Couture coming up huge for Sharks in Thornton's absence


Couture coming up huge for Sharks in Thornton's absence

For a brief moment Friday night, it seemed the Sharks starred in a poorly written sequel. 

Joe Thornton was already out with another knee injury, and Logan Couture had just left the game after taking another puck to the face. The sequel appeared to do nothing more than change the timing, as Couture was injured first last season, and in March as opposed to February. 

It wasn’t the most creative change, and follow-up films have been funded for far less. But then came the twist: Couture finished out the game, and the Sharks beat the Blue Jackets 3-1. 

He told reporters after the game he’ll probably need some follow-up dental work when the team returns to San Jose, but the Sharks otherwise dodged a major bullet. They can’t afford to lose Couture, especially in light of how well he’s played since Thornton’s injury.

In four games without Thornton, Couture leads the team with four goals, including the one he scored Friday. He’s second on the team in points (five) behind Kevin Labanc (six), and is averaging three shots on goal per game, up nearly two-fifths of a shot from his season average. 

Half of his shots (six) have come on the power play, as have half of his goals (two). He has twice as many power play shots as Brent Burns in nearly two fewer minutes of ice time over the last four games with an opponent in the penalty box.

With Couture leading the way, the Sharks have stayed red-hot with the extra man in Thornton’s absence, scoring on 36.4 percent of their opportunities. San Jose didn’t have the same success on the power play when Thornton missed the final three regular season games and the first two games of the playoffs.

Then, San Jose converted on just two of its 19 opportunities, including one of 12 in those aforementioned two games of their first round series against the Edmonton Oilers. Couture played in those games, full cage and all, but clearly wasn’t himself. 

It goes without saying that any team will falter without its top two centers, and the Sharks unsurprisingly did last season. Being down one, however, doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

Couture’s demonstrating why, even as San Jose doesn’t yet truly have the record to show for it. He’s not going to keep scoring on a third of his shots, as he has in Thornton’s absence, but he can ensure the Sharks are still threatening offensively. 

As long as he does, that sequel just might manage a few more surprises. 

Sharks re-sign Evander Kane to seven-year deal

Sharks re-sign Evander Kane to seven-year deal

The Sharks officially re-signed pending free agent Evander Kane to a seven-year contract extension on Thursday, the team announced.

"At only 26 years old, Evander has established himself as one of hockey's true power forwards and an impact player," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We think his abilities mesh perfectly with our group of skilled, young players and veteran leaders. It's extremely heartening to have Evander join a trend of elite players who have chosen to remain in San Jose. It speaks volumes as to how players view this organization and further illustrates the continued commitment to our fans by our owner Hasso Plattner." 

The deal reportedly carries a cap hit of $7 million annually, according to The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun and confirmed by CapFriendly, making Kane San Jose's highest-paid player. He's now the seventh player on the roster with some kind of no-trade clause in his contract, according to CapFriendly, and Kane's modified no-trade clause allows him to submit a list of three teams he can be traded to. 

Kane made an immediate impact upon his arrival in San Jose. He scored 14 points (nine points, five assists) in 17 regular season games with the Sharks, and scored an additional five (four goals, one assist) in nine playoff games during his first postseason appearance. Between Buffalo and San Jose, he scored 54 points (29 goals, 25 assists) in 78 regular season games, the second-highest and highest marks of his career, respectively.

He hit the 25-goal mark for the third consecutive season, which was a career-first, and his 53 five-on-five goals over the last three years are tied-for-13th among forwards, according to Corsica Hockey. Kane also generated qualtiy chances during that span, and his five-on-five expected goals rate (0.87 per hour) ranks 28th among all skaters that played at least 500 minutes in the last three seasons. 

The 26-year-old told The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz that he played through a separated shoulder and MCL injury in the playoffs. Before this year, Kane had never played more than 75 games in a season, and had reached the 70-game threshold four times in the first eight years of his career.

The Sharks acquired Kane at the trade deadline, trading forward Danny O’Regan, a conditional first-round pick in 2019, and a conditional mid-round pick in 2019 or 2020 to the Sabres. The former is now a first-round pick because Kane re-signed, while San Jose general manager Doug Wilson will have to decide next year if he wants to give up a fourth rounder in 2019 or a third rounder in 2020.

At the trade deadline, the Sharks were Kane’s only “legitimate” suitor, according to Sabres general manager Jason Botterill. That was, perhaps in part, because of Kane’s past.

