Sharks

NHL Seattle expansion approved for 2021, Coyotes to leave Pacific Division

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AP

NHL Seattle expansion approved for 2021, Coyotes to leave Pacific Division

The Sharks will have a new rival in the 2021-2022 season, as the Pacific Division is set for a makeover. 

The NHL’s Board of Governors unanimously approved Seattle Hockey Partners’ expansion application to bring the league’s 32nd team to the Emerald City on Tuesday. The Seattle franchise will begin play in 2021-22, at the renovated KeyArena. 

Seattle will face the same expansion draft format as the Vegas Golden Knights last summer. The team will be able to select one player from 30 teams. That excludes the Golden Knights, who will not get a cut of the $650 million expansion fee NHL Seattle will pay. 

[RELATED: Jones looks like vintage self in Sunday's win]

The league’s newest franchise will play in the Pacific Division, and the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central to give the NHL four divisions with eight teams. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters Tuesday that the Coyotes draw better attendance against Central Division teams. 

But the divisional move combined with the Desert Dogs’ ownership and attendance issues will only drive speculation that a move away from Arizona is inevitable. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Feritta said last year he was “very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston,” while Kansas City’s Sprint Center has hosted preseason games before and is ready for a tenant. With the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues already in the Central, there’s natural potential for a rivalry -- a la Seattle joining the Vancouver Canucks in the new-look Pacific. 

[RELATED: Sharks top prospect Merkley snubbed from Canada camp]

The NHL initially authorized Seattle’s application to play in the 2020-21 season, but the team will join the league in 2021-22 because of possible construction delays at KeyArena, according to commissioner Gary Bettman. 

The league and the NHLPA can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement next September, which means the CBA would expire in 2020, which is when Seattle initially hoped to start play. A 2021 start may very well prevent construction delays, but it won’t do anything to prevent speculation the NHL is headed towards a fourth lockout since 1994. 

Sharks face 'big test' vs. Hurricanes as they seek third straight win

Sharks face 'big test' vs. Hurricanes as they seek third straight win

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks appear to be bouncing back from a dismal start to their season with two wins in a row. But they face new challenges as they continue their homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"It's a big test for us," head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters during Wednesday's morning skate. "You just look at the analytics. Number one in the league in creating scoring chances off of the rush, in the top two or three of creating offense. They're scoring in bunches. (There are) a lot of different things there you're going to have to deal with -- maybe the best defense corps in the league one through six, and they're getting great goaltending. That's why their record is what it is."

Of course, San Jose is looking to jump on the Canes early, especially since the Sharks are hosting and playing on the tail-end of a back-to-back. They beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 in LA on Tuesday night. But when a team is as good as Carolina is, there's a little more to it.

"We just can't beat ourselves," DeBoer said. "We know what they do well. It's exactly like when we play playoff hockey against an opponent. You've got to take away what they do well or not feed what they do well. And at the same time, try to establish our own game. That's something I've talked about since day one."

Multiple Sharks contributed to the team's 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Sunday. Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc all found the back of the net while Martin Jones stopped 29 of 30 shots that came his way and the penalty kill went a perfect four-for-four. But DeBoer knows his team's overall game still has another level it needs to find.

"We won the last game and I thought we were better defensively," he said. "But we only generated 20 shots, We've got to find a way to start getting a four-line identity where we're harder to play against and spend more time in the other team's end."

[RELATED: Kevin Labanc focused on future during turnaround]

The Hurricanes visit SAP Center with a 6-1-0 overall record on the season and are undefeated through three road contests.

San Jose went 1-0-1 against Carolina last season, tallying their solo win at home 5-1. The Sharks are 20-17-0-3 all-time through 40 games against the Hurricanes.

Sharks' Kevin Labanc focused on future as team continues turnaround

Sharks' Kevin Labanc focused on future as team continues turnaround

SAN JOSE - Like with just about every other player on the Sharks, Kevin Labanc's game is doing an about-face after a rocky start to the 2019-20 season. 

But even with two goals scored in the last two games, there's still another level that Labanc thinks his game can get to. And the best way for him to do that is to keep his focus on the future.

"I think my game's found itself a little bit," Labanc told NBC Sports California. "Last game, I think I definitely could've played better. But it's a learning curve. You just have to bring it every single game and worry about this upcoming game."

That's a pretty on-brand self-assessment from the 23-year-old winger. He isn't one to make excuses or brush off when he doesn't well. He even made fun of himself last year when asked why he's regularly the player that bench boss Peter DeBoer sends to the penalty box to serve the too-many-men penalty. 

But Labanc also isn't one to dwell on his mishaps for too long, which is an important quality for one of the young players San Jose is leaning on to make a jump this season and take on more responsibility. 

"You want to stay in the moment as much as you can in this business," Labanc continued. "If you start worrying about how good or bad you were the game before, it won't help your situation in the present. I'm just focused on tonight, making sure I go out there and do my job and that I can be good on all ends of the rink."

Doing a good job on both ends of the ice is an aspect of Labanc's game that DeBoer wants to see more of. While getting on the scoreboard is important, there are other areas that need to follow suit.

"For me, I measure his game on a lot more than just the production, but obviously that is something that we are counting on," the head coach explained. "I talked to him -- two games ago I thought he was our best player on the ice, in Chicago. Last game, I know he scored but he and I talked (because) I didn't think he had a great game."

This isn't to say DeBoer is completely dissatisfied with where Labanc's game is at right at this early point in the season. "I think, like all goal-scorers, he's a little streaky," DeBoer said. "He's a young guy. He came (into camp) in great shape, I think he's moving well. And he's a product a little bit of our start as a team."

[RELATED: Sharks historically far more successful when scoring first]

For the Sharks as a whole, putting that rough start to the season in the rearview mirror is important with the tough competition they have coming up on their schedule. San Jose closes out a three-game homestand by hosting the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres -- two squads who are dominating the Eastern Conference at this early point in the season. As happy as San Jose might be with how they played over their last couple of games, the focus has to remain on what's ahead of them.

"We're all feeling really good, but it's still a long season though and there are just so many games," Labanc said. "You can't worry about your past success. You have to worry about your future."