Sharks

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Now that the dust has settled on the draft and free agency, here’s a meaty offseason Sharks mailbag before my vacation…

Who will replace Patty's leadership? (philip malan‏ @pmalan1979)

Patrick Marleau was a good example for other players in that he always came to camp in great shape and took care of himself between games, allowing him to be very productive into his later years. 

But let’s not overblow it. From what I understand, Marleau preferred to avoid confrontation, and was never the guy in the dressing room challenging other players to step up. That was left more to guys like Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, with Logan Couture growing into that role in recent years, too. When it comes to veteran leadership there are other guys still in the dressing room of more value than Marleau. His leaving town shouldn’t change the dynamic.

Will Thornton be bumped from the top line center role? Who do you think will replace Marleau on the PP? (Elle‏ @LikeShiningOil)

The whole “top line” designation is something that us writers and broadcasters like to use, and I’m going to keep using it for Thornton so long as he and Pavelski are on the same line. That said, there will be plenty of games where the Couture line gets more even-strength ice time than the Thornton line. I guess my point here is don’t read too much into the labels. I don’t expect Thornton’s ice time to go down from what it was last season. He’s averaged 18 minutes and change in each of the past five seasons, and probably will again.

As for replacing Marleau on the power play, I would tab Tomas Hertl as the frontrunner, but I’m sure the Sharks will try a number of different looks there in training camp. After finishing 25th in the NHL last season they pretty much have to, right?

How will the lines roll this season, if you were to prognosticate now? (Erik Kuhre @Puckguy14)

It seems like we say this every year, but it depends on where the Sharks see Hertl slotting in. Last season Hertl started out on the wing of the top line after offseason knee surgery before moving to center fairly quickly. I know he battled through yet another knee injury during the season, but Hertl’s 22 points in 49 games was a disappointing total.

If the season were starting today, I’d put Hertl on the wing of the Thornton line again with, of course, Pavelski on the other side. Here’s what I’ve got in that scenario:

Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Jannik Hansen – Chris Tierney – Mikkel Boedker
Melker Karlsson – Ryan Carpenter – Joel Ward

Extras: Marcus Sorensen, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow

(One guy who is really going to have to fight to keep his spot is Ward. I could see him getting pushed out, but for now I’m leaving him in).

Will there be a tough guy in the lineup to protect the kids? (Jim Kelley)

The Sharks signed free agent Brandon Bollig a couple weeks ago to replace Micheal Haley, but I don’t seem him as a regular in the NHL lineup. Bollig could be a guy they recall if they think it’s necessary to dress a pugilist, like when Pete DeBoer brought up Haley late in the 2015-16 season for the sole reason of fighting Darnell Nurse, who had jumped Sharks defenseman Roman Polak just two weeks earlier for no real reason.

Do you think Chris Tierney is capable of more point production at this point in his career? (Ian Stephenson)

Count me among those that thought Tierney was ready to have a better season last year after his strong performance in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Still, he’s just 23 years old, and his line in the series against Edmonton with Meier and Sorensen was a very effective one for long stretches of play. This is a huge year for Tierney, who had to settle for the Sharks’ one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer. Perform, and he’ll get paid. Struggle, and he could be on the move.

Do you think the Sharks will trade either Grosenick or Dell? Doesn't seem Grosenick has much more to prove in AHL. (Chris Greni)

No, they’ll hold on to all three for the time being. Getting Troy Grosenick re-signed to a one-year deal was a nice move on the Sharks’ part, considering Aaron Dell still has just 20 games of NHL experience. Perhaps if they both continue to play well the Sharks could dangle one as trade bait later in the year, but it wouldn’t make sense at this point. 

Any thoughts on DW using the offer sheet to bring in scoring help? There’s several serviceable RFAs out there still waiting for contracts. (Tony Martinico)

Keep in mind that some of those high end RFAs, like Colton Parayko, Nino Niederreiter and Tomas Tatar are currently headed for arbitration, which takes the offer sheet off the table.

Purely speculation here, but I have to wonder if the Sharks have at least kicked around trying to ink Leon Draisaitl to an offer sheet. You have to think Berlin native Hasso Plattner would love to add the “German Gretzky” to the roster. I know we're settling into the part of the NHL offseason where typically nothing happens, but it was July 19 when the Flyers signed Shea Weber to a monster offer sheet five years ago.

And, of course, Doug Wilson has used the power of the offer sheet in the past, signing Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2010 and then using the threat of an offer sheet with Boston to acquire Martin Jones.

Which Cuda player, aside from Meier, Labanc and Sorensen, would you expect to be a dark horse and could make the big team out of camp? (olin @sleepymofo)

Keep in mind that the sixth and defensemen spots are open, too. I would presume that Dylan DeMelo is the frontrunner to replace David Schlemko, but Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan are coming off of strong seasons in the AHL. Perhaps one of them overtakes DeMelo in training camp.

As for other forwards than those you mentioned, Goodrow could end challenging for a spot on the fourth line. I get plenty of questions about Danny O’Regan, too, and perhaps he makes a push. The issue with O’Regan is that although he’s a skilled player in the minors, he’s probably not quite skilled enough to make up for his small frame at the NHL level. I view him more as a fill-in guy.

Any word on [Barclay] Goodrow and [Marcus] Sorenson? I'm assuming they didn't sign their QO's? (DaveBPilot‏ @DaveBPilot)

Yes, that’s safe to assume, since the deadline was Saturday. They remain RFAs, and negotiations will surely continue.

