Sharks

NHL expansion draft: Forwards who Sharks protect depend on approach

meierhertlap.jpg
AP

NHL expansion draft: Forwards who Sharks protect depend on approach

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will look ahead to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, at which time the Seattle franchise officially will join the league as its 32nd team. Every team in the league will be affected, as players from (nearly) every roster will be made available to Seattle for its inaugural roster. We continue with an examination of which forwards the Sharks likely are to protect and expose.

The Sharks are well-positioned to hang on to their key forwards when the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft rolls around. As long as they take a similar approach to the previous expansion draft, that is. 

San Jose can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender or eight skaters (regardless of position) and a goaltender. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson opted for the latter option ahead of the 2017 draft, protecting then-pending unrestricted free-agent forward Ryan Carpenter and six others from being exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Carpenter joined the Golden Knights the following season after the Sharks waived him, but there were few other forwards they could protect while also satisfying the NHL's mandate that two under-contract forwards who played at least 70 games in the two seasons before the expansion draft or 40 games in the season immediately preceding it. Those rules remain in place for 2021 when Seattle joins the league, and the Sharks would have quite a few forwards with expansion eligibility who are under contract and/or team control beyond then.

Tomas Hertl (contract expiring in 2022), Timo Meier (2023), Evander Kane (2025) and Logan Couture (2027) all signed multi-year deals over the last two summers. Kevin Labanc, Dylan Gambrell and Antti Suomela each are at least two years away from unrestricted free agency. Hertl, Meier, Kane, Couture and Labanc figure to be established parts of the Sharks' forward corps by the time the expansion draft rolls around, even as Kane approaches his 30s and Couture moves deeper into his. San Jose has hopes Gambrell and Suomela can join those five as well. 

Thus, much of that group should form the backbone of the Sharks' protected forwards list in 2021. Some, however, could be exposed depending upon what other forwards are on the roster. 

Prospects like Joachim Blichfeld, Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekhovich automatically will be protected because they've not yet accrued any professional seasons. Depth forwards Melker Karlsson (2020), Barclay Goodrow, Lukas Radil and Marcus Sorensen (2021) conceivably could hit the games requirement, but each player would have to be re-signed in order to be eligible for exposure in the draft. 

If the Sharks opt to once again protect seven forwards in 2021, they shouldn't have to worry about exposing Hertl, Meier and the like. The risk drops if any of the previously mentioned role players re-signs, or if Gambrell and/or Suomela plateau as regular bottom-six regulars. Growth from any of those aforementioned players beyond a spot on the third or fourth line could present Wilson some difficult decisions, but he likely wouldn't sweat additional development from anyone in that group too much. 

[RELATED: Could Sharks lose big-name D-man to Seattle in expansion?]

Protecting eight skaters increases the risk of losing a talented forward, however slightly. Defensemen Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic must be protected because of their no-movement clauses, and protecting an additional blue liner leaves room for just five forwards. Still, it's difficult to envision the Sharks protecting any more than three defensemen as things stand right now, considering top prospects Mario Ferraro and Ryan Merkley won't be eligible for exposure. 

At that point, it wouldn't make sense for the Sharks to intentionally protect fewer forwards than the maximum allowed under the rules. As long as they acquire or re-sign depth forwards who are eligible to be exposed, Wilson and the Sharks likely won't have to stress losing a key piece up front to the NHL's newest team. 

Four Sharks-Vegas Game 7 nuggets you might not recall from wild night

goodrowgoalap.jpg
AP

Four Sharks-Vegas Game 7 nuggets you might not recall from wild night

Programming note: Watch the re-air of the Sharks' amazing Game 7 playoff comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights tonight at 9 p.m. PT on NBC Sports California.

The sound, and the silence that preceded it, was unforgettable.

Sharks fans at SAP Center roared like never before on April 23, 2019, when San Jose eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights in an epic Game 7 of the teams' first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series. The sight of then-captain Joe Pavelski, bleeding and limp on the ice, emptied the arena of noise. The sight of the Sharks scoring four goals on the ensuing five-minute major penalty -- and, eventually, Barclay Goodrow's overtime winner -- easily filled it.

I reported on Game 7 from an auxiliary press box at SAP Center that night, sitting next to NBC Sports California's director of social engagement, Danny Pedroza. It was unlike any other game Danny, myself or anyone working in either press box that night covered before or after. 

Game 7, the payoff to a bitterly contested series in one of the NHL's best rivalries, included:

Those are just scratching the surface. With Game 7 set to re-air Monday at 6 p.m. PT on NBCSN as part of Hockey Week In America, here are four additional nuggets from the Sharks' wild win.

First time for everything

The Sharks had won Game 7s at home before beating the Golden Knights. They'd also won a Game 7 in overtime, eliminating the Calgary Flames a quarter-century before. They'd never done both at SAP Center, however, until Goodrow lit the lamp with 1:41 remaining in the extra session.

To be fair to the building formerly known as San Jose Arena, it was only the 42nd time in NHL history that a Game 7 would end in (at least one) OT. Plenty of buildings have never seen one, including the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens and Chicago Stadium.

