Sharks' first round opponent still up in the air as season draws to close

Sharks' first round opponent still up in the air as season draws to close

SAN JOSE – As we predicted midway through February, the San Jose Sharks are going to be battling with the Calgary Flames for first place in the division right down to the wire. Heading into the fourth and final game of their current homestand, San Jose sits on the cusp of taking over the top seed, just one point behind Calgary in the standings.

So, of course, there’s one question on everyone’s minds: Who might the Sharks face in the first round of the playoffs?

As many already know, the Vegas Golden Knights are the likely opponent should San Jose remain in second place. While the Vegas squad has lost some of its oomph in its sophomore season, they’ve held on to that third place spot in the rankings for the latter portion of the regular season.

San Jose has battled Vegas with mixed results this season, including a 6-0 shutout loss on November 24 and an emotional 3-2 victory on January 10. Both games took place at T-Mobile Arena, which has quickly gained a reputation for being a tough building for visiting teams to compete in.

The Golden Knights play the Sharks tough, and to top it off, Marc-Andre Fleury is the winningest netminder in the league this season. But again, this isn’t the same Golden Knights team that steamrolled everyone in their inaugural season, and the Sharks are certainly a more stacked team than they were last year -- especially when they’re healthy.

Long story short: An opening series against the Golden Knights would be a winnable series for the Sharks, but challenging nonetheless. 

But things could be different if the Sharks take first place in the Pacific division. If the playoffs started today, the top team in the Pacific would match up against the Wild in Round 1. Minnesota has gone 6-2-2 in their last 10 contests, including a 3-0 shutout of the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. The Sharks have taken the first two games of their season series with the Wild, outscoring Minnesota 8-3 in those games combined.

In addition to being a change of pace from the teams San Jose has squared off against in the playoffs in recent years, a series against Minnesota would definitely be interesting -- if not also one the Sharks could take control of.

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

But things don’t stop with Minnesota. Should the Sharks take first place in the standings, the teams still in the hunt for a playoff berth shouldn’t be ignored. The Coyotes, who currently sit three points out of a wild-card spot, have gone 8-2-0 in their last 10, including a 2-0 shutout of the Flames that helped the Sharks make up ground in the standings. The Colorado Avalanche are only four points out of a wild-card spot, and while they just received news they’ll be without Gabriel Landeskog for about a month, this is the team that squeaked into the playoffs last season. The Edmonton Oilers are seven points out of a wild-card spot, but riding a winning streak that could potentially boost them into competition with Arizona, should Colorado falter.

With San Jose playing their next game on Saturday and Calgary not playing again until Sunday, the standings could shift within the next 48 hours. With just 15 games left in the season, it’s going to be a wild race to the finish to see who the Sharks will face off against in the first round of this year’s playoffs.

NHL rumors: Sharks have made Erik Karlsson massive contract offer


NHL rumors: Sharks have made Erik Karlsson massive contract offer

The Sharks fell short in their Stanley Cup bid this season, and they now have some serious business to take care of this offseason.

It all starts with the team's pursuit in keeping star defenseman Erik Karlsson. 

The Sharks have been working toward a contract extension for Karlsson, and they reportedly now have made an offer. SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday that "it is believed they’ve [the Sharks] made him an offer that will challenge, if not surpass, Drew Doughty’s extension from last summer."

The L.A. Kings made Doughty the NHL's highest-paid defenseman last summer when they signed him to an eight-year, $88 million contract.

Not only did Friedman report the Sharks already have offered Karlsson, but he believes the team has a serious chance at bringing him back to San Jose for the long term.

"Conversations have intensified, and I think they’ve got a shot," Friedman wrote.

Karlsson had dinner with Sharks general manager Doug Wilson on Wednesday night in Santa Clara, The Athletic's Kevin Kurz reported. A Facebook user in a Sharks fan group posted a picture with Karlsson and Wilson from the restaurant, and it later surfaced on the Sharks' fan-run subreddit.

The Sharks acquired Karlsson in a blockbuster trade with the Senators on the eve of training camp. He played 53 games in his first year as a Shark and scored 45 points -- three goals and 42 assists.

Karlsson battled injuries all season long, and he clearly was hobbled in the playoffs before missing the Sharks' season-ending loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference final to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. He aggravated his injured groin in Game 4, and played just 10:32 in Game 5.

[RELATED: Inconsistent defense faces uncertain future for Sharks]

While Karlsson’s first go in San Jose didn't go as planned, the Sharks clearly want him to stay in the Bay.

Sharks organizational review: Goalie situation depends on Martin Jones


Sharks organizational review: Goalie situation depends on Martin Jones

SAN JOSE -- There may not have been a Sharks' player who caught more flak from fans this past season than Martin Jones, as the starting goalie battled with consistency this season. Criticism of San Jose's goaltending continued as Jones' backup, Aaron Dell, didn't fare much better overall throughout the regular season. 

Then came the Sharks' 20-game playoff run, where Jones did a complete 180-degree turn after the Sharks went into a 3-1 hole against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. As if a switch had been flipped, Jones went from being a liability to being a key to getting Team Teal to the Western Conference Final. 

The question now is which version of Martin Jones will be in net for the Sharks next season -- or how San Jose's goaltending contingent, in general, is going to look and match up to the competition in the future.

Sure, wins are what counts at the end of the day and Jones was tied for third in the league with 36 regular season victories in this last campaign. But while his record improved to 36-19-5 over the previous season's 30-22-6, his save percentage dipped from .915 to .896. He also developed a habit of giving up the first goal of the game within the first few minutes of the first period, putting the rest of the team on their heels early into games.  

Nevertheless, it's pretty unlikely Jones is going anywhere. He's entering the second season of a six-year contract extension he signed in 2017, and even before his turnaround performance in the playoffs the team around him never stopped sticking up for him. When Jones struggled, his teammates continued to put their unwavering faith in him and insisted their defensive effort in front of him was to blame. For that faith to continue, however, Jones is going to have to bring some of his strong play from the playoffs into next season.

As for Jones' backup, Dell's future seems a bit more open. Even with two shutouts on the season, No. 30's numbers also took a dip during the 2018-19 campaign and he ended the regular season with a 3.17 goals-against average and .886 save percentage. With just one year left on his current contract, San Jose could potentially use Dell as a trade piece.

[RELATED: What Sharks can learn from Stanley Cup champs]

Neither of San Jose's Barracuda goalies, Antoine Bibeau and Josef Korenar, saw any NHL time this past season. Although there's a possibility both get a look during camp ahead of next season after both posted better than .900 save percentages. Bibeau also already has two NHL games under his belt from when he was part of the Toronto Maple Leafs' organization, going 1-1-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average. 

The Sharks further added to their goaltending contingent this spring when they signed Zachary Emond to an entry-level contract. Emond, 18, won't be making any appearances at the NHL level this season, although the Sharks have expressed satisfaction with how the sixth-round pick from the 2018 draft is developing. Look for Emond to be a goalie to come up the pipeline for the Sharks, especially if he has another strong season with his junior club.