After sweeping Ducks, Sharks now become the designated Other Team vs Vegas

After sweeping Ducks, Sharks now become the designated Other Team vs Vegas

The San Jose Sharks don’t typically have series go this easily or cleanly, so the benefit of sweeping the Anaheim Ducks with Thursday’s 2-1 win is not immediately evident to the outside world.

After all, they’re probably still trying to figure out where all the expected grind of this series went. This series was supposed to be a difficult and extended slog, and instead it was by far the least difficult series of the eight this year, and the second least difficult in club history. And Thursday’s game was the most competitive but least interesting of the four.

But now that they are the designated Other Team against the Vegas Golden Knights, they will have a week to consider the difficulties both emotionally and physically of not only playing the concept but also the reality of Vegas.

Emotionally, because the Knights will be America’s darlings.

“I haven’t dove into them enough,” head coach Peter DeBoer said, fibbing at least a bit. “We’ll be heavy, heavy underdogs, and I hope you guys will write that.”

And physically, because the Knights and Sharks are far more similar than one would think at first glance. They are both devoted four-line teams (San Jose got five of their 16 goals from their fourth line in this series, a departure from their historical over-reliance on two lines and hope-for-the-best), they use speed as a prime instrument (although San Jose’s approach could change some if Joe Thornton returns), their defense corps are deep without being spectacular, and their goaltenders (Martin Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury) are equally responsive in times of high stress situations.

Plus, they are coming into this series, that will start no sooner than next Wednesday, coming off easier-than-expected series wins against slower and older teams (the Knights swept Los Angeles in similar fashion, though each game ended with a one-goal margin) that failed in their attempts to use brawn and chippiness to derail faster and more disciplined ones. The adjustments from the series just ended to the one about to start will be considerable.

In short, this series will show which team is better at doing the very same things the very same way as their opponents. There will be no clash of styles, no generational tactical differences, no brain-vs.-brawn matchups. It could well be called Sharks-v.-Sharks, or Knights-v.-Knights.

Except that Vegas is just the exciting new thing on the menu, trying to do one more thing no other team has ever done before, while San Jose will be attacking this problem again, and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again.

If you can quantify that difference, then you’re better at this than most.

Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal


Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal

Just two days before one was scheduled, the Sharks avoided an arbitration hearing with center Chris Tierney, and re-signed the restricted free agent to a two-year deal on Wednesday, the team announced. The deal is reportedly worth just shy of $2.94 million annually, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

"Chris had his best season as a professional last year and stepped up his level of play in multiple areas," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We've always known he was a responsible, defensive-minded player, but he took his offensive game to the next tier and showed that he can be a productive player in all three zones. We look forward to watching him continue his evolution in 2018-19." 

Last season, the 24-year-old Tierney set career-highs in goals (17), assists (23), points (40), shots on goal (118), and ice time (16:00). Tierney also generated expected goals at the highest rate of his career (0.62 per hour), according to Corsica Hockey. 

A 2012 second-round pick, Tierney entered last season in an uncertain place. He signed his one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer last summer, and head coach Peter DeBoer challenged him to improve. 

“I came into the year wanting to prove a point. I believe in myself. I think I’m a good hockey player,” Tierney told the San Jose Mercury News in December. “I wanted to come in and show people that I could play an offensive role on the team.”  

DeBoer used Tierney slightly differently this season, as the forward started a career-high percentage of five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone (31.12 percent) and a career-low percentage of defensive zone starts (29.68 percent), per Corsica Hockey. Tierney responded in kind with his aforementioned career-best offensive numbers, and seized the third-line center role after versatile forward Tomas Hertl stayed on the wing.  

With Tierney back in the fold, the Sharks now have just under $4.4 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly. That’s for a roster carrying 14 forwards, seven defenseman, and two goaltenders, and San Jose’s actual cap space may change depending on the outcome of various positional battles in training camp. 

This summer, Tierney became the fourth Sharks player since 2008 to file for arbitration. In every case, including with Tierney on Wednesday, a settlement was reached prior to a hearing. 

The Sharks also signed a pair of prospects to entry-level contracts on Wednesday. Defenseman Ryan Merkley, San Jose’s first-round pick this June, and 21-year-old forward Alexander True, who scored 28 points in 68 games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda last season, both inked deals with the organization.

Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double


Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones won't just enter the season with a different paycheck, the result of entering the first year of a five-year, $34.5 million contract extension that he signed last July. He'll also have a new mask.

Toronto-based artist Steve Nash unveiled a look at Jones' mask design for the upcoming season Monday morning on Twitter. The design again features San Jose's secondary logo but with some subtle differences.

Eagle-eyed mask afficionados will notice a couple of tweaks. First, there now are two sharks on the side, compared to only one last season. Those sharks boast orange eyes seen on the back of his mask last season

For comparison, here's a look at Jones' mask from last year.

The 28-year-old netminder is entering his fourth season in San Jose's crease. Jones posted a .915 save percentage in 60 regular-season starts and followed that with a .928 in 10 postseason starts as the Sharks advanced to the second round. 

We'll get our best look at Jones' new mask in action when training camp opens in mid-September, and, assuming he plays, in a game as soon as the Sept. 18 preseason opener against the Ducks.