Sharks

Erik Karlsson injury creates opportunity for Sharks' depth defensemen

Erik Karlsson injury creates opportunity for Sharks' depth defensemen

It would be difficult for the Sharks to find a positive in the wake of Erik Karlsson's season-ending broken thumb.

Their 2019-20 season was lost well before the two-time Norris Trophy joined the ranks of their walking wounded. San Jose faced an uphill climb -- we're talking a 90-degree incline -- to make the playoffs with the defenseman in the lineup down the stretch. Without him, Tomas Hertl (knee; out for the season) and Logan Couture (ankle; out indefinitely), the Sharks are certain to clean out their lockers soon after the April 4 regular-season finale. 

That doesn't mean the season is a lost cause for Karlsson's teammates, particularly those behind him on the defensive depth chart. 

"You're gonna see a situation where a lot of guys get to step up, and see what they can do and prove that they deserve to play in the NHL," former Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan said on Sharks Postgame Live after San Jose's 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. "Sometimes, it's [an] opportunity for other guys, but [it's] just an unfortunate circumstance. When it rains, it pours, and it seems like that's the way it's going for the Sharks right now."

The Sharks recalled Jacob Middleton from the AHL Barracuda before Saturday's game, but defenseman Tim Heed got the first look in Karlsson's absence. The Swedish defenseman skated 14:08, including 1:04 of power-play time. 

Heed had not played since Jan. 16, but was second among Sharks defensemen with two shots on goal Saturday. The 29-year-old seems poised for his longest look in the NHL since making his Sharks debut three seasons ago, and at an opportune time. He's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the summer, and he can use the stretch run to prove he's worthy of an NHL look -- whether in San Jose or elsewhere. 

Heed's fellow Swede, despite the injury, doesn't face nearly as much uncertainty. Karlsson is under contract through 2027 after signing a massive eight-year extension this offseason. The 29-year-old will have played in just 109 of a possible 164 regular-season games with the Sharks over his first two seasons in teal, as a groin injury hobbled him down the stretch last year, too.

[RELATED: Kane rips 'ridiculous' NHL Player Safety discipline record]

Karlsson previously sustained a lacerated left Achilles tendon in 2013 and underwent major ankle surgery in 2017. Another lower-body injury would've been much worse news for Karlsson and the Sharks, according to Hannan.

"And on a positive -- not knowing, of course, what the extent of that broken thumb is," Hannan said, "but it's not like it was the groin injury [again] for someone that relies so much on his skating, and his ability to evade checks and get away from people. So hopefully, this thumb injury is not that serious and he's able to just get that thing healed and be ready for the start of the season."

The Sharks will count on Karlsson to be at full strength this fall in order to ensure their playoff drought doesn't last longer than a season. His replacements, starting with Heed, will have plenty of motivation to make an impression in his absence. 

Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

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Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

Sharks captain Logan Couture thanked Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu for speaking out against racism in hockey, tweeting a note Saturday that said the sport and society "are only scraping the surface in what desperately needs fixing."

"Racism exists in society, it also exists in hockey," Couture wrote. "That's a fact. Growing up in this game is a privilege. [At times,] I think most of us have been at fault for turning a blind eye when it comes to racism. It cannot continue."

Kane later tweeted his appreciation of Couture's message.

Kane, who is black, has become increasingly vocal speaking out against racism within -- and beyond -- the sport in the past year. In September, Kane told TSN 1040 in Vancouver that hockey lagged behind other professional sports in diversity and addressing racism after fan told him to "stick to basketball" in an Instagram comment. Kane called a story in "The Players Tribune" earlier this month authored by Aliu, whose revelation that Bill Peters directed racial slurs towards him in the AHL led to the Calgary Flames firing their now-former coach late last year, a must-read for everyone involved in hockey.

