Ask the experts: Sharks' aging core a concern?

Ask the experts: Sharks' aging core a concern?

An argument can be made that no NHL team that expects to compete for a Stanley Cup this season will rely more on older, aging players than the San Jose Sharks.

Their MVP from a season ago and number one center, Joe Thornton, is 37. Their leading goal scorer for the past three seasons, Joe Pavelski, is 32. Scoring wingers Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward are 37 and 35, respectively. Top four defenseman Paul Martin, so important to Brent Burns’ breakthrough year last season, is 35.

How much of a fear should that be in a league that seemingly keeps trending younger? There are differing opinions.

“I think that’s a legitimate concern,” said NBC NHL analyst Brian Boucher. “To ask these guys to play at a level that is extremely high is tough to ask. Whether they can stay healthy as you get older … the facts are sometimes you get beat up and you slow down a bit.”

Martin Biron, an NHL analyst for TSN, RDS and the NHL Network, was less concerned.

“The quality of players that the Sharks have, even though they’re older in their thirties or whatnot, doesn’t scare me much,” Biron said. “Now, will there be a time in January or February, especially with the guys that played in the World Cup that may feel that they’ve put a lot of miles on this year? Absolutely. But, I don’t think that these guys are going to fall behind that much. They may have to readjust a little bit, but that happens to almost everyone.”

With an aging team comes the need to infuse younger talent onto the roster, and the Sharks are attempting to do that while remaining competitive. Free agent addition Mikkel Boedker is 26 years old; rookie Timo Meier, 20, might have made the club out of training camp had he not gotten mono and could still join down the line; while 22-year-olds Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney are improving.

Even Logan Couture, 27, may still be getting better after he was arguably the most consistent player in the Sharks’ two-month playoff run.

“I was really impressed with the growth of a couple of the young players, especially Couture,” said NBC NHL analyst Keith Jones. “I think a lot of it is going to run through him.”

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Hertl’s role has been one of the ongoing storylines for several seasons now. Should he play center, where he began last season and stayed for the first half while Couture was hurt, or should he return to the top line with Thornton and Pavelski on one of the most productive lines in the NHL?

Coach Pete DeBoer will keep him on the top line for now, and our experts agreed that is the right thing to do.

“I would leave him where he is at now, and then when it’s time for Thornton to move on, you’ve got that option to slide him into center ice then as a more mature player,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of upside potential there, but there’s no need to play him at center just yet.”

Tierney’s growth has earned him the opportunity to center the third line, and Boucher was impressed from what he saw from the former second round pick in last year’s postseason.

“Chris Tierney, I feel like this guy could be a key cog,” Boucher said. “I think he’s a good player. If you look at his track record, his last year in junior was very good. I thought he made tremendous strides, and I thought he had a good playoff last year. 

“I think these young guys have to continue to develop and take on bigger roles.”

The bottom line is that the Sharks are still a team that’s built to win now. They will keep an eye on the future, of course, but after making it so far in the playoffs last season, the goal in 2016-17 is to finish the job.

“If I’m San Jose I’m not concerned about what’s happening in three or four years down the road,” Biron said. “I’m thinking that this year and next year is the time to keep pushing for results.”

NHL awards: Sharks' Brent Burns named 2019 Norris Trophy finalist

NHL awards: Sharks' Brent Burns named 2019 Norris Trophy finalist

The NHL confirmed Sunday what we've known pretty much all season: Brent Burns is a Norris Trophy finalist. The award is given annually to the defenseman voted to have demonstrated the greatest all-around ability at the position throughout the season.

The finalist designation comes as no surprise, after Burns -- who previously won the Norris for the first time in 2017 -- led all NHL defensemen in assists (67), points (83), game-winning goals (six) and shots on goal (300). He's the first defenseman in Sharks history with at least 60 assists in a season, and he ranked second among NHL defensemen in shorthanded points (five) and was seventh in average ice time (25:06).

Joining Burns as finalists are Calgary's Mark Giordano and Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman. Giordano finished second among NHL defensemen in scoring with 74 points (17 goals, 57 assists), and led all NHL players with a plus-39 rating. Hedman, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, tallied 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) for the Lightning, who led the NHL with a plus-98 goal differential. Both Calgary and Tampa Bay finished with the best records in their respective conferences.

The winner will be announced at the 2019 NHL Awards presented by Bridgestone at the Mandalay Bay Events Center sports and entertainment complex in Las Vegas on June 19.

Burns is already the only Norris Trophy winner in Sharks franchise history. A second award would be well-deserved, but surely is not at the forefront of his mind with San Jose's must-win Game 6 against the Vegas Golden Knights taking place later Sunday afternoon.

[RELATED: Sharks look to overcome past in do-or-die Game 6 in Vegas]

Joining Burns in Vegas for the 2019 NHL Awards will be fellow Sharks Joe Thornton and Brenden Dillon. Thornton is nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the player who, "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey." Dillon, meanwhile, has been nominated for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given to the player who, "best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community."

Sharks vs. Golden Knights watch guide: Do-or-die Game 6 for San Jose

Sharks vs. Golden Knights watch guide: Do-or-die Game 6 for San Jose

The San Jose Sharks staved off elimination Thursday night. Now they have another opportunity to keep their second season going Sunday, but it will be no easy feat as their Stanley Cup playoff first-round series with the Golden Knights returns to Las Vegas for Game 6.

Team Teal put on a magnificent performance in Game 5, holding off the rival Knights and pulling out a 5-2 victory. Tomas Hertl found the back of the net twice, Barclay Goodrow scored his first playoff goal, and Martin Jones turned away 30 of 32 shots as San Jose forced the series to go to a sixth game.

San Jose has lost the previous two games of the series in Las Vegas, getting outscored by the Golden Knights 11-3. According to StatsPass, the Sharks are 12-23-0 all time in playoff games played Sunday.

Here are the teams' projected lines and defensive pairings for Game 6:

Sharks projected lines and pairs

Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Joe Pavelski
Evander Kane – Tomas Hertl – Gustav Nyquist
Marcus Sorensen – Joe Thornton – Kevin Labanc
Joonas Donskoi – Barclay Goodrow – Melker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Erik Karlsson
Joakim Ryan – Justin Braun

Martin Jones – projected starter
Aaron Dell

[RELATED: Sharks' fourth line must keep rolling]

Golden Knights projected lines and pairs

Jonathan Marchessault – William Karlsson – Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty – Paul Stastny – Mark Stone
Tomas Nosek – Cody Eakin – Alex Tuch
Will Carrier – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Ryan Reaves

Nate Schmidt – Deryk Engelland
Brayden McNabb – Shea Theodore
Jon Merrill – Colin Miller

Marc-Andre Fleury – projected starter
Malcom Subban