Sharks

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

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USATSI

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.

Top Sharks prospect Merkley soaking in lessons, warm weather in first training camp

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USATI

Top Sharks prospect Merkley soaking in lessons, warm weather in first training camp

Out of his pads, Sharks prospect Ryan Merkley looked like someone who just turned 18. 

Well, that’s because he did. 

The right-shooting defenseman became old enough to buy a lottery ticket on Aug. 14, 53 days after San Jose selected him in the first round, No. 21 overall, at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas. The Sharks list Merkley as 5-foot-11, 170 pounds on their training camp roster. Naturally, one difference between junior hockey and the pros stood out to the teenager. 

“The strength. These guys are a lot bigger, stronger, quicker,” Merkley said Monday after the Sharks’ second scrimmage of camp. “[Monday was], what, my fourth practice with these guys who have been doing it for years. The way they move and pass the puck and work the corners is pretty unreal.”

In his pads, he’s looked like a teenager at times, too. Late in Monday’s scrimmage, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns pounced on Merkley’s errant clearing attempt from the right corner of the defensive zone, and wristed a shot just under the crossbar. Merkley also got caught up the ice at times as well, ensuring an odd-man rush the other way.

But the talent was on display, too. More often than not, the defenseman jumped into the play at the right time. He learned from his mistakes, too: At one point after the aforementioned odd-man rush, Merkley hustled back to deny forward prospect Ivan Chekhovich on a breakaway, preventing the winger from getting a clean look at the net. 

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said that’s just part of the development process. 

“It’s about him getting used to the speed, and the time, and that not ever play has to be a great play,” DeBoer said Monday. “But that’s part of being a young defenseman, and I really like what I’ve seen so far out of him.”

Merkley could get another taste of that speed on Tuesday, in the Sharks’ preseason opener at SAP Center against the Anaheim Ducks. Early preseason games don’t feature the full cadre of NHL regulars, but the vast majority of Anaheim’s traveling roster for the game played professionally at one level or another last season.

Even for a player of Merkley’s pedigree, that’s a step up. He has spent the last two seasons with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), one of the top-three major junior leagues in Canada. He scored 67 points in 63 games last year, the third-highest total among OHL defensemen. It was also the highest mark of any under-18 blueliner by 22 points. 

Guelph is likely where he will return soon, as he continues to develop on and off the ice. His talent was never in question, but the talented defenseman slipped to the back-end of the first round, at least in part, due to perceived maturity issues. 

He was benched in his first OHL season following an argument with his coach, and he was suspended three games last season for a retaliatory slash in a game against the North Bay Battalion. That didn’t deter the Sharks from selecting Merkley, who was also one of the youngest draft-eligible players. 

San Jose has time to be patient. After the acquisition of two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, the Sharks aren’t hurting for depth down the right side. For now, the focus lies on ensuring Merkley soaks everything in before returning to Guelph.  

“We had [Merkley] stay with [Burns during July’s rookie camp], and he couldn’t believe it,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “[Seeing] everything he eats, how he trains. For an 18-year-old kid to see a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman and that’s what he does? You go back to junior and remember what you just learned.”

Merkley said he’s spent most of camp observing how the Sharks veterans train and practice. If he ultimately suits up Tuesday against the Ducks, he’ll get a chance to show what he’s learned in a professional game. 

The 18-year-old could get used to playing in the cities of the Pacific Division. He said he was hoping to play somewhere warm when he entered the draft, and that he’s enjoyed his time in San Jose so far.

Will that make another winter in Ontario harder to deal with?

“I could leave that behind for sure,” he said with a laugh. 

If all goes as planned, Merkley may get to spend a winter in California soon enough. 

Sharks backup goaltender Aaron Dell stands tall against camp's standout line

Sharks backup goaltender Aaron Dell stands tall against camp's standout line

SAN JOSE -- The scoreline of the Sharks’ second intrasquad scrimmage of training camp favored backup goaltender Aaron Dell’s team by a three-goal margin Monday, but he may have been the biggest reason why.

After playing in the first of half of Sunday’s scrimmage, Dell manned the crease for Group B for the entirety of the two, 25-minute halves. He saw plenty of action, with his team pinned in their own end for extended stretches in a 5-2 win over Group A. 

“It’s huge,” Dell said about getting reps this early in camp. “I don’t know when my first start will be, so I’ve got to get prepared now and get back into that kind of game rhythm so that I can see a little bit of work before I get my first start -- whenever that may be.”

In his second season as the backup, Dell appeared in 29 games with the Sharks, starting 22. He made his first start of the year in the team’s fourth of five straight home games to start the campaign. 

This season, San Jose will open at home before embarking on a five-game road trip through the Eastern Conference, including a back-to-back against the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 8 and 9. Dell said the nature of his position makes his preparation in camp that much more important.

“My role’s kind of a little bit unpredictable,” Dell said. “I don’t know when I’m going to have my first start, so I have to be kind of prepared the whole way through. As well, I may have to go in [for an] injury or the games where we have a slow start. I’ve gotta be prepared to play at any time.”

Dell got plenty of work Monday, in no small part because of what is arguably the standout trio of training camp so far. Wingers Joonas Donskoi and Kevin Labanc scored both goals for Group A, and they were centered by Finnish rookie Antti Suomela. 

Trailing 1-0 early in the scrimmage, Labanc gained the zone with control before dishing to prospect defenseman Jeremy Roy. After an extended stretch of possession, Labanc’s line stole the puck on the forecheck from Group B’s top trio of Timo Meier, Logan Couture, and Tomas Hertl, and Suomela set up Donskoi for a tap-in. Labanc added another on a partial breakaway late in the second half. 

“They’ve had two good scrimmages,” head coach Peter DeBoer said. “[Labanc’s] come in great shape, and is really playing well. The other two guys have some chemistry for sure.”

That line was the only one to beat Dell on Monday. The 29-year-old robbed them of a third goal, sliding over to shoulder Suomela’s wrist shot out of play after a turnover and cross-crease pass from Donskoi left his fellow Finn wide open in the slot. Dell also denied forward prospect Manuel Wiederer on a penalty shot. 

The backup is entering the first of a two-year, $3.8 million deal he signed in February. He posted a .914 save percentage in his second season with the Sharks, down from .931 the year before. In nearly 300 more minutes, his five-on-five save percentage dropped from .949 to .919, according to Corsica Hockey.

DeBoer likes what he’s seen from his backup so far in camp, and said both Dell and starter Marin Jones “looked really sharp” in Monday’s scrimmage. Ahead of Dell’s third NHL season, his head coach has noticed annual improvement in the goaltender’s approach. 

“I think every year he shows up here in a little better condition and a little better shape, a little quicker,” DeBoer said. “I think he’s learning, like everybody, what it takes to be successful every night up here. He’s put a lot of work in.”

That learning extends to Dell’s mental approach as well. The backup goaltender is well-aware he has to be ready at a moment’s notice in the regular season, and he said he has a better idea of when those moments because of his familiarity within the team. 

“I know what to expect a little bit more,” Dell said. “In the games where we have a little bit of a slow start, I know the way he works with that, so I can kind of recognize when we’re starting to have those games like that and I can sort of mentally prepare a little bit, knowing it could go either way.”