Sharks

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Now that the dust has settled on the draft and free agency, here’s a meaty offseason Sharks mailbag before my vacation…

Who will replace Patty's leadership? (philip malan‏ @pmalan1979)

Patrick Marleau was a good example for other players in that he always came to camp in great shape and took care of himself between games, allowing him to be very productive into his later years. 

But let’s not overblow it. From what I understand, Marleau preferred to avoid confrontation, and was never the guy in the dressing room challenging other players to step up. That was left more to guys like Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, with Logan Couture growing into that role in recent years, too. When it comes to veteran leadership there are other guys still in the dressing room of more value than Marleau. His leaving town shouldn’t change the dynamic.

Will Thornton be bumped from the top line center role? Who do you think will replace Marleau on the PP? (Elle‏ @LikeShiningOil)

The whole “top line” designation is something that us writers and broadcasters like to use, and I’m going to keep using it for Thornton so long as he and Pavelski are on the same line. That said, there will be plenty of games where the Couture line gets more even-strength ice time than the Thornton line. I guess my point here is don’t read too much into the labels. I don’t expect Thornton’s ice time to go down from what it was last season. He’s averaged 18 minutes and change in each of the past five seasons, and probably will again.

As for replacing Marleau on the power play, I would tab Tomas Hertl as the frontrunner, but I’m sure the Sharks will try a number of different looks there in training camp. After finishing 25th in the NHL last season they pretty much have to, right?

How will the lines roll this season, if you were to prognosticate now? (Erik Kuhre @Puckguy14)

It seems like we say this every year, but it depends on where the Sharks see Hertl slotting in. Last season Hertl started out on the wing of the top line after offseason knee surgery before moving to center fairly quickly. I know he battled through yet another knee injury during the season, but Hertl’s 22 points in 49 games was a disappointing total.

If the season were starting today, I’d put Hertl on the wing of the Thornton line again with, of course, Pavelski on the other side. Here’s what I’ve got in that scenario:

Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Jannik Hansen – Chris Tierney – Mikkel Boedker
Melker Karlsson – Ryan Carpenter – Joel Ward

Extras: Marcus Sorensen, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow

(One guy who is really going to have to fight to keep his spot is Ward. I could see him getting pushed out, but for now I’m leaving him in).

Will there be a tough guy in the lineup to protect the kids? (Jim Kelley)

The Sharks signed free agent Brandon Bollig a couple weeks ago to replace Micheal Haley, but I don’t seem him as a regular in the NHL lineup. Bollig could be a guy they recall if they think it’s necessary to dress a pugilist, like when Pete DeBoer brought up Haley late in the 2015-16 season for the sole reason of fighting Darnell Nurse, who had jumped Sharks defenseman Roman Polak just two weeks earlier for no real reason.

Do you think Chris Tierney is capable of more point production at this point in his career? (Ian Stephenson)

Count me among those that thought Tierney was ready to have a better season last year after his strong performance in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Still, he’s just 23 years old, and his line in the series against Edmonton with Meier and Sorensen was a very effective one for long stretches of play. This is a huge year for Tierney, who had to settle for the Sharks’ one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer. Perform, and he’ll get paid. Struggle, and he could be on the move.

Do you think the Sharks will trade either Grosenick or Dell? Doesn't seem Grosenick has much more to prove in AHL. (Chris Greni)

No, they’ll hold on to all three for the time being. Getting Troy Grosenick re-signed to a one-year deal was a nice move on the Sharks’ part, considering Aaron Dell still has just 20 games of NHL experience. Perhaps if they both continue to play well the Sharks could dangle one as trade bait later in the year, but it wouldn’t make sense at this point. 

Any thoughts on DW using the offer sheet to bring in scoring help? There’s several serviceable RFAs out there still waiting for contracts. (Tony Martinico)

Keep in mind that some of those high end RFAs, like Colton Parayko, Nino Niederreiter and Tomas Tatar are currently headed for arbitration, which takes the offer sheet off the table.

Purely speculation here, but I have to wonder if the Sharks have at least kicked around trying to ink Leon Draisaitl to an offer sheet. You have to think Berlin native Hasso Plattner would love to add the “German Gretzky” to the roster. I know we're settling into the part of the NHL offseason where typically nothing happens, but it was July 19 when the Flyers signed Shea Weber to a monster offer sheet five years ago.

And, of course, Doug Wilson has used the power of the offer sheet in the past, signing Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2010 and then using the threat of an offer sheet with Boston to acquire Martin Jones.

Which Cuda player, aside from Meier, Labanc and Sorensen, would you expect to be a dark horse and could make the big team out of camp? (olin @sleepymofo)

Keep in mind that the sixth and defensemen spots are open, too. I would presume that Dylan DeMelo is the frontrunner to replace David Schlemko, but Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan are coming off of strong seasons in the AHL. Perhaps one of them overtakes DeMelo in training camp.

As for other forwards than those you mentioned, Goodrow could end challenging for a spot on the fourth line. I get plenty of questions about Danny O’Regan, too, and perhaps he makes a push. The issue with O’Regan is that although he’s a skilled player in the minors, he’s probably not quite skilled enough to make up for his small frame at the NHL level. I view him more as a fill-in guy.

