Sharks

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

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AP

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

No one asked, but I’m going to begin this week’s mailbag with my prediction for the Stanley Cup Final – Preds in six. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to a few of your questions…

Most likely to be moved this off-season? (Nik @niknisj25)

If the Sharks do make a move – and I’ve argued here that I think it may be time for a shakeup – they’ll surely be looking for someone up front to boost the offense. In that case, they’d likely have to sacrifice a defenseman or two.

The Sharks defense is the strength of the organization at the moment, as they had one of the best one-through-seven groups in the NHL this season. But it’s also an expensive one. The Sharks have nearly $27 million committed to their top seven defensemen next season, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is due for a hefty raise beginning in 2018-19.

One name that could be intriguing to other teams is Justin Braun. The 30-year-old has been a part of the Sharks’ top shut down pair with Vlasic for several seasons now, and is signed for the next three years at a reasonable $3.8 million cap hit. The Sharks could potentially move him for offensive help, and slot in a guy like David Schlemko alongside Vlasic, while finally giving Dylan DeMelo a chance to play on a nightly basis on the third pair. A Vlasic-Schlemko pair could be more offensive than Vlasic-Braun, too, because as adept as they were at keeping the puck out of their own net, the Sharks didn’t get many goals from their defenders outside of Burns.

Of course, the upcoming expansion draft all but assures that nothing will happen until Las Vegas selects its team on June 21. If the Sharks lose a defenseman to the Golden Knights, they’ll be more reluctant to move another one. Still, with guys like Joakim Ryan, Tim Heed, Julius Bergman, Mirco Mueller and now Radim Simek in the pipeline, the club might be able to handle a couple departures.

How do we fix the power play next season? Bring in a coach that could help us? Change up the lines, or style of play? (adam smith @kickback408)

One thing that won’t be happening is a new coach, as Doug Wilson recently confirmed that Steve Spott would be back alongside Pete DeBoer. Bob Boughner could move on if he gets hired as a head coach elsewhere, but Boughner’s focus is the team’s defense and penalty kill.

Obviously, the future of the power play depends on who is on the roster, beginning with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both saw their power play production dip this season.

Thornton went from 29 power play points in 2015-16 to 19 this season (he had eight power play goals in 2015-16, and just one this season). Marleau saw a decline from 25 power play points in 2015-16 to 16 last season. Even if both return, it may be time to try other bodies on the top unit.

Do you see Meier, Labanc and/or Sorensen having a breakout season next year? Or anyone else on the Barracuda? (Colin Dunn @ColinDunnACA)

Someone better had, because this team needs to start getting younger, and soon. One of the bigger disappointments of the 2016-17 season is that none of them apparently showed the coaching staff that they were prepared to play on a nightly basis at the NHL level.

Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, I would surmise, are at the top of the depth chart as far as forwards go. Their line in the playoffs with center Chris Tierney was the Sharks’ best through the early part of the series with Edmonton. As for Kevin Labanc, I think he’s fallen a bit since he had a brief run of success for the Sharks in December.

While the Sharks did a good job stockpiling some young players through the 2013-15 drafts, they’ve traded away a number of picks in recent years. In last year’s draft they didn’t have a first or third round pick; this year they don’t have any picks in the second, third or fourth rounds; and in 2018 they are already without their second and third round picks. 

It’s great to accumulate young players, but at some point they have to break through. Now is the time.

Logan Couture is an under-the-radar MVP candidate

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USATSI

Logan Couture is an under-the-radar MVP candidate

After failing to score a point in the first three games of December, Sharks center Logan Couture has caught fire over the last two games. He’s scored four points since Thursday, three of which came in Saturday night’s blowout win over the Ottawa Senators.

There’s reason to believe his streak will reach a third game in Sunday night’s tilt with the Minnesota Wild: Couture’s scored 66 points in 84 career games on the second night of a back-to-back. That includes six in four such games this season, according to STATS.

San Jose has certainly needed that kind of form from Couture, who leads the team in goals (15) points (25), and game-winning goals (3). The 28-year-old has scored or assisted a third of the Sharks’ goals, putting a fifth of them in the back of the net himself.

