Sharks expecting to play more physical series in West final vs. Blues


Sharks expecting to play more physical series in West final vs. Blues

SAN JOSE – In the few days leading up to the Western Conference final between the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues, it may seem easy to compare this battle to the when the two teams faced off under similar circumstances in 2016. 

But while there are some similar players in both lineups, we probably shouldn’t expect a repeat of that conference final battle from a few years ago.

“It’s tough to compare teams two years later, or three years later,” Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told the media after Friday’s morning skate. “I know the core of both teams is probably the same. But you’ve got a different coach on the other side.”

Sure, personnel changes mean we won't see the war of words between coaches like in 2016 between DeBoer and Ken Hitchcock. Or get an encore of former Blues captain David Backes tugging on Joe Thornton’s beard – although another player could try.

But there is one thing the Sharks are definitely anticipating from their third-round opponent – a much more physical series than the one they just played against the speedy Colorado Avalanche.

“I think with St. Louis, it’s going to be a little more like the Vegas series,” Sharks’ winger Kevin Labanc admitted. “More grit, fighting, kind of a harder, heavier game. But we know how to play them, we know how to handle them. We’ve just got to make sure we’re not giving them anything in our own end.”

San Jose is already familiar with the task of getting around St. Louis’ heavy offense and two-way defense. (Blueliner and captain Alex Pietrangelo is tied for first on the team with 11 points through the Blues’ first two playoff series.) The Sharks will have a new challenge, however, facing rookie netminder Jordan Binnington, who matches Sharks goalie Martin Jones with eight wins through these playoffs.

“I think ever since he was called up he’s been a real key factor for them,” Labanc said. “We just have to make sure we’re in his eyes and doing the little things right. The goals will come, we just have to be good defensively and make sure we’re not turning the puck over.”

DeBoer said it isn’t just Binnington making an impact for the Blues, but other young players such as forward Robert Thomas who have positively contributed to St. Louis arsenal.

“I think they’ve done a really good job integrating some of their young guys – impact young guys into their lineup,” DeBoer said. 

Even with some new players in the fold, San Jose remains ready for a more physical matchup and takes pride in being able to pivot from playing a more speed-and-skill oriented Colorado team.

“Our team is built where we have many layers, where we can play a physical series or we can play a more skilled series as well,” Joe Pavelski said. “But there is a certain way we want to play the game and we want to dictate the game in certain areas. St. Louis is a good team and they are physical.”

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There is one element San Jose feels will work in its favor in the upcoming best-of-seven series. Unlike the 2016 series which started in St. Louis, San Jose has home-ice advantage and didn’t have to do any traveling after finishing up its seven-game stint against Colorado on Wednesday.

“That’s huge,” Labanc said about starting the series in San Jose. “Home-ice advantage, it’s awesome here. We just worked so hard all season to obtain that. It just makes the biggest difference. The past two Game 7 games in each series were unbelievable for us, and just having your home crowd cheering for you gives us that little bit of extra energy and that extra momentum.”

Sharks to host top prospects, four 2019 draft picks at development camp


Sharks to host top prospects, four 2019 draft picks at development camp

Four of the Sharks' picks from the 2019 NHL Draft will attend the team's development camp in San Jose this week.

Second-round picks Artemi Kniazev and Dillon Hamliuk, as well as fourth-rounder Yegor Spiridonov and sixth-rounder Santeri Hatakka will particpate, as will top Sharks prospects including Ryan Merkley (2018 first-round pick), Mario Ferraro (2017 second-round pick) and Sasha Chmelevski (2017 sixth-round pick).

In all, 46 players are scheduled to attend when camp gets underway Tuesday, and the prospects will scrimmage twice in camp.

The first scrimmage takes place Wednesday, and the prospects will scrimmage again Friday night at SAP Center. Tickets cost $10 (or $20 for four), with "net proceeds benefitting the Sharks foundation," the team said in a release.

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The full list of players can be found here. 

Sharks free-agency decisions: Will star winger Timo Meier stay or go?


Sharks free-agency decisions: Will star winger Timo Meier stay or go?

One could argue the 2018-19 season was when Sharks winger Timo Meier "arrived."

The 22-year-old honed his skills as a power forward this past campaign, cementing himself as a staple in the Sharks lineup. His 30-goal regular season was tied with Evander Kane for third-best on the team, and his 15 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs tied for third-best with Tomas Hertl.

Now, Meier is primed to headline a stacked restricted free-agent class generating plenty of buzz this offseason. He also is one of a handful of young Sharks who can become an RFA this summer 

Here's a look at why Meier could stay in San Jose for a long time -- and why he potentially could be on the move.

Why he could stay

There's no secret here. Signing Meier is one of the Sharks' top priorities this offseason. 

Mix Meier's upward in-season progress with the amount of responsibility he has already taken on as a young player, and you have a player any team would want on their roster. The Swiss product has also demonstrated a strong work ethic and drive to continue building his game, as he said on locker-room cleanout day at the end of May that he still has room to improve. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said that same day that he had already had a few discussions with Meier's agent. Although the nature of those talks have remained private, Wilson did reference that many of the team's young stars in the past have been signed to bridge deals, which carry a smaller salary-cap hit over a shorter term as a "bridge" to a bigger contract down the line. Tomas Hertl, for instance signed a two-year, $6 million contract as an RFA in 2016 before signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract last summer. 

With that knowledge in mind, the Sharks likely want to reach a similar deal with Meier before the end of the summer.

Why he could go

Before everyone starts freaking out too much -- yes, it's likely that Meier and the Sharks will reach a deal. But San Jose's lack of cap space makes things a little more complicated, and the possibility of an offer sheet can't be ignored. 

A player of Meier's caliber will demand a healthy payday, and the Sharks have just under $14.5 million in salary-cap space according to CapFriendly. If San Jose can't move more pieces around and get some relief under the cap, signing Meier to a second contract that isn't a bridge deal will be difficult.

The Sharks undoubtedly want to avoid what the Toronto Maple Leafs experienced with William Nylander last season. The young forward didn't re-sign until Dec. 1, and struggled to find his goal-scoring touch in 54 regular-season games. 

With conversations underway, there's hope that nothing close to the Nylander situation will take place. An offer sheet doesn't seem realistic either, considering a player has not signed one since 2013. 

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The verdict

The Sharks are going to get a deal done with Meier. Given San Jose's history of signing young players, there's every reason to believe the two sides will find common ground before training camp begins in September.

That, however, could require the Sharks clearing additional salary-cap space to make an offer Meier will accept. It might take a little time and debate before both sides are happy.

By the end of the offseason, however, conversations surrounding Meier should go back to what he can do for the Sharks in the upcoming season rather than his contract.