Sharks

Marleau wore 'out a few carpets' making decision to leave Sharks

Marleau wore 'out a few carpets' making decision to leave Sharks

Patrick Marleau’s decision to leave San Jose for Toronto was, naturally, an arduous one.

“I think I’ve worn out a few carpets pacing around the house trying to make this decision over the last couple days,” said Marleau, who signed a three-year, $18.75 million deal with the Maple Leafs on Sunday, ending his 19-year run in San Jose. 

“But, I’m extremely excited and happy to be a part of the Maple Leafs organization. It’s definitely an honor to be able to call myself a Maple Leaf, obviously being a Canadian-born player. This decision took me quite awhile to come to, but I’ve made it, and I’m happy with it. I can’t wait to get started.”

It’s certain that the Maple Leafs’ contract offer, which reportedly includes a full no-movement clause and is front-loaded with a salary of $8.5 million in the first season, was much better than what the Sharks were offering. The most recent report had a two-year contract offer from San Jose, and a source recently told NBC Sports California that other teams were willing to put significantly more money on the table than were the Sharks. The Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars were also thought to be in the running for Marleau’s services.

Toronto, though, won out. Head coach Mike Babcock has always been a Marleau fan, coaching the forward in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics as Team Canada captured back-to-back gold medals, and his presence behind the bench played a role.

“Having known [Babcock in the Olympics]…the work he’s done over his career speaks for itself,” Marleau said. “Knowing what he’s doing there with the team he has, and knowing what I can contribute, is extremely exciting for me.”
 
The Maple Leafs are among the league’s young teams on the rise, with Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews and forward Mitch Marner leading the way. They made the playoffs in 2016-17 for the first time in four seasons, losing to top-seeded Washington in the first round in a tightly contested six-game series in which five games went to overtime. 

Marleau, who is as durable a player as there is in the NHL and takes tremendous care of his body, will surely be counted on to show the youngsters how to act like a pro.

A reunion with the Sharks will come early, as Maple Leafs visit SAP Center on Oct. 30. San Jose appears at Air Canada Centre on Jan. 4, and Marleau and his family should be settled in by then.

Pondering that move across the continent is why Marleau’s decision dragged into the second day of NHL free agency, after most high profile players – including Joe Thornton, who has committed to return to the Sharks on a one-year deal – had made up their minds.

“The [Sharks] owners, Hasso Plattner and all the other owners here, the organization has been first class to me over the 19 years that I’ve been here. My wife and four boys, it was extremely tough to finally pull the trigger and have them move to a new country across, you know, from one coast to the other. 

“But everybody here in our house is extremely excited to be a part of the Maple Leafs and where they’re going. I’m ecstatic to be a part of that.”

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

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USATSI

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.

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.