Sharks

Sharks’ fight to first in Western Conference standings not easy nor done

Sharks’ fight to first in Western Conference standings not easy nor done

SAN JOSE — To say the Sharks battled to overtake first place in the Western Conference on Saturday probably is a bit of an understatement. 

San Jose had to get past a tough-as-nails St. Louis Blues squad that put together a tight-checking game at SAP Center, all led by an out-of-his-mind goaltending effort from Jake Allen. If you didn’t know any better, you might’ve thought San Jose's 3-2 win over St. Louis was a playoff game. 

“You’re fighting for every inch of ice. It was relentless,” Sharks winger Kevin Labanc said after the game. “They had a couple chances, we had a couple chances. It was a really even game, I’d say. It was a lot of fun to play in.”

No surprise Labanc called the game “fun”. He did, after all, tally the game-winning goal in overtime — just what the Sharks (41-19-8, 90 points) needed to surpass the Calgary Flames (41-20-7, 89 points) in the standings.

The win also completed San Jose’s sweep of a four-game homestand, which Joe Pavelski pointed to as a boost to the team’s climb in the standings.

“We’ve caught a little stretch where we’ve been at home winning some games and Calgary’s been dropping a couple,” the captain said of the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, who have lost four consecutive games. 

But taking over first place in the conference isn’t just about besting the Flames. Just a few months ago, San Jose had a four-game losing streak of its own and met with general manager Doug Wilson. It isn’t lost on the Sharks how much they’ve improved since the beginning of the season.

“It means that we’ve come a long way,” Logan Couture said. “Not too long ago, we were going through some tough times as a team. We weren’t anywhere near the top of the conference. It means that we’ve found our game and played up to our capabilities.”

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer agreed.

“I like where our game is at heading into the last portion of the season,” he said. “It’s been a long road for us.”

Now, San Jose has to continue playing that way. With 14 games remaining in the regular season and the race for playoff positioning still incredibly tight, the Sharks have to keep pushing.

“We know that (Calgary’s) game will come around,” Pavelski said. “It’s just about playing hard every night and trying to put those points in our column.”

[RELATED: Why one Sharks fan made Karlsson pitch with parody song]

The Sharks can't enjoy the win for long. They'll hit the road for a back-to-back against the Winnipeg Jets (Monday) and the Minnesota Wild (Tuesday). 

Yet that doesn't mean they can't enjoy it at all. 

“It’s only one point. We still have a lot of work to do,” Labanc said, before adding: “But it’s definitely nice knowing you’re at the top of the conference.”

NHL expansion draft: How Sharks will be impacted by Seattle franchise

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AP

NHL expansion draft: How Sharks will be impacted by Seattle franchise

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will look ahead to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, at which time the Seattle franchise officially will join the league as its 32nd team. Every team in the league will be affected, as players from (nearly) every roster will be made available to Seattle for its inaugural roster. We begin with an explanation of the expansion draft rules.

Over the last two years, the Sharks have developed a budding rivalry with the Vegas Golden Knights, who joined the NHL as an expansion franchise prior to the 2017-18 season.

Two years from now, another expansion franchise -- this one in Seattle, Washington -- officially will join the league, and like Vegas, will slide right into the Pacific Division, with the Arizona Coyotes being displaced to the Central Division.

Before the currently unnamed Seattle franchise begins play in 2021-22, it has to acquire its inaugural roster by way of the expansion draft.

The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will operate under the same rules for Seattle as it did for the Golden Knights back in the summer of 2017. Seattle will select one player from each of the other teams in the league (excluding Vegas) for a grand total of 30. Specifically, those 30 players must include at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

Eventually, Seattle will whittle down those 30 players to a minimum of 20 under contract for the 2021-22 regular season, and that inaugural roster must have a cumulative salary that is between 60 and 100 percent of the 2020-21 salary cap's upper limit.

However, it's not as if Seattle can just handpick the best player from each roster. The other 30 teams can protect a limited number of their own players, making them ineligible for selection in the expansion draft.

