Sharks

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should center Dylan Gambrell stay or go?

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USATSI

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should center Dylan Gambrell stay or go?

During the Sharks' rollercoaster 2018-19 season, Dylan Gambrell did a little bit of everything.

He would get recalled from the Barracuda when one of San Jose's big guns was injured, fill in on the fourth line when need be, then get reassigned to the AHL with a list of things to work on.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The Bonney Lake, Washington native then capped off his first stint in the NHL playoffs by scoring San Jose's lone goal against the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

Needless to say, that was an impressive way for Gambrell to end the season before becoming a potential restricted free agent. Here's a look at why Gambrell could be staying in teal, and why that Game 6 goal might've been his last for San Jose.

Why he could stay

San Jose has a couple pending RFAs that look to be the future of this team, and Gambrell is one of them.

The 22-year-old impressed Sharks coach Peter DeBoer every time he was recalled to the big club, showing growth with every opportunity he got to fill in on San Jose's fourth line. DeBoer's biggest note was that the speedy center needed to bring his physicality up to the NHL level.

“He just has to realize up here that, to use that speed, you have to attack holes and draw penalties,” DeBoer said back in November. "I think he’s an honest 200-foot player.”

Offensive depth is a key area the Sharks want to beef up next season, especially when it comes to finding a winning combination on the fourth line. San Jose spent the better part of last season trying to find a replacement for Chris Tierney, only occasionally finding a combo that could be rolled out multiple nights in a row. 

It's highly possible Gambrell gets the chance to audition for that fourth-line center job full-time when camp gets underway.

Why he could go

As we've said with every skater facing free agency: No one is safe from a trade.

San Jose is still looking to make room to get under the cap and sign some of their key players and are far from being at that point. With draft weekend ready to get underway and free agency just around the corner, there will no doubt be more players on the move. 

And, as the Sharks proved earlier this week with the Justin Braun trade, no level of seniority on the team is going to prevent them from making a deal.

Even though the Sharks were happy with Gambrell's development this season, that wouldn't necessarily stop them including him in a trade.

The verdict

Dylan Gambrell is a player the Sharks want to keep around for a while.

Over the past season, he displayed a strong work ethic and an ability to learn and grow with the team around him, at both the AHL and NHL level. With the Sharks looking to get more out of its bottom six this upcoming season, Gambrell is a player they can plug in and get a lot out of.

[RELATED: Should winger Kevin Labanc stay or go?]

Since Gambrell looked so good centering San Jose's fourth line in the conference final, it's possible he gets a chance to step up and take that job for himself this upcoming season.

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

The Sharks aren’t used to losing. Say what you want about the team’s inability to complete a NHL playoff run and hoist a Stanley Cup, but there’s no doubt this team has been an excellent regular-season unit and a perennial contender for more than two decades.

The Sharks last finished the regular season below .500 during 2002-03 season, going on a 15-season run of winning hockey snapped this year. The Sharks were terrible despite plenty of star power, unable to improve on an awful start that got Peter DeBoer fired and left the team languishing in the Pacific Division cellar.

The Sharks didn’t handle it well.

Goalie Martin Jones was honest about that fact in an interview with SportsNet’s Elliott Friedman.

“When it started to spiral, we went our own ways instead of coming together,” Jones said in a column published May 14. “It’s something that will be addressed moving forward.”

Airing dirty laundry, even with a constructive spin, isn’t always welcome in the aftermath of a season gone awry. Jones’ teammates, however, had no issue confirming the fact the Sharks frayed a bit as losses started to mount.

“When you’re losing and things aren't going your way, frustrating builds and it builds quickly,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said. “With us, a lot of guys in our room have never gone through a season like that. Some may have years ago, but not recently. From top to bottom I don’t think anyone handled it the best possible way. I’m obviously in that group. There’s a lot that I think I can learn from.”

[RELATED: What Couture learned from first season as Sharks captain]

The Sharks were tested during a difficult campaign and they didn’t always pass, but the veteran leaders are determined to use it as a teachable moment to handle adversity better in the future.

“It’s easy for guys to be good guys if everything’s going well, but you don’t really grow from that,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “You know what this feels like now. A lot of guys hadn’t been through a lot of that before. It’s not easy. Guys here know it’s hard. They have grown through a culture that has been very successful through a lot of work and a mental edge. It’s important not to lose that mental edge. It was not fun. There aren’t a lot of positives you can take from [season], other than not wanting to go back there. It’s frustrating. There’s nothing great about it.”

[RELATED: Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search]

Defenseman Erik Karlsson wasn’t happy about the team’s response to adversity, but he didn’t consider it out of the ordinary or something that frayed relationships that could linger into future seasons. The Sharks’ goal is to contain a bad campaign and make it the outlier their history suggests it could be.

“When things don’t go your way individually and as a team, it’s nothing more than natural that you start thinking in different directions and looking for solutions that might not be there,” Karlsson said. “Overthinking is one of the biggest mistakes you can make but something we all do in tough situations. That’s especially true when you don’t feel like you are doing enough or playing up to your own standards.

“Anything that happened this year was a normal reaction you would’ve gotten on any team in any sport. … I didn’t see anything alarming, and I don’t really judge the things that happened this year. You get to see a lot of different sides of people you hadn’t seen before, and you learn a lot about yourself. This year is something for each individual to learn from when looking at the situation and what they could do differently if a situation like this creeps up again.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

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Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

Sharks captain Logan Couture thanked Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu for speaking out against racism in hockey, tweeting a note Saturday that said the sport and society "are only scraping the surface in what desperately needs fixing."

"Racism exists in society, it also exists in hockey," Couture wrote. "That's a fact. Growing up in this game is a privilege. [At times,] I think most of us have been at fault for turning a blind eye when it comes to racism. It cannot continue."

Kane later tweeted his appreciation of Couture's message.

Kane, who is black, has become increasingly vocal speaking out against racism within -- and beyond -- the sport in the past year. In September, Kane told TSN 1040 in Vancouver that hockey lagged behind other professional sports in diversity and addressing racism after fan told him to "stick to basketball" in an Instagram comment. Kane called a story in "The Players Tribune" earlier this month authored by Aliu, whose revelation that Bill Peters directed racial slurs towards him in the AHL led to the Calgary Flames firing their now-former coach late last year, a must-read for everyone involved in hockey.

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody Monday outraged Kane, tweeting that video of the incident made his "[f---ing] blood boil." Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, could be heard on video saying "I can't breathe" as former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck while three other officers at the scene looked on. Chauvin and the three officers were fired Tuesday, and Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

[RELATED: Kerr says he, white people have to do more to fight racism]

Kane said Friday in an interview on ESPN's "First Take" that white athletes couldn't leave speaking up against systematic racism to their black peers. While Kane felt supported by his teammates, he told "Writers Bloc" on CJCL in Toronto later that day that hockey's team-first culture often encourages silence on a wide range of issues in the sport and outside of it.

“Is it going to change? I hope," Kane said (H/T Sportsnet's Sonny Sachdeva). "I’m going to try to be a part of the solution and process in creating that change. But … when it comes to social injustices and racism in hockey, it requires change at the top. Because, you know, that’s the only way true change is going to take place. At the top. Because it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.

“And until things change at the top ... until they make the necessary change to condemn these sort of acts and mindsets … and really weed out that type of thought process, we’re going to be stuck in the same position we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often publicly comment, said in a rare statement Friday that the Sharks applauded Kane's "rational and thoughtful response to the terrible tragedy" of Floyd's death. Defenseman Mario Ferraro retweeted the statement, and Couture's note is the first tweeted by one of Kane's San Jose teammates in support.