Nearing halfway point, Sharks on outside looking in at Cup contenders


Nearing halfway point, Sharks on outside looking in at Cup contenders

The San Jose Sharks enter their NHL-mandated, five day break one game short of the season’s halfway mark, but they should nonetheless begin the bye with a sense of clarity.

As it stands, the Sharks are a flawed team that, without things going their way down the stretch, is on the outside looking in at the Stanley Cup picture. Those flaws were on full display Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg.

A goaltender interference penalty against Chris Tierney late in the second period undoubtedly turned the tide in the Jets’ favor, but the Sharks only held a slight edge in five-on-five shot attempts (33-31) at the time. Winnipeg led 2-1 when Tierney went to the box, but the lead was befitting of a close game.

San Jose only trailed by one before Tierney’s penalty because Logan Couture scored on a power play. The Sharks, once again struggled to score at even strength.

That’s been cause for concern all season, but especially of late. Since December 7, San Jose’s scored 40.9 percent of its goals on the power play, as the Bay Area News Group’s Paul Gackle pointed out on Sunday.

The Sharks were once again unable to translate control of the puck into goals, but they were doubly doomed by defensive miscues. For the third time on their five-game trip, San Jose allowed at least three non-empty net goals.

That was also the sixth time in their last 10 games, and the normally-staunch Sharks are just 4-3-3 over that span. They’ve only scored 27 goals during that stretch, and the calculus is clear: the Sharks won’t win much if they aren’t at their best defensively.

The same can be said about plenty of teams around the league, of course, but San Jose’s five-on-five scoring woes make them far more reliant on defense and goaltending. They don’t have an offense good enough to consistently overcome a poor defensive showing.

The power play has kept them afloat this season, but that won’t be a reliable strategy in the postseason, when the games tighten and officials tend to swallow their whistles. Even if the power play continues to operate at peak efficiency, they simply won’t have as many opportunities in the playoffs.

In order to emerge as a true contender, the Sharks will need a lot to fall their way in the second half. A combination of key players (like Joe Pavelski) regressing to the mean, outside scoring help acquired at the trade deadline, and the teams above them in the standings faltering can propel San Jose back into the Stanley Cup conversation.

You just shouldn’t necessarily hold your breath.

Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal


Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal

Just two days before one was scheduled, the Sharks avoided an arbitration hearing with center Chris Tierney, and re-signed the restricted free agent to a two-year deal on Wednesday, the team announced. The deal is reportedly worth just shy of $2.94 million annually, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

"Chris had his best season as a professional last year and stepped up his level of play in multiple areas," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We've always known he was a responsible, defensive-minded player, but he took his offensive game to the next tier and showed that he can be a productive player in all three zones. We look forward to watching him continue his evolution in 2018-19." 

Last season, the 24-year-old Tierney set career-highs in goals (17), assists (23), points (40), shots on goal (118), and ice time (16:00). Tierney also generated expected goals at the highest rate of his career (0.62 per hour), according to Corsica Hockey. 

A 2012 second-round pick, Tierney entered last season in an uncertain place. He signed his one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer last summer, and head coach Peter DeBoer challenged him to improve. 

“I came into the year wanting to prove a point. I believe in myself. I think I’m a good hockey player,” Tierney told the San Jose Mercury News in December. “I wanted to come in and show people that I could play an offensive role on the team.”  

DeBoer used Tierney slightly differently this season, as the forward started a career-high percentage of five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone (31.12 percent) and a career-low percentage of defensive zone starts (29.68 percent), per Corsica Hockey. Tierney responded in kind with his aforementioned career-best offensive numbers, and seized the third-line center role after versatile forward Tomas Hertl stayed on the wing.  

With Tierney back in the fold, the Sharks now have just under $4.4 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly. That’s for a roster carrying 14 forwards, seven defenseman, and two goaltenders, and San Jose’s actual cap space may change depending on the outcome of various positional battles in training camp. 

This summer, Tierney became the fourth Sharks player since 2008 to file for arbitration. In every case, including with Tierney on Wednesday, a settlement was reached prior to a hearing. 

The Sharks also signed a pair of prospects to entry-level contracts on Wednesday. Defenseman Ryan Merkley, San Jose’s first-round pick this June, and 21-year-old forward Alexander True, who scored 28 points in 68 games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda last season, both inked deals with the organization.

Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double


Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones won't just enter the season with a different paycheck, the result of entering the first year of a five-year, $34.5 million contract extension that he signed last July. He'll also have a new mask.

Toronto-based artist Steve Nash unveiled a look at Jones' mask design for the upcoming season Monday morning on Twitter. The design again features San Jose's secondary logo but with some subtle differences.

Eagle-eyed mask afficionados will notice a couple of tweaks. First, there now are two sharks on the side, compared to only one last season. Those sharks boast orange eyes seen on the back of his mask last season

For comparison, here's a look at Jones' mask from last year.

The 28-year-old netminder is entering his fourth season in San Jose's crease. Jones posted a .915 save percentage in 60 regular-season starts and followed that with a .928 in 10 postseason starts as the Sharks advanced to the second round. 

We'll get our best look at Jones' new mask in action when training camp opens in mid-September, and, assuming he plays, in a game as soon as the Sept. 18 preseason opener against the Ducks.