Sharks

Joel Ward hopes to become Sharks coach after announcing NHL retirement

Joel Ward hopes to become Sharks coach after announcing NHL retirement

Outside of Barclay Goodrow and Joonas Donskoi, Joel Ward arguably is responsible for the biggest goals in Sharks franchise history. Whereas Donskoi's earned San Jose its first-ever win in a Stanley Cup final game, Ward got the team there to begin with.

His two goals in Game 6 of the 2015-16 Western Conference final extended what was an early Sharks lead into a three-goal cushion, the second of which proved to be the game-winner and series-clincher in a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues. A team that had time and again suffered disheartening postseason exits finally, at last, sat atop the Western Conference.

Sadly, the Sharks couldn't check off the last box on their playoff list -- one that still remains unchecked today. Donskoi provided the overtime heroics in Game 3 of the Final, but San Jose ultimately was vanquished by the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. 

That was the first of three seasons Ward spent with the Sharks, as he became a fan favorite due to his gritty style and penchant for the clutch. He last appeared in 52 games with San Jose during the 2017-18 season, and the 11-year veteran officially announced his retirement from the NHL on Monday.

"I loved it," Ward said of his career on a conference call with reporters Monday. "The game treated me so well, and I'm at peace with everything. I got to play a few hockey games, which was great, more than I could even imagine I'd be playing. It feels great to have it out there and everybody knows."

Ward totaled 133 goals and 171 assists across 726 career regular-season games, and he added another 22 goals and 30 helpers in 83 playoff contests. After going undrafted, he broke into the NHL with the Minnesota Wild before playing for the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and, finally, the Sharks.

San Jose -- where he still resides -- holds a special place in his heart and although his playing days are over, he still might have a role within the franchise ... as a coach.

"I've had some talks with the Sharks kind of briefly, going back and forth a few times," Ward said. "We've chatted about some different areas. I've kind of shared that I'd like to hopefully get on the ice at some point with them, if it can work out. It's been on and off chats with the Sharks. If things did work out, yeah, it would be great to stay here. We've got to wait and see what's going to happen after [the season pause]."

Ward admitted that he knew he was "pretty much done" playing for quite some time, but the official retirement announcement was meant to let others know that he is looking for work in the league, and is serious about it. He played with and for a number of all-time greats and brings a vast array of experience to the table, and now he wants to pass that on to the next generation of NHL players.

"I've had such great teachers, coaches, I think I've learned so much over the years that it would be a shame to keep it to myself," Ward explained. "I've gone through a lot of teams with different philosophies and everything. I played in all different aspects of the game. I've been fortunate to play on some top lines a couple of times and on the bottom. I've been fortunate to be around a lot of great hockey people."

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Bob Boughner remains the Sharks' interim coach for the time being, though general manager Doug Wilson recently said he has the "upper hand" to have that interim tag removed and remain behind San Jose's bench. Boughner promoted multiple former Sharks' fan favorites -- Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov -- to coaching positions upon taking over for Peter DeBoer.

Perhaps he adds another in Ward.

NHL expansion draft: Who Sharks might be forced to leave unprotected

NHL expansion draft: Who Sharks might be forced to leave unprotected

We don't know when the next NHL season will begin or end, but once it does, a new team officially will join the fold.

The still-unnamed Seattle expansion franchise will become the league's 32nd team, and in the process, the Sharks will lose a player from their roster as part of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

Not everyone in San Jose will be up for grabs. The Sharks, along with the other 30 current NHL teams, will be permitted to protect a group of their players from the expansion draft according to one of two options. Either a) protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or b) protect eight skaters and one goalie.

So, where does that leave the Sharks? 

By narrowing down who San Jose is likely to protect, we can zero in on which players are likely to be exposed.

Automatically protected: Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (no-movement clauses)
Certain to be protected: Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier
Very likely to be protected: Evander Kane

That's six pretty-darn-sure things already, plus an unnamed goalie. So, under this assumption, the Sharks would only be able to protect three more forwards and one additional defenseman under Option A, or just two more skaters under Option B.

Though nearly all of San Jose's top prospects will be automatically exempt due to lack of service time, Jonathan Dahlen -- generally regarded as the Sharks' second-best prospect -- will be eligible for inclusion due to his playing AHL games in 2017-18. So, chances are, they'll protect him as well.

Regardless of which option San Jose goes with, that doesn't leave them many more choices. As such, here are some of the more notable names that the Sharks might be forced to make available to Seattle in the expansion draft:

Brent Burns

What the Sharks decide to do with Burns likely will depend on the trajectory of the team heading into the 2021 offseason. If San Jose successfully turns things around in short order, then keeping the 36-year-old Burns -- who has another four years left on his contract at $8 million per season -- will make a lot more sense than if an extended rebuild appears to be on the horizon.

The Sharks have several large salaries on their books, and making Burns available would be one possible way to alleviate some of that building pressure. Of course, if Burns has a Norris-type season next year, San Jose likely will do everything it can to keep him. More than anything, Burns' performance next season likely will have the most determining effect on who the Sharks make available.

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Martin Jones

Assuming he's still on the roster and doesn't have a major bounce-back season, Jones would seem to be one of the more likely inclusions on San Jose's unprotected list. He carries a hefty price tag and hasn't lived up to it for the last couple of years.