Still, it’s worth mentioning what happened last year with Matt Nieto. The forward didn’t sign his qualifying offer, as he was pushing for a multi-year deal, and ended up signing for one year for less than he would have made had he accepted the original offer. He was waived and claimed by Colorado.

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley traded to Peterborough Petes of OHL

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AP

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley traded to Peterborough Petes of OHL

Last time we checked on Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley, he was being overlooked for Canada's World Junior Championships roster. At the time, the skilled 18-year-old defensemen had more points to his name than all but one under-20 Canadian defenseman playing in Canada's top three major-junior leagues.

All of those points had been accrued with the Guelph Storm of the OHL, where Merkley was reassigned after making it to the final stages of Sharks training camp back in September. He won't be scoring any more points for Guelph -- he had five goals and 34 assists in 28 games -- this season, however. 

On Friday, Merkley was traded from Guelph to the Peterborough Petes (also of the OHL) in exchange for highly regarded forward Pavel Gogolev and five draft picks. In 159 career games with the Storm, Merkley totaled 167 points.

“Ryan’s been a tremendous player for the Guelph Storm for the past two and a half seasons,” Guelph general manager George Burnette said.  “We wish him well with his new opportunity in Peterborough.”

Ironically, the Storm and Petes faced each other Friday night, though none of the players involved in the trade played in the game. The haul the Storm received in exchange for Merkley speaks to how the young defenseman is viewed across the hockey landscape.

“In Ryan, we’re acquiring an elite-level defenseman that has excellent offensive abilities,” Petes general manager Michael Oke said. “We look forward to him joining our group.”

Merkley, who won't turn 19 until August, figures prominently into the Sharks' future plans, and they clearly think highly of him. He was the last junior-eligible player standing at Sharks training camp, and his production with Guelph can only make them feel better about their choice to select him with the 21st overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

San Jose, of course, made NHL waves right before the start of the regular season when it acquired star defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. After a slow start, Karlsson has been finding his stride as of late, and -- alongside Marc-Edward Vlasic and Brent Burns -- gives the Sharks arguably the most talented defensive group in the league.

[RELATED: Wins show positive trend in Sharks' evolving defense]

Merkley figures to be at least one season away from joining the big club, but the faster he develops, the more likely he can make that fearsome threesome a foursome. Or, perhaps, make one of those veteran defensemen more expendable down the line.

How Sharks' defense is making progress, helping produce string of wins

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USATSI

How Sharks' defense is making progress, helping produce string of wins

SAN JOSE -- Remember way back in September, when the Sharks’ defense was the talk of the town?

It wasn’t that long ago they had a whole season ahead of them, and talking heads were calling them Cup contenders before a single puck had dropped -- and a lot of that hype was geared toward the Sharks' blue line. The trade for Erik Karlsson sent expectations into the stratosphere, as if it guaranteed San Jose’s blue line wouldn’t ever lose a puck battle.

With 33 games in the bag, it’s pretty safe to say that bar was set unrealistically high. But after a much-needed win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night, it became clear: As the Sharks' collective game moves in the right direction, their D-corps is following suit and trending in a positive way. Now, it’s just a matter of building on that.

When the Sharks had trouble getting in the win column earlier this season, they struggled to defend chances in five-on-five situations and committed defensive turnovers, losing battles and having trouble helping their out goaltender. The result? Three or more goals finding the back of San Jose’s net on a regular basis. After a particularly difficult 4-1 loss to Ottawa Senators, defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic stated: “If you’re letting in six goals, we better score seven.”

To a degree, the Sharks' defense has done that, whether it’s by tightening up in their own zone or capitalizing on more offensive chances. As San Jose tries to string more wins together before the Christmas break, it has cut back on the number of goals that get by, minimizing turnovers and odd-man rushes. The Sharks now are ranked 11th in the NHL in goals against with 98 allowed, an average 2.97 goals per game -- which is an improvement over their previous 3.0-plus mark.

It doesn’t hurt that, in addition to tightening up in their own zone, the Sharks’ defense also is contributing to the offense.

Brent Burns, who's only one off the team lead with 31 points, is leading the charge with 27 assists on the season. While fans might view him as a goal scorer, Burns' abilities as a set-up guy -- especially on a few of Joe Pavelski’s big goals --- have been big for Team Teal. (It probably doesn’t hurt, either, that Pavelski and some of San Jose’s other dynamic forwards have no problem posting up at the doorstep in an attempt to redirect one of Burns’ lethal one-timers into the back of the net.)

No. 88 has helped generate offense on the back end as well, ranking fourth among NHL defensemen with 32 takeaways.

[RELATED: Sharks growing into the team they want to be]

Burns isn’t the only Norris Trophy winner who's contributing. Karlsson’s level of play has been trending upward, particularly in the Sharks' most recent stretch of games. After tallying an assist in the win over the Stars, EK65 has six assists through seven games and a plus-4 rating in the month of December.

In fact, Karlsson and linemate Brenden Dillon have joined forces to set up a couple goals over the last stretch of games. The duo set up Pavelski in back-to-back games, with the opening goal in last Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes and the first-period marker in Monday’s 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Dillon also led the Sharks’ physical game Monday, leading all skaters that evening with four hits.

San Jose's blue line recently has added a little punch with Radim Simek recalled from the AHL. The Czech product has found almost instant chemistry with Burns and so far has successfully used his heavy game to slow down the opposition. It doesn’t hurt that Simek also has gotten on the scoreboard, tallying three points (one goal, two assists) in six NHL games played.

All in all, it’s forward motion that looks very position for the Sharks’ blue line. While there still are aspects of its game the team no doubt wants to improve on, things are trending in the right direction.