Any word on [Barclay] Goodrow and [Marcus] Sorenson? I'm assuming they didn't sign their QO's? (DaveBPilot‏ @DaveBPilot)

Yes, that’s safe to assume, since the deadline was Saturday. They remain RFAs, and negotiations will surely continue.

Still, it’s worth mentioning what happened last year with Matt Nieto. The forward didn’t sign his qualifying offer, as he was pushing for a multi-year deal, and ended up signing for one year for less than he would have made had he accepted the original offer. He was waived and claimed by Colorado.

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speed kills, and it claimed another two victims in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. The "heavy" playing style that powered three combined championships in Southern California since 2007 was left in the dust by a pair of speedier division rivals, the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, en route to the only sweeps so far this postseason. 

San Jose learned this lesson firsthand. In a six-game series loss during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks could not keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins' team speed.

Pittsburgh deployed three, mobile defensive pairings and sprinkled speed on all four forward lines. San Jose, meanwhile, had a few fast forwards in the lineup and strong skaters among its top-four defensemen, but its speed was only a relative strength against teams in the Western Conference.

Following the loss in the Final, the Sharks have infused their lineup with speed and skating ability. Mikkel Boedker was signed the following summer, and Evander Kane was acquired at this year's trade deadline. Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Marcus Sorensen debuted last season. Dylan DeMelo, Tim Heed, and Joakim Ryan played extended NHL minutes this season, and there's nary a Roman Polak in sight. 

Take it all together, and San Jose played at a high pace this season. Using team-level shot-attempt rates as a proxy for pace of play, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic did with the graph shown below, the Sharks played at the league's third-highest pace this season. 

The Ducks were pretty far behind the Sharks on the season, at a rate of about five fewer shot attempts per hour. Keep in mind that data includes 67 games of Cam Fowler, one of Anaheim's best skaters on the blueline who missed the entirety of the first round with a shoulder injury. The Golden Knights don't rank as highly as one might expect, but still played at a faster pace than the Kings.

Vegas didn't have the same inciting incident as San Jose to fill its roster with strong skaters, considering the expansion team didn't play its first game until October. Instead, the Golden Knights saw the writing on the wall, and placed a premium on skating ability in the expansion draft, and in adding to their team afterward. 

"That was our basis for who we chose," Vegas pro scout Kelly Kisio told NBC Sports California in a February interview. "Guys that had hockey sense, and guys that could skate. If you have those guys, they will somehow make it happen."

43-goal scorer William Karlsson is a burner, and they acquired another one, Tomas Tatar, at the trade deadline. Blue-chip blueliners Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore were prized for their mobility well before landing in Sin City. Even bottom-six forwards like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and depth defensemen like Jon Merrill are good skaters. 

The disparity was clear in Vegas' first-round series with Los Angeles. Five-on-five, only three teams in the first round have accounted for a higher percentage of expected goals entering Friday (Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals) than the Golden Knights, according to Corsica Hockey. 

Neither Vegas nor San jose will enjoy gap in skating ability against one another, however, setting up a what should be a standout second-round matchup. The games will be fast, but the length of the first-ever playoff series between the two should be anything but. 

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

SAN JOSE -- Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer thought Tomas Hertl’s series-clinching goal on Wednesday, in the midst of the best season of his five-year NHL career, was a long time coming.

“He would’ve gotten to this level earlier than this year if he had been healthy,” DeBoer said after San Jose swept the Anaheim Ducks out of the first round with a 2-1 win in Game 4. “He’s had some really bad luck with some really bad injuries. He’s healthy and he’s playing at another level, and I still think he’s got another level he can get to, too.”

Hertl deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s point shot through Ducks goaltender John Gibson’s legs for the game-winner with 10:51 remaining in regulation, and just over a minute after Anaheim tied the game. As NBC Sports California statistician Darin Stephens noted, it was the Czech forward’s second career game-winning goal in the postseason.

Since entering the league in 2013-14, Hertl’s tied for 37th with 22 game-winning goals in the regular season and playoffs, according to STATS. Only Joe Pavelski (32) and Logan Couture (23) have more during that time, and Hertl’s played 85 fewer games than Pavelski, and 26 than Couture.

Were it not for recurring right knee issues that caused him to miss 45 games his rookie season, cut short his Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and forced him to miss another 33 last year, he’d almost certainly be higher on the list.

Five-on-five, only 11 players that played a minimum of 500 minutes have generated expected goals (xG), or shot attempts that account for quality, at a higher rate than Hertl (0.95 xG/60, according to Corsica Hockey) since he entered the league. If you include the postseason, he jumps into the top 10.

DeBoer’s right to think Hertl can reach another level, too. The 25-year-old’s 21 non-empty-net goals matched a career-high, no player underperformed their expected goals total across all situations more than Hertl, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic pointed out.

With health back on Hertl’s side, DeBoer doesn’t see this as the young forward finally maximizing his potential. Instead, the head coach thinks Hertl is just beginning to reach it.

“This wasn’t about anyone pushing him…[He’s] been healthy and he’s starting to find the level that he’s capable of being at, I think, for a long career.”