Sharks

Analysis: Quiet but effective trade deadline for Sharks

Analysis: Quiet but effective trade deadline for Sharks

SAN JOSE - Other than a maybe a handful of players, there probably wasn’t too much apprehension in the Sharks’ dressing room in the days and weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday. The team has a comfortable lead in the Pacific Division, is a lock to make the playoffs again, and is, of course, coming off its first-ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final last June. The core has shown it can make a deep run.

There were not going to be any drastic overhauls of the roster, considering, too, that the team prides itself on having a tightly knit dressing room.

Still, the biggest hole – which we mentioned here a few times leading up to Wednesday’s deadline – was at the wing position. Yes, the Sharks have some depth there in the system, and a few young players like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier that could arrive shortly on a full-time basis. But for a team that has Stanley Cup aspirations again, it would have been a risk going into the postseason with that kind of inexperience in the top six, or even the top nine.

Just how Pete DeBoer utilizes new acquisition Jannik Hansen remains to be seen, but the guess here is he’ll be the latest player to get a chance on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Last season, that line, with Tomas Hertl on the left wing, was the Sharks’ most consistent throughout the playoffs. This season, with Hertl likely to be the third line center, they needed another body since no one's locked it down yet.

Labanc has done some good things there, including Tuesday against Toronto when he was among the Sharks’ more effective players. But he’s still on the small side, hasn’t scored in 23 games, and it’s questionable whether he can hold up during the rigors of a March schedule that will see the Sharks play 16 games, or a physical playoff series against a heavier team like Anaheim or St. Louis.

Meier isn’t even on the team right now, remaining with the Barracuda. Although he oozes talent and has good size, one scout recently told me that he needs a little bit of work on his hockey sense at the pro level.

The addition of Hansen increases that tool that coaches love – internal competition for playing time. While that’s been palpable since the start of the season, with Hansen’s arrival and Joonas Donskoi nearing a return, it’s about to be ramped up even more in the final 20 games.

“Our goal was to acquire depth, and good depth, and then have competition up here to play every night,” DeBoer said. “That’s my goal, it’s not to put guys down in the minors and get more games. Everybody that’s here right now I think looks like NHL players, to me. If they end up falling out the bottom and going down there, that’s the last resort, but I think the goal of putting this group together was to create a lot of depth and competition and see what happens.”

Doug Wilson simply wants the Sharks’ young players to “continue to grow their game,” and didn’t shoot down the possibility that guys like Labanc and Meier could spend more time now in the AHL with the addition of Hansen.

“You see when Labanc went down and got some games under his belt he came back rejuvenated. Same thing with Timo,” Wilson said. 

“We have a lot of ingredients that Pete can draw upon on a daily basis. Ultimately we have a lot of depth and a lot of options, which is competition. … We’re trying to build this in a way that allows us to go a long, long way. We’re going to need 30 players. The young guys, we need them on top of their game so they can give us a boost.”

Considering the schedule, and the fact that the Barracuda are in the same building, it should allow the Sharks’ young players – including Marcus Sorensen, who is currently on recall and was effective against the Maple Leafs – to get some valuable practice time on the AHL side while the NHL team will likely opt mostly for days off between games. That luxury for the organization should make the young guys much more ready for possible NHL playoff action than if they were forced into the Sharks’ lineup on a nightly basis, as Wilson indicated.

* * *

The development and potential of guys like Labanc, Meier, Sorensen and Danny O’Regan are what made former first-round pick Nikolay Goldobin expendable. 

Goldobin could end up becoming an NHL regular at some point, but he wasn’t a fit in San Jose anymore. His two-game stint earlier this month did nothing to change his position within the organization. Frankly, it’s a wonder what Vancouver saw during that showcase that made him a target of theirs.

The 21-year-old is simply not NHL ready, and the Sharks are a team pushing for a Stanley Cup. There was no reason to believe that if they needed him at some point in the playoffs that he was going to be able to handle it. Dealing him for a feisty, gritty player that can contribute now was a no-brainer, as far as I'm concerned.

Wilson acknowledged Goldobin’s potential on Wednesday, saying he’s “a good kid who we think will have a heck of a career,” but also indicated that he wasn’t an option for the current group, either.

“The roles that we were looking to fill, maybe he wasn’t the perfect match at this time,” Wilson said. “He’ll go into Vancouver, he’ll pay a lot and do really well. We want him to do well.”

