Sharks

Recapping the past few weeks of the Sharks offseason

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AP

Recapping the past few weeks of the Sharks offseason

Hockey fans in the Bay Area know by now that Joe Thornton is returning to the San Jose Sharks and Patrick Marleau is not. That was the headline news coming out of free agency shortly after the calendar flipped to July.

Of course, the dog days of the NHL offseason kick in after that, without much news between 4th of July weekend and the start of training camp in September. General managers, front office staffs and, most importantly, hockey writers all squeeze in some significant vacation time during that period.

Still, there are always items of interest that pop up from time to time, so let’s briefly recap the notable announcements the Sharks have made over that span and what they mean.

July 3: Sharks name Rob Zettler assistant coach

What it means: The Sharks were in need of a replacement for Bob Boughner, who left Pete DeBoer’s staff to join the Florida Panthers as their new head coach. Zettler, a former Sharks defenseman as well as an assistant coach under Ron Wilson, will oversee the defense and penalty kill, as Boughner did.

Zettler, of course, will work with Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns. Burns and Boughner had a special relationship, and Boughner told me at the NHL draft in Chicago how thrilled he was for Burns taking home the award as the league's top defenseman. Coaching Burns can be no easy task at times, so Zettler will likely have his hands full right away.

July 4: Sharks sign Brandon Bollig

What it means: From the NHL team’s perspective, probably not much, as Bollig is not expected to make the Sharks roster. Instead, he’ll bring some muscle to the AHL Barracuda. 

Still, don’t be shocked if he makes a handful of appearances in the big club’s lineup. Now that Michael Haley has moved on to Florida, Bollig could be an asset in a physical or nasty regular season matchup against a division rival like Los Angeles, Anaheim or Edmonton.

July 13: Sharks re-sign Chris Tierney to one-year deal

What it means: It was odd that the Sharks, according to a source, didn’t want to negotiate with Tierney after qualifying him as a free agent. The former second round pick got just a modest raise, and will be a restricted free agent again next summer.

The message, therefore, is clear: Tierney had better come to camp in tip-top shape, and ready to prove that he is deserving of a bigger role and a multi-year contract. If he struggles from the outset, he could end up getting pushed out of the lineup by someone like Ryan Carpenter.

July 18: Sharks re-sign Marcus Sorensen to two-year deal

What it means: Sorensen is in a great position to make the opening night roster, and should have some confidence from the way he performed in the first round against Edmonton. Training camp will dictate whether that happens, but I would surmise at this point he’s penciled into the opening night lineup. 

Is Sorensen ready to take the next step, or will be go backwards like Joonas Donskoi did last season?

July 19: Sharks to host prospect showcase

What it means: For the die-hards and us beat reporters, this sounds like a pretty cool event. The Sharks will host a three-team round robin tournament with prospects from the Avalanche, Coyotes and Ducks from Sept. 9-12, at Solar4America Ice at San Jose (a.k.a. Sharks Ice).

Yes, that means we’re exactly one month away from hockey. Rosters and information on how to attend will be announced closer to the event.

July 26: Sharks name Dave Barr assistant coach

What it means: This announcement was a bit of a surprise, as the Sharks brought in another body to serve on their coaching staff in the 56-year-old Barr. A former assistant with DeBoer in New Jersey, Barr will serve as the “eye-in-the-sky” for the club. Previously it was Johan Hedberg who did that, so I imagine Hedberg will now move behind the bench.

Barr, who has spent the last nine seasons coaching in the NHL with New Jersey, Buffalo, Minnesota, Colorado and most recently Florida, could also bring a different perspective to the power play. The Sharks finished 25th in the league on the power play last season, a number they will surely have to improve this season.

August 7 – Sharks re-sign Barclay Goodrow to two-year deal

What it means: Goodrow is a nice piece to keep in the system, as he’s a big body that has some skill. Whether his game can translate to the NHL full-time remains to be seen, but Goodrow nearly made the team out of camp last season before having a strong year with the Barracuda. 

Although he’s probably behind guys like Sorensen, Carpenter and Timo Meier on the depth chart, Goodrow will be a player to watch in training camp. He could push for a spot on the fourth line.

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.”