Sharks

Analysis: Are Sharks better or worse since the season ended?

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USATSI

Analysis: Are Sharks better or worse since the season ended?

SAN JOSE – As we wrote last week, in his effort to set up the Sharks for long-term success, Doug Wilson has made some admirable moves recently. Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, defensive stalwart Marc-Edouard Vlasic and franchise goalie Martin Jones will all be in San Jose for the foreseeable future with their respective contract extensions, and represent three pieces that a team can build around. 

The general manager also avoided the mistake of offering Patrick Marleau a third season, leaving the club valuable salary cap space that could be better utilized than for a declining forward that would have been 40 years old in 2019-20.

The more immediate concern, though, is this: Are the Sharks a better team now than they were when they shook hands with the Edmonton Oilers following a first round defeat in April?

Right now, there’s not much reason to believe that they are.

Even with Marleau’s departure, the Sharks will rely on some aging veterans. Joe Thornton, returning on a one-year, $8 million contract, just turned 38, while Joe Pavelski turned 33 on Tuesday. 

We’ve written here before that there’s reason to believe Thornton can be better than his seven-goal, 50-point season in 2016-17. The future Hall of Famer recently said that he’s been focusing on his legs this offseason, which surely means that he identified that as a problem area last season through what was a difficult schedule. As long as his knee is fully repaired – and he, his agent and Wilson have all emphatically stated he’ll be ready for the start of camp – Thornton could rebound from his lowest statistical output since 1998-99.

And, a better Thornton would mean a better Pavelski, too, as the captain saw his goal output drop from 38 in 2015-16 to 29 last season. Assuming those two stay on the same line, the Sharks will need more from both. The guess here is they'll get it.

The defense isn’t getting any younger, either, as each of the Sharks’ top four defenders is now over the age of 30 including Paul Martin (36), Burns (32), Vlasic (30) and Justin Braun (30). But Vlasic, Braun and Burns are each in the prime of their career, while Martin -- maybe the most underrated Sharks player last season -- was arguably better in 2016-17 than he was in his first year with the Sharks.

The defensive corps is one of the best in the NHL top to bottom, even with the departure of David Schlemko, who could best be described as a serviceable third pairing defenseman. He should be easy to replace, most likely with Dylan DeMelo. That group, along with the steady Jones, could be enough to keep the Sharks in the postseason.

Whether they are anything more than just a playoff bubble team, though, will depend on if they have the horses to generate enough offense, even if Thornton and Pavelski rebound. And that’s where the tremendous uncertainty lies with the current roster.

The left wing spot on the top line is a good place to start. After trying virtually everyone there last season, and even adding Jannik Hansen at the trade deadline with the thought of putting him there, coach Pete DeBoer never seemed to find the right kind of player to complement Thornton and Pavelski. Who is penciled in there now? That’s anyone’s guess.

A group of forwards that didn’t produce as expected last season, as has been well documented, remains. Mikkel Boedker was a bust culminating in his getting scratched in the playoffs, Joel Ward scored 11 fewer goals than the previous season, Joonas Donskoi disappointed with just 17 points in 61 games, Chris Tierney has yet to show he can score more than 20-or-so points in a full season, and the jury remains out as to whether Tomas Hertl should be a full-time center or is better off on the wing.

Marleau’s departure leaves a 27-goal void that won’t likely be filled by a single player. They’ll need more from most of the players mentioned above.

But the Sharks also need at least one, and probably several of their young players to step up and show they are NHL-caliber. Unlike this time last offseason there seems to be a real opportunity for guys like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen to jump in and prove they can play at a consistent level in the best league in the world. Perhaps other prospects with lower ceilings like Barclay Goodrow, Danny O’Regan or Rourke Chartier will surprise in camp.

Now is the time, though, the Sharks need to get more from their younger players than they've gotten in recent years thanks to some unfruitful drafts. There were some flashes last season, such as Labanc’s midseason success and Meier and Sorensen playing well in the playoffs against Edmonton, but none of the players in the system look like a sure thing. There's still a huge leap that has to be made from putting up points in the AHL, as all of those players can, and becoming an NHL regular.

If Wilson is betting on some of these prospects to emerge as legitimate scoring forwards for the Sharks, it’s a tremendous risk, especially in a division that’s getting younger, faster and better. Right now, it looks like that is a risk he’s willing to take.

