linemates Thornton and Pavelski last Sunday against Los Angeles. The bottom six, especially the fourth line, has mostly been a revolving door.

That's a start, but far from enough. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, similarly significant changes are in order.

DeBoer shouldn't want to sacrifice the team’s defensive dominance, or its strong possession game. But, the Sharks haven't scored enough through 17 games to justify using the same forward combinations. 

In Thornton and Pavelski’s case, those struggles date back to last season. For just about everyone else, the sample size is getting increasingly more significant as the season approaches the quarter pole.

The Sharks bench boss expressed a willingness to mix up his power play units earlier this week, and needs to do the same at even strength. It's time to try Pavelski on Couture's wing, Meier on Thornton's, or any number of permutations.

Tweaking around the edges hasn't made much of a difference, so far more comprehensive adjustments are not only welcome, but necessary. Of course, DeBoer may not find the perfect lineup solutions.

At this point, though, it's worth a shot. It's hard to imagine the Sharks scoring any less than they have so far this season, and the Sharks need to explore if any line changes can provide a remedy.

Luongo picks up a career first in Panthers win over Sharks

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AP

Luongo picks up a career first in Panthers win over Sharks

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Roberto Luongo made 35 saves for his 74th career shutout and the Florida Panthers blanked the San Jose Sharks 2-0 Thursday night on goals by Colton Sceviour and Nick Bjugstad.

Florida coach Bob Boughner won in his return to San Jose. He served as an assistant coach for the Sharks the last two years.

Luongo earned his first shutout of the season and first in 32 games against San Jose.

Martin Jones was nearly as good for the Sharks. He stopped 26 shots, but that wasn't enough to keep the Panthers from winning for the seventh time in their last eight trips to San Jose.

Sharks defenseman Tim Heed had a goal disallowed on a coach's challenge a little less than five minutes into the second period. Replays showed he came into contact with the puck just behind the blue line, making the play offside.

San Jose had another goal overturned after a replay review. Brent Burns took a hard shot that Luongo nearly caught but couldn't handle and it bounced along his pads. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was one of three Sharks trying to poke at the puck and he used his stick to push both the puck and Luongo's pad into the net.

Sceviour scored a minute into the second after digging out the puck along the boards behind the net. He skated around the cage and poked a shot that hit Jones' pads. He took a second shot that got over the goalie's pads and went in.

Sceviour has four points in six games since returning from injury. He had two points in his first six games this season.

The Panthers, who have won three of four, added an insurance goal with less than eight minutes remaining. Radim Vrbata intercepted a pass in the Sharks zone and played it to Jamie McGinn, who got Jones to commit before dishing to Bjugstad for the score.

NOTES: Panthers C Michael Haley received a warm ovation from Sharks fans. He played in San Jose the last couple of years. ... Sharks D Paul Martin missed his 15th game with a lower-body injury, though he has been skating pain-free for the past two weeks. ... Florida center Vincent Trocheck has 12 points in his last 10 games. ... The Sharks have not scored on their past 15 power plays.

UP NEXT

Panthers: At the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Sharks: Host the Boston Bruins on Saturday.