* * *

In goal, it became more and more evident with every passing day that the Sharks weren’t likely to replace Aaron Dell as the backup. Although they acquired James Reimer last season, allowing Martin Jones added rest for the playoffs, there are too many differences between this season and last that a comparison is misguided.

Last season’s original backup, Alex Stalock, was having a disastrous campaign. He didn’t look like an NHL goaltender anymore. 

Jones, while having a decent season as a first-year number one, was an unknown as far as the playoffs. Now, the Sharks know he can steal games when they are most important. 

Dell is signed through next season, too, so they can expose him for the expansion draft while protecting Jones.

In danger of overworking Jones, DeBoer should give Dell more starts down the stretch, and hinted on Wednesday that he will. Based on the way Dell has played that shouldn’t be an issue, although I’d like to see Dell get at least one or two games against higher quality teams than he’s faced so far. Now that he’s here to stay, give him more experience in case he actually is needed.

Erik Karlsson: New Sharks defenseman explained in four key stats

Erik Karlsson: New Sharks defenseman explained in four key stats

The moment has arrived. After almost a week of waiting, Wednesday marks the beginning of defenseman Erik Karlsson’s time with the Sharks.  

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has made it clear he wants to lock up the Swedish superstar for a long time, and the Sharks have emerged as one of the league’s most intriguing teams after acquiring the two-time Norris Trophy winner. 

So what, exactly, is all the hubbub about? Here a four stats and figures that describe just what kind of player he is. 

96

Since entering the league in 2009, that’s how many more points Karlsson has scored than the next closest defenseman, Florida Panthers blueliner Keith Yandle. In fact, Karlsson’s 518 points through his first nine NHL seasons are more than all but 10 defensemen in league history. One of those 10? Doug Wilson.

That’s impressive, regardless of context, but it’s worth remembering that Karlsson plays in a much different era than those ahead of him. Goaltending is better right now than it’s ever been, indicated by the fact that each of Karlsson’s nine NHL seasons rank in the top-12 by average save percentage. When you adjust for era, the start of Karlsson’s career is even more impressive.

Among defensemen in their first nine seasons, Karlsson ranks fifth in Hockey Reference’s adjusted points (576). He’s third in adjusted assists (431), only behind Bobby Orr (593) and Paul Coffey (477). In other words: Karlsson is a generational offensive talent. 

114

There is, perhaps, no better number to encapsulate Karlsson’s unique combination of vision and playmaking ability. 114 is approximately how many feet this saucer pass traveled off of Karlsson’s stick and into the path of a wide-open Mike Hoffman during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

That was the last time Karlsson and the Senators made the playoffs, finishing a double-overtime goal away from facing the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final. Playing on an ankle that ultimately required offseason surgery, Karlsson led Ottawa with 18 points in 19 games, 13 of which came at even strength.

After a disastrous season, both Hoffman and Karlsson are no longer in Ottawa. The Sharks briefly acquired Hoffman this summer, and flipped him to the Florida Panthers hours later. The trades came days after the Ottawa Citizen reported that Karlsson’s wife, Melinda, filed an order of protection after Hoffman’s fiancee allegedly harassed her repeatedly online. 

Plus-4.35 

243 defenseman have logged 3000, five-on-five minutes since the start of the 2009-10 season. Of that group, only five players have posted a better adjusted corsi-for percentage relative to their teammates than Karlsson’s mark of plus-4.35, according to Corsica Hockey.

What does that mean? When Karlsson was on the ice, the Senators attempted 52.05 percent of the shots. When his teammates were on the ice without him, that number fell to 48.7 percent. 4.35, then, is the difference in those percentages, and its positive value means his teammates attempted a smaller share of shots when they weren't playing with him.

The gap was especially stark in Karlsson’s last season in the Canadian capital. Last season, Ottawa just about broke even with him on the ice, and attempted 49.68 percent of the shots. Meanwhile, the Senators attempted only 44.9 percent of the shots without him. That latter mark would have been dead-last out of 31 teams in the league last year. 

33.98

Sharks defenseman Brent Burns is also a Norris Trophy winner (2017), and since the bearded blueliner moved back to the position in 2014-15, only Karlsson (281) has scored more points (278). This number equals their combined shot attempts per hour of five-on-five play over that span. 

