Sharks

Any time without Vlasic would represent a real test for the Sharks

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USATI

Any time without Vlasic would represent a real test for the Sharks

The San Jose Sharks sealed their first three-game winning streak with a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night. In the process, they still experienced their biggest loss of the season.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game just over a minute into the third period with an apparent head injury. Predators forward Ryan Johansen lined up Vlasic for a hit along the boards, and his elbow appeared to drive Vlasic’s head into the boards.

Head coach Peter DeBoer offered no update on Vlasic’s status after the game. Given Vlasic’s own injury history, and his importance to the team, the Sharks have plenty of reasons to be concerned.

Last season, Vlasic suffered multiple facial fractures after taking a puck to the face in a December 30 with over the Philadelphia Flyers. Vlasic missed the next four games, and was not the same player defensively after returning.

He scored 19 points in 40 games after the injury, compared to 9 in 35 before, but his puck possession numbers cratered upon his return. Last season was the first in Vlasic’s career where the Sharks attempted less shots than their opponents with the defenseman on the ice, according to Hockey Reference.

Since Vlasic appeared to suffer another injury to his head, the Sharks will need to be extra cautious working him back to health and towards a return to the lineup. His recovery is the most important priority, even as the Sharks will likely struggle in his absence.

Even though Vlasic failed to drive play in the same way he’s done in the past last season, his presence opens up opportunities for his fellow defensemen. This season, no Sharks blueliner has started a lower percentage of shifts in the offensive zone than Vlasic, per Natural Stat Trick.

With Vlasic and partner Justin Braun drawing the toughest assignments, Brent Burns and Tim Heed are freed up and able to create offensively while playing against more manageable competition. Vlasic’s potential absence, then, will fundamentally change how DeBoer utilizes his defense.

The Sharks could soon have reinforcements, as defenseman Paul Martin is practicing with the team and DeBoer told reporters after the game he’s “getting closer” to a return from injured reserve. His return will ensure something resembling normalcy on the blueline, as San Jose will still have three defenseman playing on their proper side.

Make no mistake, though: any time without Vlasic would represent a real test for the Sharks, who went just 2-4-1 without him last season. Any team is in trouble after losing a minutes-eating defenseman to injury, but the Sharks are especially dependent upon him.

Vlasic’s presence makes life easier for his teammates, and his absence will make things much harder as the team is beginning to hit its stride.

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

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USATSI

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

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USATSI

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.