Of course, the Sharks don't really have anything in the way of an established goalie behind him -- Aaron Dell is an unrestricted free agent -- so if one doesn't emerge, they might be forced to protect him. If San Jose makes Jones available, that likely means one of the Sharks' goaltending prospects made a significant leap or a free agent outperformed him in the year ahead.

Kevin Labanc

He brings plenty of talent to the table and has been useful on the power play. But Labanc's problem is consistency. On some nights, he's one of the best players on the ice. Others, you hardly notice him. He bet on himself last offseason, but it didn't appear to pay off.

A restricted free agent, San Jose should be able to re-sign him at an affordable price. He still is only 24 years old, though. Should Labanc take a couple steps forward next season, it likely will come at a discount, which the Sharks would likely want to protect. If he's ultimately made available, he could offer the combination of youth and talent that would pique Seattle's interest.

Stefan Noesen

Acquired early in the season, Noesen, 27, made a strong impression during his first year in San Jose. He provided the occasional offense, scoring six goals in 34 games, as well as some sorely-needed toughness. He also immediately became a leader in the locker room.

Noesen currently is an unrestricted free agent, but it would be surprising if he didn't start next season in a Sharks sweater, and he shouldn't be too costly either. If he can build off this past season's performance, one would imagine San Jose would prefer to keep him around. Who else the Sharks protect likely will determine if he can be protected or not.

Dylan Gambrell/Antti Suomela/Alex True

Gambrell has accomplished the most of the three, but he's running short on time. A restricted free agent at the end of next season, he'll be eligible for inclusion in the expansion draft if he plays in at least 20 games. Unless he breaks out, Gambrell seems likely to be one of the names the Sharks leave unprotected.

You could say the same thing about Suomela -- assuming the restricted free agent is re-signed -- who has notched four goals and 11 assists over 47 NHL games across the last two seasons. He's still only 26, but has yet to live up to his potential. True, on the other hand, is younger (22 years old) and was fairly noticeable over the course of his NHL debut this season. He should have a good opportunity to begin the season with San Jose, and would seem to be the most likely of the three to carve out a long-term role with the big club.

Why Sharks shouldn't be ruled out if Sabres' Jack Eichel demands trade

Why Sharks shouldn't be ruled out if Sabres' Jack Eichel demands trade

Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel is a phenomenal hockey player, and it's easy to understand why he might be frustrated in his current situation. He's one of the top young players in the NHL -- a true franchise centerpiece -- but he'll enter next season having never played for a winning team and will be playing for his third general manager at the professional level.

The 23-year-old has totaled 337 points over his first five seasons in the NHL, and scored a career-high 36 goals in just 68 games this past season before it was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Sabres finished tied for the third-fewest points in the Eastern Conference, extending their playoff drought to nine seasons.

On a conference call with reporters last month, Eichel made it clear he was not satisfied with the trajectory of the franchise.

"Listen, I'm fed up with losing and I'm fed up and I'm frustrated," Eichel said. "It's definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It's been a tough couple of months, it's been a tough five years with where things have went."

"I'm a competitor," he added. "I want to win every time I go out on the ice. I want to win the Stanley Cup every time I start a season ... I'd be lying if I said that I'm not getting frustrated with where things are going."

Eichel's comments seemed to have a direct effect on Buffalo's decision to clear house three weeks later, firing GM Jason Botterill along with other executives and scouts. Clearly, the hope is that the new regime will help turn things around in short order. If it doesn't, though, one wonders when Eichel will reach his limit.

If Eichel ever demanded a trade, every team in the league would be on the phone with the Sabres to see if a deal could be made. He has already proven himself to be one of the top talents in the game, and he has not yet entered his prime.

The Athletic's Eric Stephens and Lisa Dillman recently questioned if the Anaheim Ducks should pursue a trade for Eichel, if he were ever made available. But, what about the Sharks?

First things first: any trade for Eichel would first be dependent on him wanting out of Buffalo. Even if he did, the Sabres' asking price surely would be astronomical. In speaking with Stephens, NHL Network's Mike Johnson suggested the package likely would have to include a current young player, a future first-round draft pick and two top prospects.

"It would take so much," Johnson said, "it would be a hard deal to sort out."

Given all of that, is there any possibility Eichel could be wearing teal in the relatively near future?

It's extremely faint, but as long as Doug Wilson is San Jose's GM, it would be unwise to count the Sharks out of any superstar pursuit.

Erik Karlsson. Joe Thornton. Brent Burns. Evander Kane. Dan Boyle. Dany Heatley. Bill Guerin. Wilson has a lengthy history of acquiring big names. Eichel would certainly qualify, though the cost might be prohibitive.

Factoring in both what Buffalo likely would demand as well as salaries, a Sharks' potential trade package for Eichel might look something like: Burns, Ryan Merkley, Jonathan Dahlen and a future first-round pick -- and even that might not be enough. Burns' talent surely would be attractive to the Sabres, but he's also 35 years old. Not to mention, he has a modified no-trade clause in his contract.

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If Burns wasn't included, he likely would have to be replaced in the deal by another player making a considerable salary. The best fit currently on the Sharks' roster might be Timo Meier.

Is Eichel worth Meier, Merkley, Dahlen and a first-round pick -- assuming that's enough to get a deal done?

That's a question for Wilson to answer. He might not be able to, but the Sharks and every other team in the league should be asking it.