He was accused of sexual assault in 2015, but ultimately did not face charges. Charges, including harassment, stemming from a separate incident in 2016 with two women and a bouncer at a Buffalo bar were eventually dismissed.

Additionally, Kane reportedly clashed with teammates in his previous stops in Winnipeg and in Buffalo. But, he “fit in well” in San Jose, Logan Couture told reporters (via AP) on May 8.

“Getting to know him over these last few months he’s a great teammate,” Couture said at the time. “He cares and he wants to win. He was fun to play with.”

Kane is now the third player Wilson has signed to contract lasting at least seven years during the last 18 months. Wilson locked up Brent Burns to an eight-year, $64 million extension in Nov. 2016, and Vlasic to an eight-year, $56 million extension last July. Prior to that, Milan Michalek’s 2007 contract extension was the only deal for six years or longer.

“That’s just the landscape of what’s taken place in this league in the last two [or] three years and how contracts are structured for high-end players.” Wilson told reporters when Vlasic re-signed last summer. “Whether you like it or not, that’s just the reality of it. [In order] to keep Brent Burns, or Marc-Edouard have to accept that and do what’s necessary in that framework.”

Although he was acquired at the deadline, Kane was eligible to sign an extension at the maximum length of eight years like Burns and Vlasic, as he was added to San Jose's reserve list in time, according to CapFriendly. Kane, Burns, Vlasic, and goaltender Martin Jones are the only San Jose players signed beyond 2020, and Vlasic's the only player signed past 2025. 

Couture and captain Joe Pavelski are among the players eligible to sign contract extensions as soon as July 1. Joe Thornton, Eric Fehr, Jannik Hansen, and Joel Ward are the team’s remaining unrestricted free agents this summer. Dylan DeMelo, Tomas Hertl, and Chris Tierney are likely due raises as the only pending restricted free agents in the organization.

Caps to play for the Cup after shutting out Tampa in Game 7 of East Finals


Caps to play for the Cup after shutting out Tampa in Game 7 of East Finals


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alex Ovechkin scored early and Andre Burakovsky added two second-period goals to help the Washington Capitals put a decade of playoff frustration behind them with a 4-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Wednesday night.

Braden Holtby stopped 29 shots for his second straight shutout and the Lightning, who led the NHL in goals during the regular season, failed to score in the last 159 minutes, 27 seconds - a stretch of nearly eight periods.

Ovechkin, who had never played a team that advanced beyond the second round, scored 1:02 into the winner-take-all showdown he had described as probably the "biggest game in my life."

Nicklas Backstrom had an empty-netter to complete the rout.

To earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, where they'll play the Vegas Golden Knights, the Capitals beat the top-seeded Lightning three times on the road, improving to 8-2 away from home this postseason.

It's Washington's first Cup Final appearance since 1998, and the first during Ovechkin's 13-year career.

Two games after being a healthy scratch for Game 5, Burakovsky became the 17th player to score a goal for Washington in the playoffs this year - four shy of the NHL record - when he beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on a breakaway at 8:59 of the second period.

The winger, who played two games in the first round against Columbus before sitting out 10 straight with an upper-body injury, added a breakaway goal to make it 3-0 heading into the last period.

Tampa Bay, which rebounded from losing the first two games at home to win straight three straight for a 3-2 series lead, had plenty of chances. A couple of shots clanged off the post, Yanni Gourde was unable to get his stick on a loose puck in front on an empty net and the game gradually slipped away.

It was the 33rd time in league history that a Game 7 was required to determine a Stanley Cup finalist. Home teams are 21-12 in those games.

Tampa Bay also played Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final in 2015, when they blanked the New York Rangers, and again two years ago, when they lost 2-1 to Pittsburgh.

Both of those deciding games were on the road. The Lightning had never lost a Game 7 at home before Wednesday night.

Notes: Ovechkin and Backstrom made their 11th career Game 7 appearance, one shy of Boston's Zdeno Chara for the most among active NHL players. In addition to Chara, only five other players in NHL history have appeared in more Game 7s: Patrick Roy (13), Scott Stevens (13), Glenn Anderson (12), Ken Daneyko (12) and Stephane Yelle (12). ... Evgeny Kuznetsov's assist on Ovechkin's early goal extended his points streak to 10 games. ... Vasilevskiy made 19 saves. The Lightning outshot the Capitals (29-23) for the first time in the series.