Analysis: Sharks lack of offseason change is perplexing

Analysis: Sharks lack of offseason change is perplexing

Here’s a prediction.

When the Sharks hold their media day in about two weeks on Sep. 15, also the first on-ice day of training camp, general manager Doug Wilson and head coach Pete DeBoer will both proclaim that the team is still in win-now mode and considers itself a Stanley Cup contender. There isn’t any rebuilding here, or, to borrow commonly used phrase by Wilson, a “reset/refresh” for a team that reached the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

And that’s what makes this offseason so perplexing. 

The Sharks lost a major offensive piece in Patrick Marleau, and to this point have made no notable trades or free agent acquisitions to try and bolster their roster, which continues to get older and seems to have some holes up front. Sure, they have a strong defense core led by Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and goalie Martin Jones is about as steady as they come, but they lack weapons at forward.

An offense that finished 10th out of 14 in the Western Conference in goals-per game has, on paper, only gotten worse since the team’s first round playoff exit in April.

We wrote here back in early July, after Marleau had signed with Toronto, that Wilson had made all the right moves to that point. Signing Vlasic and Jones to long-term extensions was a home run. Getting Joe Thornton to commit for another year was vital. Letting Marleau walk, rather than extending him a third year, was also the correct decision.

But after that, Wilson seems to have lost his phone in the sofa cushions. There was no big splash in free agency (the free agent market wasn’t overly stocked, but there were some players that might have helped). A big trade, perhaps one in which the Sharks could have surrendered some of their defensive depth for a scoring forward, never materialized.

One high-ranking member of another team recently told me that he “kept waiting for the other shoe to drop” when it came to the Sharks’ roster. That makes two of us.

To be fair, there is still time between now and the season opener against Philadelphia on Oct. 4. There’s even more time until the 2018 trade deadline, when contending teams frequently attempt to put the finishing touches on their roster in the hopes of a long playoff run. It’s easy to forget this time of year just how long the NHL season really is.

And what the Sharks do have is salary cap flexibility, something that they rarely enjoy. Barring any major moves before opening night, the team should have approximately $6.5 - $7 million in cap space. That could come in handy if they get off to a poor start and need to shake things up, or are seeking assets for a playoff push.

The message when camp begins, though, will be simple – the Sharks are counting on their younger players to step up and score goals. That includes Timo Meier, who I recently tabbed as the team’s biggest X-factor this season, and has a higher ceiling than any forward currently in the organization. Others like Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen, Barclay Goodrow and Danny O'Regan will get a chance to impress in camp, too.

But the underperforming Sharks from a season ago will also have to be better. Mikkel Boedker, Joonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl, in particular, were supposed to be the younger, improving players that gave the Sharks a deeper offensive attack than the season before. None of them met expectations in 2016-17 – in fact, they all regressed. Boedker and Donskoi were each healthy scratched for games in the first round against Edmonton, capping off poor campaigns for each, while Hertl dealt with yet another knee surgery.

It’s clear that the Sharks are banking on those players rebounding, with some added jam from the prospects. If they get both, they could still be a contending team. 

That’s quite a risk, though, and don’t be surprised if you see some preseason prognosticators leaving the Sharks out of the playoffs – like this recent offering from The Hockey News – as the Sharks compete in what should be a very difficult Pacific Division.

Joe Pavelski remains confident he'll be back with Sharks next season


Joe Pavelski remains confident he'll be back with Sharks next season

SAN JOSE – To say that Joe Pavelski was a key figure in the Sharks’ 2019 playoff run is probably an understatement. Through gruesome injuries and difficult odds, the captain’s presence proved to be something that fueled San Jose’s 20-game playoff ride.

After everything that happened, it's almost hard to fathom that he may not be a Shark next season. But Pavelski, who will become an unrestricted free agent this summer,  doesn’t seem too worried about that.

“I’ve got a pretty strong belief system that I’ll be back here,” Pavelski said last week when players met with the press one final time before the summer. “It’s just things have to work themselves out along the way.”

Throughout the regular season, there were questions as to why Pavelski and the Sharks hadn’t put together a deal to keep him in San Jose. Now the Sharks have several questions to answer with a handful of players hitting free agency at the same time, including Joe Thornton and Erik Karlsson in addition to Pavelski. 

“It’s nothing I’m too worried about,” Pavelski continued. “My mindset really doesn’t change. I know where I’m at as a player, and physically right now. So I’ll get a little rest. Need to have a good summer, it’s like anything, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming in. My mindset doesn’t really change. You go back and you try to add different layers throughout the summer and all to prepare you to have a good season and have a shot at the end.”