After beating Vegas, Sharks can't suffer emotional letdown vs. Avalanche

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USATSI

After beating Vegas, Sharks can't suffer emotional letdown vs. Avalanche

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks and Avalanche enter their second-round series of the NHL playoffs on very different pages. San Jose will be just three days removed from their Game 7 overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights, while the Avs haven't played since booting the Calgary Flames from the playoffs on April 19. 

When asked if there was an advantage to not having time to get rusty, Sharks’ coach Peter DeBoer tried to suppress a laugh. 

“If you’re asking me if I’d rather have a week off, I’ll take the week off,” he told NBC Sports California with a smile.

Granted, San Jose is dealing with multiple injuries sustained during their contentious first-round bout with the Golden Knights. But more than anything, DeBoer wants his team to be able to keep their intensity high after a come-from-behind series win over Vegas. Extracurriculars, off-ice chatter, and back-to-back games going extra long can really zap the energy out of a team, and San Jose has to be ready to bounce back from that. 

“I’m more worried about our emotional level than our physical,” DeBoer admitted. “You’re fighting for your life for three games in a row, that taxes you emotionally. So we’ve got to get our emotional levels back up when we come out on the ice on Friday night.”

There is one advantage San Jose has over their next opponent, however: getting to start the series in their own building.

“It’s nice to not be traveling today to Colorado,” DeBoer said. “It’s nice, especially after a seven-game series, to not have to travel.”

Defenseman Brenden Dillon agreed. “I think any time you get to play at home and you don’t have to travel three or four hours, different time zones, it’s going to play to our advantage. Especially after a big series like that, a physical series where guys are banged up. Any time you’re able to sleep in your own bed I think is a positive.”

Dillon and the rest of the Sharks’ defensemen have a tall task ahead of them in shutting down Colorado’s speedy offense, which did quite a bit of damage against the Flames in their first-round series. Top-line center Nathan MacKinnon and second-line winger Mikko Rantanen led the charge with a combined 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) against Calgary, while Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar finished his first NHL playoff series with two points (one goal, one assist) and a plus-four. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Pavelski unlikely to play in Game 1 vs. Avs]

Much like shutting down Vegas’ Mark Stone line, San Jose will have to solve the MacKinnon combo if they’re going to be successful. 

“We’ve got to be aware of them,” DeBoer said, explaining that facing the Avs' offense in the playoffs will be different than facing them during the regular season. “The regular season you throw out the window this time of year. We watched them against Calgary and what they did to them against a really good d-corps. We know what we’re dealing with and that’s going to be the challenge of the series.”

Sharks' Joe Pavelski day-to-day but unlikely to play in Game 1 vs. Avalanche

Sharks' Joe Pavelski day-to-day but unlikely to play in Game 1 vs. Avalanche

SAN JOSE – Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer is classifying Joe Pavelski as day-to-day after the captain sustained a scary injury during San Jose's Game 7 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.

Pavelski left Game 7 at the 9:13 mark of the third period after getting cross-checked off a faceoff by Cody Eakin and falling to the ice and hitting his head. No. 8 was bleeding profusely and had to be helped off the ice by a few of his teammates with a towel being held to his head. DeBoer wouldn’t specify exactly what Pavelski’s ailment was, but said the top-line forward was “feeling the effects” of the injury and likely won’t be in the lineup for Game 1 of the Sharks' second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche.

“It could’ve been worse, you could’ve been dealing with a fractured skull,” DeBoer told the media after Thursday’s morning skate. “Thankfully, we weren’t.”

Pavelski did not take the ice for practice Thursday, although the press was told he was in the building.

Teammates Melker Karlsson and Tim Heed were also missing from practice Thursday morning. Joonas Donskoi, who missed Game 7 against the Knights with an unspecified injury, skated in a non-contact orange sweater early Thursday morning but left the ice before practice got underway. Micheal Haley returned to practice for the first time since sustaining an injury during Game 3 against the Knights.

When questioned about the status of players missing from practice, DeBoer chalked it up to the team being banged-up just like every other team still in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.

“Like anybody this time of year, we have a lot of game-time decisions,” DeBoer said.

[RELATED: NHL apologizes to Vegas for mistake on major penalty call]

The Sharks will open up their second-round series against the Avalanche at SAP Center on Friday.