Sharks

Sharks, other clubs await Marleau decision

Sharks, other clubs await Marleau decision

On the morning of the second day of NHL free agency, Patrick Marleau is still without a hockey home.

He could remain in San Jose, but other clubs are said to be in hot pursuit. The Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs are all still interested in Marleau, but the 37-year-old veteran forward is surely reluctant to move on from the place he’s called home for the past 19 seasons.

Marleau was reported to have a two-year offer on the table from the Sharks on Friday, but according to one source, offers from the other clubs – particularly Toronto, from what I understand – are better than what the Sharks are offering. It’s highly likely that Marleau is weighing whether to take a better deal somewhere else and uproot his family (or commute back and forth to the Bay Area), or stay with San Jose on a lesser deal.

There is genuine uncertainty regarding Marleau from everyone I’ve talked to. No one seems to know what he’ll decide. He deserves some time to make up his mind, of course, but I would be surprised if it drags on much longer.

On a related note, I don’t expect the Sharks will announce the one-year contract for Joe Thornton until Marleau’s decision becomes public. I’ve seen some people worry that the Sharks haven't announced that deal yet – and, it’s true that he hadn't put pen to paper as of Saturday – but Thornton has committed to return to the Sharks on a one-year deal. Recall in 2014, when Thornton’s three-year extension was already done for some time but he waited for Marleau’s to be signed before the team officially announced it.

In other words, relax, Thornton supporters. Joe is back.

I do find it interesting that Thornton settled on a one-year deal, when I have to think there were multi-year offers on the table from other teams. One source on Friday said that the Sharks were offering Thornton a two-year deal so I would assume that the money was higher on a one-year deal than it would have been in a two-year offer (TSN’s Bob McKenzie expects Thornton’s salary for 2017-18 to be close to $6.5 million).

The one-year term also tells me that Thornton probably isn’t too concerned about that left knee operation he underwent just after the season ended. Doug Wilson has said multiple times that he expects Thornton to be ready by the start of training camp, and Thornton’s agent, John Thornton, has told me the same. 

I tend to think, too, that Thornton – despite turning 38 today – can put up better numbers than he did last season when he had seven goals and 43 assists. The short summer, World Cup and silly condensed NHL schedule all took their toll on him.

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.