Despite the injuries he sustained late in the regular season and in the postseason, Pavelski enters the offseason having put an impressive 2018-19 campaign together. He tallied 38 goals in 75 regular season games, the most he’d scored since the 2015-16 season. (He scored 22 goals last season.) When asked about the uptick in his game, No. 8 contributed his success to his overall health heading into the season.

“Obviously every year is a little different,” he said. “But it was nice to see it happen again because the other years I had little injuries along the way that maybe didn’t allow me to do certain things, but there was never a thought that I couldn’t do that again or it was going the other way.”

When Pavelski did get injured over this season, it didn’t just impact his own game – it impacted the entire team. The Sharks went 1-5-1 at the end of the regular season when Pavelski missed seven games with a lower-body injury (a knee injury that was aggravated in Game 5 of the Western Conference final). His absence was felt again when he missed the first six games in the second round and San Jose needed another offensive weapon to battle the speedy and skilled Colorado Avalanche. Even with the depth the Sharks had on offense this past season, it was always apparent when Pavelski wasn’t out there.

There’s no denying it will be a big change if Pavelski ends up playing somewhere else next season after spending his entire career in teal. Now, it’s just a matter of what the Sharks are looking to do with multiple key players hitting free agency who are deserving of big contracts.

“It’s the nature of the business of a cap system,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson told the media. “When you want to have good hockey teams you have good players who have matriculated up and are going to get paid well, that’s the decisions you have to make. We’ll get to those things soon enough. I guess it’s a good problem and a bad problem. Good is you have good players who are going to get compensated well. You want players to want to be here.”

“I know I’m going to be playing hockey next year, hopefully it’s going to be here,” Pavelski said. “We love it here. I think something will happen, who really knows, but coming off a lot of emotions coming through the playoffs and that round, we’ll sit down and take a look at what will happen here. We’re going to be alright I think regardless.”

NHL free agency: Will Erik Karlsson's health affect Sharks signing him?

NHL free agency: Will Erik Karlsson's health affect Sharks signing him?

SAN JOSE – Ever since arriving in San Jose last September, Erik Karlsson’s tenure as a Shark has been riddled with questions.

Questions as to when he would get on the scoreboard when he started off the season pointless. Questions as to why he was participating in the NHL All-Star Game when he was too hurt to pencil into his team’s roster on a nightly basis. Questions as to whether the Sharks would sign him to a deal that would keep him in teal past the 2019 season – which became even more of a mystery when he tweeted out a message to Sharks fans, thanking them for the season.

The latter question will be answered in good time with San Jose’s postseason run over and free agency on the horizon. Now, come the questions as to how much Karlsson’s injuries from this past season play into what happens to him next.

“I’m still in the process of figuring all that out so I can’t really give you a straight answer,” Karlsson said during exit interviews when asked about his overall health. “It’s nothing major. It’s just going to take some time and figure everything out. It should be something that’s easy to deal with. That’s as much as I know.”

Karlsson missed 29 games over the regular season with a suspected groin injury, which first took him out of the Sharks’ lineup just before the All-Star break. Following his return in the final game of the regular season, the conversation continued into the playoffs regarding how healthy he really was.

While Karlsson appeared more and more healthy as the Sharks advanced through two rounds of the playoffs, he began to show signs he was ailing during the Western Conference final, and eventually missed Game 6.
The defenseman didn’t expand on the extent to which he was injured, only saying he was one of many Sharks’ skater who wasn’t playing at 100-percent.

“Everybody is dealing with something,” Karlsson insisted. “You have to play through things.” 

Karlsson also didn’t give any indication as to what kind of rehab process he will have to go through over the offseason, although he insisted his health wouldn't get in his way.

“All I know is it’s not going to be anything that will be a problem moving forward,” he said. “I’m going to be able to have a normal summer with training and everything and getting ready. That’s great.”

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson told the press he didn’t know yet if any injured players on the team would need surgery in the offseason, including Karlsson. When asked if Karlsson’s health played a factor in whether the team tried to sign him to a long-term deal, Wilson didn’t lean one way or the other.

“I’m still in the reflection mode of this year, just starting to meet with players, meet with coaches,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of guys who have contracts up, and out of respect to them, we don’t discuss that.”

[RELATED: Sharks emerge from playoff run with lengthy injury list]

Karlsson does appear interested, however, in testing out the market.

“I’ve worked hard for 10 years in this league to be in the position that I’m in. I’ve earned that,” he said of being an unrestricted free agent. “I’ll do everything I can to make the best decision for myself and for the team that is going to want me.”

How much his health plays into that decision, still remains to be seen.