It’s fairly easy to imagine where the Sharks would be without Couture. An already-anemic offense, the league’s third-worst, would still be sinking amidst the rising tide lifting all boats that is the NHL’s scoring boom.

San Jose, currently holding the third and final divisional playoff spot in the Pacific by a measly games-played tiebreaker, would not be anywhere close to postseason contention. Whether or not the Sharks, boasting one of the league’s thinnest farm systems, should welcome such a development is a discussion for another time.

Regardless, the Sharks’ season would be far uglier without him.

Couture likely doesn’t have the gaudy scoring totals to truly warrant a place in the Hart Trophy conversation. So far this season, however, few players have been more integral in their team’s success than him.

In addition to leading the the team in scoring, head coach Peter DeBoer’s relied upon Couture in every situation. He’s second among Sharks forwards in average total ice time, third among San Jose skaters in total power play ice time, and the third-most used forward on the penalty kill.

It’s unclear whether or not Couture can, or will, continue to shoulder this same offensive burden. His shooting percentage this season (21.7 percent) is likely unsustainable, nearly 10 points higher than his career average.

Yet, even as the Sharks appear to be rounding into form offensively, Couture’s largely driven the bus. San Jose’s scored 29 goals in their last nine games after scoring 46 in their first 19.

Couture’s still been responsible for 31 percent of the team’s goals over the last nine games, compared to about 35 percent in the first 19. That's a subtle decline, but an important one if the rest of the team can improve.

His scoring totals aren’t eye-popping compared to the league leaders, but Couture’s been as valuable for the Sharks as any player has for their team this season. If San Jose ultimately does make the postseason, it’ll be in no small part because of Couture’s early season efforts.

Sharks beat Senators in landslide

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AP

Sharks beat Senators in landslide

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Logan Couture had a goal and two assists to eclipse 400 career points, and Aaron Dell made 25 saves to hand Ottawa its third shutout over four games in the Sharks' 5-0 victory against the Senators on Saturday night.

Tomas HertlJoe PavelskiMarc-Edouard Vlasic and Melker Karlsson also scored as the Sharks picked up where they left off, earning a convincing win over a struggling team following a comeback victory from three goals down against Carolina on Thursday night.

The Senators took more than 12 minutes to get a shot on goal and were thoroughly outplayed during their 11th loss in 12 games. After showing some grit in an overtime loss at Los Angeles on Thursday, Ottawa reverted back to its poor form in back-to-back shutout losses against Winnipeg and Anaheim.

Craig Anderson made 45 saves in his seventh straight defeat but got little help from his teammates.

Dell was barely tested in the first two periods, and his second shutout of the season was preserved when Vlasic knocked a puck off the goal line during a power play in the third period.

The Sharks had broken the game open by then with two goals in the second. Vlasic beat Anderson from the point just seconds after a San Jose power play ended early in the period for his third of the season.

Joe Thornton and Pavelski then wore down Ottawa on a shift late in the period. Pavelski set up Karlsson, who was left alone in front for his fifth goal of the season to make it 3-0.

Pavelski and Hertl scored on power plays in the third. Couture assisted on both goals to give him 401 career points.

The Sharks got the first 10 shots on goal but were kept off the scoreboard thanks to a couple of big saves by Anderson. Pavelski hit the crossbar, too.

San Jose finally broke through shortly after Ottawa got its first shot when Couture beat Anderson between the pads off a give-and-go with Kevin Labanc for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.

NOTES: Ottawa's Ryan Dzingel fought Marcus Sorensen early in the third period. Alexandre Burrows was given a fighting major and game misconduct later in the period after going at Dylan DeMelo. ... Sharks D Paul Martin (ankle) was sent to the AHL on a conditioning assignment. Martin played Thursday in his first game since Oct. 7. ... San Jose D Tim Heed returned to the lineup after missing five games with an upper-body injury.

UP NEXT

Senators: Visit the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.

Sharks: Host the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night.