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. 

NHL rumors: Brinson Pasichnuk, Sharks nearing contract agreement

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AP

NHL rumors: Brinson Pasichnuk, Sharks nearing contract agreement

The Sharks reportedly are close to adding some promising defensive depth to their organization.

San Jose is nearing agreement on a contract with Arizona State defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk, The Athletic's Kevin Kurz first reported and The Hockey News' Ken Campbell and Bay Area News Group's Curtis Pashelka later confirmed.

Pasichnuk, 22, scored 107 points (39 goals, 68 assists) in 136 games over four seasons with the Sun Devils. The 6-foot, 180-pound defenseman ranked third among blueliners with 37 points this season, tying for second in goals (11) behind only Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist David Farrance of Boston University.

Campbell reported Monday that Pasichnuk narrowed down his 20 suitors to the Sharks and Arizona Coyotes. He told The Hockey News that he knows where he is signing, but is "just waiting to see what (the NHL is doing)" for the remainder of the season during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sharks got a glimpse at Pasichnuk last summer when he skated in the team's development camp, along with his brother, Steen. The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau ranked the younger Pasichnuk 115th out of all draft-eligible skaters in 2016, but the defenseman was not drafted.

[RELATED: Sharks' Burns says teachers are legends amid pandemic]

A standout collegiate career got him on to NHL scouts' radar, and Pasichnuk conceivably could be in line for playing time this season -- assuming the Sharks play if the season resumes -- or next. Nikolai Knyzhov and Jacob Middleton have played on San Jose's third defense pairing since Brenden Dillon was traded to the Washington Capitals last month, and Pasichnuk -- a left-shooting defenseman like those three -- could then slot in behind Radim Simek and Mario Ferraro.

Ferraro, 21, and top prospect Ryan Merkley, 19, are the Sharks' most promising young defensemen. Pasichnuk's time at Arizona State indicates he'll warrant consideration, too. 

How Sharks' wild comeback win vs. Predators epitomized 2018-19 season

How Sharks' wild comeback win vs. Predators epitomized 2018-19 season

Progamming note: Watch the re-air of the Sharks' comeback win over the Nashville Predators from Oct. 23, 2018 tonight at 8 PT on NBC Sports California.

They didn't know it at the time, but a win over the Nashville Predators on Oct. 23, 2018 ultimately laid bare the Sharks' strengths -- and weaknesses -- that would define their 2018-19 season.

The Sharks beat the Predators 5-4 that night in Nashville, overcoming a two-goal deficit with just under eight minutes remaining in the third period with a three-goal barrage in five minutes and 28 seconds. San Jose’s offense could keep up with just about any team last season, and lackluster goaltending largely necessitated said firepower.

Martin Jones stopped just 25 of the 29 shots he faced, even though the Sharks outshot the Predators in all situations (32-29) and held slight edges in 5-on-5 shot attempts, shots and scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. Nashville created more high-danger chances (8-6) and expected goals (1.46-1.38) than San Jose at full strength.

Only the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning scored more goals (319) than the Sharks (289) last season, which was the most prolific in franchise history. Yet the Sharks finished with just a plus-31 goal differential, as Jones and backup goaltender Aaron Dell posted career-worst save percentages while the Sharks allowed the NHL’s 11th-most goals (258).

The Sharks ranked no worse than 12th in suppressing high-danger chances, scoring chances and expected goals at full strength, yet San Jose allowed 111 5-on-5 high-danger goals in the NHL. Only the Ottawa Senators -- defenseman Erik Karlsson’s former team -- and the Edmonton Oilers allowed more, and those teams finished an average of 22.5 points outside of the postseason.

But the Sharks had enough offensive talent to overcome their goaltending woes, finishing two wins shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. San Jose was too depleted to hang with the St. Louis Blues by the end of the Western Conference final, but a healthy Sharks team would’ve had a great chance to advance. The 2018-19 Sharks were an elite puck-possession team, capable of scoring in myriad ways.

That was evident in the aforementioned comeback win over the Predators. The Sharks scored twice on the power play, twice at even strength and once short-handed. Brenden Dillon got the comeback started with an end-to-end rush on the penalty kill, then-captain Joe Pavelski finished off a 3-on-2 fewer than 30 seconds later and a pair of Norris Trophy winners -- Karlsson and Brent Burns -- combined to seal the victory.

[RELATED: Sharks' Burns says "teachers are legends" amid pandemic]

The Sharks couldn’t have known their ninth game of 2018-19 would prove so instructive, but the win over the Predators set the tone for what was to come.

For better and worse.