Burns ranks first (20.06) by the metric among defenseman (min. 1000 minutes) during that time, while Karlsson (13.86) ranks sixth, per Corsica Hockey. No two defenseman on the same team (as of this writing) eclipse that combined total. 

The Sharks, for reference, attempted 58.49 five-on-five shots per hour over the last four seasons. Plugging in Karlsson doesn’t mean San Jose will attempt nearly 14 more shots per 60 minutes, but it does mean they’ll be able to rely on the two blueliners to put a lot of pucks on net this season.

On Wednesday, be sure to watch Erik Karlsson’s first practice with the Sharks at approximately 10:30 a.m., streaming live at facebook.com/nbcsauthentic. At 3 p.m., tune into Karlsson’s introductory press conference on NBC Sports California and also streaming live at facebook.com/nbcsauthentic.

Top Sharks prospect Merkley soaking in lessons, warm weather in first training camp

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USATI

Top Sharks prospect Merkley soaking in lessons, warm weather in first training camp

Out of his pads, Sharks prospect Ryan Merkley looked like someone who just turned 18. 

Well, that’s because he did. 

The right-shooting defenseman became old enough to buy a lottery ticket on Aug. 14, 53 days after San Jose selected him in the first round, No. 21 overall, at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas. The Sharks list Merkley as 5-foot-11, 170 pounds on their training camp roster. Naturally, one difference between junior hockey and the pros stood out to the teenager. 

“The strength. These guys are a lot bigger, stronger, quicker,” Merkley said Monday after the Sharks’ second scrimmage of camp. “[Monday was], what, my fourth practice with these guys who have been doing it for years. The way they move and pass the puck and work the corners is pretty unreal.”

In his pads, he’s looked like a teenager at times, too. Late in Monday’s scrimmage, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns pounced on Merkley’s errant clearing attempt from the right corner of the defensive zone, and wristed a shot just under the crossbar. Merkley also got caught up the ice at times as well, ensuring an odd-man rush the other way.

But the talent was on display, too. More often than not, the defenseman jumped into the play at the right time. He learned from his mistakes, too: At one point after the aforementioned odd-man rush, Merkley hustled back to deny forward prospect Ivan Chekhovich on a breakaway, preventing the winger from getting a clean look at the net. 

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said that’s just part of the development process. 

“It’s about him getting used to the speed, and the time, and that not ever play has to be a great play,” DeBoer said Monday. “But that’s part of being a young defenseman, and I really like what I’ve seen so far out of him.”

Merkley could get another taste of that speed on Tuesday, in the Sharks’ preseason opener at SAP Center against the Anaheim Ducks. Early preseason games don’t feature the full cadre of NHL regulars, but the vast majority of Anaheim’s traveling roster for the game played professionally at one level or another last season.

Even for a player of Merkley’s pedigree, that’s a step up. He has spent the last two seasons with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), one of the top-three major junior leagues in Canada. He scored 67 points in 63 games last year, the third-highest total among OHL defensemen. It was also the highest mark of any under-18 blueliner by 22 points. 

Guelph is likely where he will return soon, as he continues to develop on and off the ice. His talent was never in question, but the talented defenseman slipped to the back-end of the first round, at least in part, due to perceived maturity issues. 

He was benched in his first OHL season following an argument with his coach, and he was suspended three games last season for a retaliatory slash in a game against the North Bay Battalion. That didn’t deter the Sharks from selecting Merkley, who was also one of the youngest draft-eligible players. 

San Jose has time to be patient. After the acquisition of two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, the Sharks aren’t hurting for depth down the right side. For now, the focus lies on ensuring Merkley soaks everything in before returning to Guelph.  

“We had [Merkley] stay with [Burns during July’s rookie camp], and he couldn’t believe it,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “[Seeing] everything he eats, how he trains. For an 18-year-old kid to see a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman and that’s what he does? You go back to junior and remember what you just learned.”

Merkley said he’s spent most of camp observing how the Sharks veterans train and practice. If he ultimately suits up Tuesday against the Ducks, he’ll get a chance to show what he’s learned in a professional game. 

The 18-year-old could get used to playing in the cities of the Pacific Division. He said he was hoping to play somewhere warm when he entered the draft, and that he’s enjoyed his time in San Jose so far.

Will that make another winter in Ontario harder to deal with?

“I could leave that behind for sure,” he said with a laugh. 

If all goes as planned, Merkley may get to spend a winter in California soon enough.