In season opener, Labanc embodies promise and growing pains ahead


In season opener, Labanc embodies promise and growing pains ahead

On the same night former Shark Patrick Marleau scored two goals in his Toronto Maple Leafs debut, the Sharks were reminded of the promise, and growing pains, to come this season. No player encapsulated that in San Jose’s 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night moreso than winger Kevin Labanc.

On the one hand, the 21-year-old scored two goals in a game for just the second time in his NHL career. He also matched his career-high with 5 shots on goal, tying Brent Burns and Logan Couture for the team lead.  

On the other, he set a more ignominious milestone, and committed a career-high three penalties. The Flyers took advantage, scoring on each of the ensuing power play opportunities.

As the Sharks look to replace Marleau, there will be nights where they frustrate you. As the Sharks look to integrate Labanc, Timo Meier, and other emerging prospects, there will be nights where they dazzle you. And there will be nights like Wednesday where they do both.

That's all to be expected as the Sharks attempt to rebuild their roster on the fly. It's also an expectation the team and fans should not lose sight of.

If Labanc, Meier, and others are to blossom into core pieces, they must be given room to grow, and allowed to make mistakes. Head coach Peter DeBoer did just that on Wednesday, as he played Labanc while the Sharks pressed for the tying goal in the game’s dying moments, despite his penalties.

In previous seasons, those penalties may have been enough to keep Labanc on the bench, or even ensure an assignment to the minor leagues. But if the loss to Philadelphia showed anything, it's that this year will not be much like those that preceded it.

After all, the San Jose lost its opener for the first time since 2009, and began a season without Marleau on the team for the first time since the Clinton administration. The Sharks are swimming in uncharted waters, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Labanc and the rest of the young core won’t be able to develop unless they're allowed to navigate those waters, and given the necessary leeway to do so. That didn't result in a Sharks win on Wednesday, but it did result in a vital learning experience for the second-year forward.

Ultimately, that growth is what’s most important this early in the season.

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.