Those teams have two options for protecting players: Either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or protect eight skaters (forwards or defensemen) and one goalie. Regardless of which option a team chooses, there are certain conditions it must abide by.
For instance, any player with a no-movement clause at the time of the expansion draft -- and who declines to waive that clause -- must be protected and will count toward their team's protected list. Additionally, all first- and second-year players, as well as all unsigned draft choices, are exempt from inclusion in the expansion draft, and won't count toward their team's protected list.

There are two sides to the protected/exempt coin, though. The other 30 teams can't simply scrape the bottom of their respective barrels and expose those remnants to the expansion draft. There are conditions that those teams must meet that ensure Seattle will receive legitimate NHL players, much like the Golden Knights did before making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their debut season.

Each of those 30 teams must expose at least one defensemen and at least two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season, or in at least 70 NHL games over the previous two seasons combined.

[RELATED: Sharks will miss Pavelski's leadership more than his goals]

Furthermore, those teams must also expose at least one goalie who is either under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to expose the latter option to the expansion draft, it must have already given that goalie a qualifying offer prior to submitting its protected list.

Lastly, any players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games heading into 2021-22, or who have been otherwise confirmed to have a career-threatening injury, cannot be exposed to the expansion draft unless approved by the league.

Traditionally, expansion franchises have taken a long time to find their footing in the NHL, but the Golden Knights bucked that trend and took the sports world by storm. Considering the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will have the exact same setup as the one that jumpstarted Vegas in 2017, it stands to reason that Seattle could do the same.

Why Peter DeBoer is confident Sharks can fill Joe Pavelski's scoring void

Why Peter DeBoer is confident Sharks can fill Joe Pavelski's scoring void

Joe Pavelski led the Sharks with 38 goals last season. That's 38 goals that now reside with the Dallas Stars.

It's not as if San Jose lacked for goal scoring this past year, having ranked second in the league with an average of 3.52 goals per game during the regular season. However, no Sharks player found the back of the net more often than Pavelski, meaning that if the Sharks are going to maintain or even surpass that offensive output next season, they're going to have to find those 38 goals elsewhere.

San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer touched on that very subject in a recent interview with NHL.com's Mike Zeisberger, in which he insisted that Pavelski's character will be tougher to replace than his goal-scoring.

"Look, it's hard to replace Pav's 38 goals," DeBoer conceded. "We scored a lot of goals last year and if we score a little bit less I don't think it will kill us. At least I hope it doesn't. The goals are one thing, but it's the leadership, the presence, the message that he would convey in the dressing room when times were tough. Those are the things that are harder to replace than his goals."

Part of the reason DeBoer is confident his team can adequately fill Pavelski's scoring void is due to the continued progression he's expecting from young players already on the roster.

"We've got to continue to hope that guys like Timo Meier can build on the season he had last year," DeBoer said. "Kevin Labanc too. I think Doug [Wilson] has done a great job of setting us up with young players in the pipeline we feel can create some offense."

Additionally, after Erik Karlsson was banged up throughout much of his debut season with the Sharks, DeBoer is hopeful the former Norris Trophy winner can have an even greater offensive impact moving forward after signing an eight-year contract in the offseason.

"When we had the opportunity to acquire Erik Karlsson last summer there was no hesitation in anyone's opinion to go forward on the possibility of doing that," DeBoer insisted. "Those are generational-type players and they rarely become available, if at all. It was a no-brainer to trade for him and it was a no-brainer to sign him. 

[RELATED: Why DeBoer credits Thornton for Sharks' historic power play]

"He's going to be a huge part of what we're doing going forward," DeBoer continued. "You take out Pavelski but you add Karlsson and some young guys. … The game might change in how we create and how we do things but I think he's going to have a big impact. The two months he was healthy he controlled a lot of the games we played. We just need to get him healthy so he can have a full healthy year to get into rhythm."

The Sharks are going to feel Pavelski's departure in more ways than one. Yes, his 355 goals rank second all-time in franchise history, but he brought so much more to the table than simply the ability to put the biscuit in the basket. However, if Karlsson, Meier, Labanc and others can combine to fill his resulting scoring void, Pavelski's absence won't be nearly as noticeable.