Sharks

The trade the Sharks and Coyotes should have made

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AP/USATSI

The trade the Sharks and Coyotes should have made

The San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes both had their CBA-mandated ‘bye week’ this past week, but the Desert Dogs were far busier during their time off.

On Thursday, the Coyotes acquired winger Richard Panik and defenseman Laurent Dauphin from Chicago. Leaving Arizona were 22-year-old forward Anthony Duclair, as well as minor-league defenseman minor league defenseman Adam Clendening.

Duclair’s departure from the Pacific division, not Panik’s presence in it, most affects the Sharks. That’s not because he’s been particularly successful against San Jose, since Duclair has not scored a single point in nine career games as a Sharks opponent.

Instead, San Jose should lament the Duclair deal as one they did not get done.

He would have fit well on a team desperately needing speed and youth as the league trends in each direction. San Jose will never be mistaken for the league’s fastest group, and they’re already the fifth-oldest, according to The Athletic.

Only Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier are younger than Duclair, who could have given the Sharks another (baby) face in their emerging youth movement. The same cannot be said of the other players San Jose’s been linked to.

Evander Kane, for example, is 26, and half-a-season away from unrestricted free agency. Meanwhile, Duclair will become a restricted free agent this summer, and is (at the earliest) three seasons away from becoming an unrestricted one.

That kind of cost certainty will become increasingly important to the Sharks, and soon. Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic will see their new deals kick in next season, while Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are eligible to sign new contract extensions.

Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney are restricted free agents this summer, while Labanc and Meier will need new deals after next season. San Jose should still have space to spend, but that’s a sizeable commitment as is.

In other words, a pending free agent like Kane will be hard to retain. Meanwhile, acquiring a player with term on their deal, such as Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman and Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, means the Sharks would not only give up more trade assets, but future flexibility.

For good reason, it didn’t take as much for Chicago to acquire Duclair as it would have to trade for those other players. He’s coming off of a 15-point season, and has only scored 20 goals once so far in his career.

Plus, there are concerns about what drove Duclair to request a trade in the first place. Duclair told Chicago reporters that he “felt like [he] needed a change of scenery” and that he “didn’t have the leash others had” in the desert.

Arizona general manager John Chayka, for his part, told AZ Central “the team wasn’t particularly happy with the player and the player wasn’t particularly happy with the team.” Given San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer’s shorter leash for young players at times, it’s fair to wonder how Duclair would have handled a similar situation with the Sharks.

But his upside is difficult to deny, and San Jose will be hard-pressed to find another available player at the trade deadline that young and that skilled. The Sharks could’ve used Duclair this season and beyond, but now will have to turn their attention to older, pricer options.

Sharks will have hands full with top Golden Knights line

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USATSI

Sharks will have hands full with top Golden Knights line

The Vegas Golden Knights are not a one-line team, but one line will worry the Sharks most in the second round. 

The top trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith was one of the league's best this season. Only Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen were on the ice for more five-on-five goals together in the regular season (47) than Vegas' first line (46), according to Corsica Hockey. In just under 700 five-on-five minutes together, they controlled 55.54 percent of the shot attempts, 56.55 percent of the shots, 56.41 percent of the expected goals, and two-thirds of the goals, outscoring opponents 46-23. 

They did so playing primarily against the team's top players. According to HockeyViz, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith spent an above-average amount of time matched with their opponent's top-four forwards and top-three defensemen. Per Corsica, no Vegas forwards faced competition that accounted for a higher percentage of their team's ice time, a higher percentage of shot attempts, or a higher percentage of expected goals in the regular season.

Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant continued to use them this way in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings. They were attached to the hips of Los Angeles' top line, playing nearly an hour of five-on-five time against Anze Kopitar alone, according to Natural Stat Trick. Kopitar's next-most common forward opponent, James Neal, played only 15 minutes against him five-on-five in the entire series. 

When the Sharks and Golden Knights face off in Sin City later this week, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith will undoubtedly see a lot of San Jose defensemen Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Gallant will likely primarily ice his first line against Peter DeBoer's top trio of Joonas Donskoi, Evander Kane, and Joe Pavelski, especially if recent history is any indication. Smith was injured the last time the teams played on March 31, but Marchessault and Karlsson played (at least) three more minutes against Donskoi, Kane, and Pavelski than any other San Jose forwards. 

It will be interesting if those same matchups are used when the series shifts to SAP Center for Games 3, 4, and possibly 6. On March 22, the last Sharks-Golden Knights game in San Jose, Mikkel Boedker, Logan Couture, and Tomas Hertl drew Marchessault and Karlsson (Smith was hurt then, too) most of the game. Boedker, Couture, and Hertl functioned as San Jose's shutdown line in the first round, playing most of their minutes against Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, who consistently remained on the Anaheim Ducks' top line.

No matter which Sharks line draws Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith, it will need to improve on its first-round performance. San Jose's top-six forwards, who spent most of their time against Anaheim's top-two lines, were the team's six-worst forwards in terms of five-on-five corsi-for percentage (none eclipsed 43 percent), and only Couture was not outshot, according to Corsica Hockey. None of them were outscored five-on-five, but that was largely owed to the team's strong finishing ability and the outstanding play of Martin Jones in net. 

Jones is a proven playoff performer, but the Sharks were unlikely to continue to score on nearly 12 percent of their five-on-five shots before factoring in the presence of Marc-Andre Fleury, the playoff leader in five-on-five save percentage, in the opposite crease. That's even less likely now. Plus, the Golden Knights are far more disciplined (plus-16 penalty differential in the regular season) than the Ducks (minus-60), so San Jose likely won't be able to mask any five-on-five mismatches with a strong power play.  

Thus, it'll go a long way for the Sharks if their top-six forwards keep pace with Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith. Getting the best of the matchup would go even further.  

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.