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody Monday outraged Kane, tweeting that video of the incident made his "[f---ing] blood boil." Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, could be heard on video saying "I can't breathe" as former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck while three other officers at the scene looked on. Chauvin and the three officers were fired Tuesday, and Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

[RELATED: Kerr says he, white people have to do more to fight racism]

Kane said Friday in an interview on ESPN's "First Take" that white athletes couldn't leave speaking up against systematic racism to their black peers. While Kane felt supported by his teammates, he told "Writers Bloc" on CJCL in Toronto later that day that hockey's team-first culture often encourages silence on a wide range of issues in the sport and outside of it.

“Is it going to change? I hope," Kane said (H/T Sportsnet's Sonny Sachdeva). "I’m going to try to be a part of the solution and process in creating that change. But … when it comes to social injustices and racism in hockey, it requires change at the top. Because, you know, that’s the only way true change is going to take place. At the top. Because it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.

“And until things change at the top ... until they make the necessary change to condemn these sort of acts and mindsets … and really weed out that type of thought process, we’re going to be stuck in the same position we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often publicly comment, said in a rare statement Friday that the Sharks applauded Kane's "rational and thoughtful response to the terrible tragedy" of Floyd's death. Defenseman Mario Ferraro retweeted the statement, and Couture's note is the first tweeted by one of Kane's San Jose teammates in support.

Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality

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Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality

Sharks winger Evander Kane called on prominent white professional athletes to speak out against police brutality against African Americans.

Kane, who is black, joined ESPN's "First Take" on Friday morning to discuss George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this week. The 28-year-old Kane said it can't just fall on black athletes to lend their voices to causes of racial justice, and white players joining their black peers is "the only way" for professional athletes to truly affect change.

"We've been outraged for hundreds of years and nothing has changed," Kane said of black people speaking out against racism (H/T Fear the Fin's Sheng Peng). "It's time for guys like (Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback) Tom Brady and (Pittsburgh Penguins center) Sidney Crosby and those types of figures to speak up about what is right, and clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong. Because that's the only way we're gonna actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change, especially when you talk about systematic racism."

Bystanders in Minneapolis recorded video Monday of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, having a white police officer's knee pressed into his neck for nearly eight minutes as three other officers looked on. Floyd pleaded that he couldn't breathe, but state charging documents alleged that the officer, Derek Chauvin, continued to have his knee on Floyd's neck for almost three minutes after he became non-responsive. Chauvin and the three other officers were fired Tuesday, and he was arrested on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday.

Kane tweeted Tuesday night that the video of Floyd's death made his "[f--king] blood boil." He shared a petition Wednesday night calling for the four former officers to face charges.

The forward has been increasingly outspoken against racism in the last year, particularly in hockey. Kane is one of just 43 NHL players of color, according to WDET, and they account for fewer than 5 percent of the league. He said he hasn't seen "too many" hockey players discuss Floyd's death, but Kane feels supported by his teammates in speaking out.

"In terms of my teammates, they're incredibly supportive of me and what I stand for," Kane said. "I think hockey, unfortunately, has a different culture than some of the other sports in terms of speaking out and using your voice and speaking your mind. I think for me, I'm one of the anomalies when it comes to NHL players doing that. That's another part of the problem, guys being scared to really speak their mind and stand up for what is right."

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often address the media, shared his support of Kane in a rare statement Friday hours after Kane's appearance on "First Take."

"There is no room for racism in society," the statement read. "We applaud Evander for his thoughtful and rational response to the recent terrible tragedy. Events like this occur way too often. We all must find a way to do better."

Kane tweeted he was "proud to be part of" the Sharks in response.

[RELATED: Kap starts fund to pay lawyers for Minneapolis protesters]

Kane said sports have the inclusive potential to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds. In order to live up to it, Kane thinks athletes -- white and black -- need to pull in the same direction off the rink, field and court.

"[When] we talk about our own personal battles outside of sports, there's a lot of people that are silent on issues," he said. "They're important issues. They're issues that have been going on for hundreds of years, and we need that same type of team mentality to be brought to issues outside of our sport."