Cody Eakin's major penalty, Pavelski's injury and the power play that followed make this Game 7 one of the most unique in NHL history. But the ending to the Sharks' win that night was pretty distinct, too.

The Sharks and Golden Knights shake hands after Barclay Goodrow's game-winning -- and series-clinching -- goal in overtime. Photo courtesy: Marcus White, NBC Sports California

Powerful play

The Sharks, prior to their historic outburst, had been abysmal on the power play against the Golden Knights. San Jose scored as many goals (four) on the bonkers third-period power play as it did in the six games preceding Game 7.

Shooting percentages often drive scoring droughts as much as anything else, and the Sharks' fallow power play was no different. They scored on 13.81 percent of their 5-on-4 shots during the 2018-19 regular season, and converted just 8 percent of theirs in the first six games of the series. The Sharks then scored on four of their 15 5-on-4 shots -- or, 26.67 percent -- in Game 7.

Sure, San Jose benefitted from the wrong call, but regression to the mean arguably helped the Sharks just as much.

The time is Nyquist

Gustav Nyquist skated just one, 30-second shift in the third period after the Sharks' four-goal power-play barrage. San Jose couldn't make do with a top-six hole in overtime following Pavelski's injury, however, so the Swedish winger filled Pavelski's place alongside Logan Couture and Timo Meier.

Couture, Meier and Nyquist were a dominant trio in overtime. They created three high-danger chances in just 4:33 together, matching the Kevin Labanc-Joe Thornton-Marcus Sorensen combo in nine fewer minutes together.

The Sharks completely controlled play during the extra session, and Nyquist's seamless inclusion on San Jose's top line was a huge reason why. If he didn't, Game 7 could have ended much differently.

[RELATED: Need a home workout? Use Sharks rookie Mario Ferraro's]

Sixth sense

Had the Golden Knights won Game 7, then-Vegas coach Gerard Gallant would have gotten far more credit for a bold tactical move on Jonathan Marchessault's game-tying goal.

Marchessault was one of six Golden Knights forwards on the ice with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury pulled, skating alongside Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Those six comprised the entirety of Vegas' top two forward lines at the time, and they pinned the Sharks in the defensive zone for the entirety of their 41 seconds together.

The Golden Knights' season was on the line, so desperation undoubtedly drove Gallant more than innovation. He deserves credit for creativity, however, especially in a sport that often relies on risk-averse strategies.

Here's hoping that, whenever the NHL starts its next season after the coronavirus pandemic is contained, Gallant's behind a team's bench.

Sharks' John Leonard hopes to follow in ex-roommate Mario Ferraro's footsteps

Sharks' John Leonard hopes to follow in ex-roommate Mario Ferraro's footsteps

UMass-Amherst has produced its fair share of NHL talent. Aside from longtime Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, the school's most prominent NHL alumni are defensemen, such as Colorado Avalanche phenom Cale Makar. The Sharks have found plenty of success with UMass defensemen, whether it be former blue-liners Justin Braun and Matt Irwin, or current rookie Mario Ferraro.

Ferraro, San Jose's second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, made the jump straight from college to the pros, and was arguably the brightest spot of the Sharks' season that has since been indefinitely paused due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The following year, San Jose went back to the UMass well in the 2018 draft, but this time used a sixth-round selection on forward John Leonard.

Fresh off of being the NCAA's leading goal-scorer and a Hobey Baker award finalist, Leonard officially agreed to join the Sharks franchise this past week, and he hopes to follow in his former college roommate's footsteps.

"The reason Mario was able to do that was just based off his work ethic and his drive to want to be great," Leonard said on an introductory conference call with reporters on Friday. "He's definitely someone I look up to. I was his roommate at school and we worked out together every day and trained together. His work ethic alone got him to where he is and I'm definitely going to try to do everything I can to follow that up."

Though Leonard has committed to San Jose, he has yet to officially sign, as he's waiting for clarification as to if and when the current season might resume. In the meantime, just like the rest of the NHLers currently practicing social distancing, he's doing his best to stay in shape.

Given that he used to work out with Ferraro in college, naturally, it begs the question as to whether or not Leonard has tuned into Ferraro's "quarantine" workouts that he is posting online. According to his former roommate, this is nothing new.

"Yeah, he was actually doing those at school, too," Leonard explained, "but they were a little bit more under the radar. Now they're open to the public and he loves it."

Ferraro surpassed even the wildest of expectations in his rookie season, and Leonard will certainly be challenged to do the same. If he's able to, however, it stands to reason that the former roommates might be reunited.

From the sounds of it, Leonard wouldn't mind -- though he might want to keep an eye on the pantry.

"The best thing about it is just his personality," Leonard said of rooming with Ferraro. "He's always in a good mood. He's a hilarious guy and he's just always fun to be around. Worst thing? I don't know. The guy ... he's always eating, so maybe he takes my food a little bit."

[RELATED: How COVID-19 impacts Sharks' salary cap, draft planning]

Ferraro already appears to be an important piece of the Sharks' core moving forward, and they're definitely hoping that Leonard can join him. 

If he impresses enough, he'll have his own room in no time.