Sharks

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

NASHVILLE – Apparently, one wake up call wasn’t good enough for the plummeting San Jose Sharks.
 
Just one day after suffering what was arguably their worst game under coach Pete DeBoer, Nashville put up a touchdown on the Sharks in a 7-2 win, giving San Jose its sixth straight defeat – all in regulation.
 
After getting outscored 13-3 the last two nights, including Friday’s 6-1 loss in Dallas, where do they go from here?
 
“In two years, last year and this year so far, we haven’t had one night like this almost. Now we have back-to-back nights,” Joe Pavelski said. “I think it’s just a reality check. A gut-check time.
 
“It’s on us as players. Bottom line is we haven’t put the effort in that we need to have right now, and it snowballed on us a little bit at times. I think we’ve got to take a deep breath and really take a look in the mirror, refocus a little bit and understand there’s hockey out there, but it’s not going to fix itself.”
 
What has to be fixed immediately is the defensive structure that has been so vital to the Sharks’ success in the Pete DeBoer era. Even when the club was going through stretches of struggling to score, as it was earlier in the season, it was still collecting points in the standings with its ability to limit the opposition’s scoring chances.
 
While the game against the Predators was actually a little better in that regard, believe it or not, it was still nowhere near the level it needs to be for the postseason. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s absence was partly to blame for that, but the Brent Burns-Paul Martin pair has been a disaster lately. Both have a minus-nine rating during the six-game losing streak, and that number is indicative of how they’ve looked, too.
 
“We’re giving up some goals. It’s a combination of things,” DeBoer said. “Obviously it’s not good enough to win games, so we’ve got to figure it out. I don’t have an answer standing here for you, but I know our group. Every team I’ve ever coached has a tough part of the season. This is obviously ours. We’ll regroup, and figure it out.”
 
Burns, who admitted to a “bad read” on Nashville’s second goal when Roman Josi sped around him, said: “It’s a tough league when you’re not executing little things.”
 
The Sharks actually looked strong early, poised to put the Dallas disaster behind them. The first few shifts, they had the puck in the Nashville end.
 
But Tomas Hertl was outmuscled behind the net by Colin Wilson on Colton Sissons’ goal at 4:14, Burns got beat on the second, and the Sharks never recovered. Patrick Marleau’s second period power play goal offered life, but that was extinguished 24 seconds later when James Neal answered with a power play goal of his own. The Sharks never got closer than two goals after that.
 
“When things are going bad, those are the things that are happening,” Burns said of Neal’s response to Marleau’s marker. “So, you’ve just got work through it."
 
Will they be able to work through it with just seven games left in the regular season, though? That this cold spell is happening in late March doesn’t speak well to the Sharks’ chances in the postseason, which begins in just two-and-a-half weeks.
 
Burns said: “Right now we should be just tightening up everything. … We've got figure it out pretty soon.”

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Salary cap constraints

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Salary cap constraints

The Sharks' top priority this offseason was getting Erik Karlsson inked to a long-term contract.

Mission accomplished, but at a significant cost -- and I'm not just referring to the $92 million Karlsson will earn over the next eight seasons.

That isn't to say Karlsson isn't worth it. He most definitely is. During San Jose's most dominant stretches last season, he was unquestionably the Sharks' best player. Had he not suffered a debilitating groin injury that severely limited him at times during the postseason, it might have been San Jose winning its first Stanley Cup in franchise history, and not the St. Louis Blues.

Karlsson is worth the contract, and certainly would have received a similar offer -- if not larger -- on the open market. When healthy, he's the best defenseman in the game.

But in order to lock up the former Norris Trophy winner to a long-term deal, the Sharks had to face a harsh reality. It simply wasn't going to be possible to sign both Karlsson and former captain Joe Pavelski to market-rate contracts. In a salary-cap league, teams are forced to make tough choices.

Karlsson is in. Pavelski is out.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson doesn't just chase the big fish; he's quite adept at landing them. Every team wants to have star players, but in order to have them, you have to pay for 'em.

The Sharks have a lot of big fish. Karlsson, Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Evander Kane are all making at least $7 million per season for the next six years. That's a lot of money tied up in a small portion of the roster. Add in the contracts for Timo Meier (four years, $6 million AAV), Tomas Hertl (three years, $5.25 million AAV) and Martin Jones (five years, $5.75 million AAV), and you have a pretty good idea of San Jose's core for the foreseeable future.

And that's a major threat to the Sharks' ability to win a cup anytime soon.

San Jose has 21 players signed for the upcoming season with just over $4.6 million remaining in projected cap space, according to Cap Friendly. Moving forward, though, the Sharks won't have much wiggle room.

Outside of the aforementioned core, only Marcus Sorensen, Barclay Goodrow and Dylan Gambrell are signed beyond this coming season, and all three are due to become free agents the year after that. That means that San Jose currently has just 11 players under contract for 2020-21, with only $19.5 million remaining in projected cap space to fill out the rest of the roster. Looking ahead to 2021-22, the Sharks have only eight players under contract, with $22.625 million remaining in projected cap space.

[RELATED: Why looming NHL lockout is threat to Sharks' Cup hopes]

Wilson has done a tremendous job identifying undervalued lower-salaried players that have provided depth throughout so many playoff runs. He's also done well to acquire top-end talent through the draft, despite frequently being without a first-round pick. Given San Jose's salary situation, and the fact that the Sharks don't have a first, fourth or sixth-round pick in 2020, nor a second-round pick in 2021, it's essential that Wilson continues to be successful in those two areas in particular.

If he's not, the Sharks won't have the depth to compete for a Cup in the near future, no matter how many big fish they have.

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Potential NHL lockout

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Potential NHL lockout

Editor's Note: Now that the Blues and Capitals have gotten off the Stanley Cup schneid, there's arguably no NHL franchise more "due" to win a Cup than the Sharks. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the five biggest threats to San Jose's championship aspirations in the relatively near future. We continue with the upcoming CBA negotiations that could result in a potential lockout.

The current NHL collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021-22 season, meaning there's no need to worry about any sort of lockout occurring before then, right?

Wrong.

Yes, the CBA expires after the 2021-22 season, but both the league and the NHL Players' Association have options to opt-out of it next month, just as teams are convening for the start of training camp. Even if neither side chooses to do so at that time, there is plenty of reason to believe the NHL could experience its fourth work stoppage under commissioner Gary Bettman at some point in the near future.

And, if that indeed does occur, one could make the case there are few teams that would be more negatively impacted than the Sharks.

San Jose has done an incredible job of prolonging its championship window -- more times than once. The Sharks only have missed the playoffs twice since 1998, reaching the Western Conference final five times in that span. The most recent of those trips came just this past season when San Jose was eliminated in six games by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.

The developments of the offseason have done nothing to remove the Sharks from the list of legitimate contenders.

But, all good things must come to an end, and that window -- at some point -- eventually will close. The fact of the matter is, while general manager Doug Wilson has replenished the roster with several quality young players, the ones that have formed the backbone of so many of those playoff runs are getting long in the tooth.

Joe Pavelski is gone. Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture will turn 35, 33 and 31 years old, respectively, this coming March. Erik Karlsson, who signed an eight-year contract at the start of the offseason, turns 30 in May. Surefire Hall of Famer Joe Thornton is 40, and while he's currently unsigned, you can count on seeing him in teal for at least one more season. 

All of this is to say, the Sharks can't afford to waste any time. They've come close -- very close -- to winning it all multiple times, but last year's team might have been the most talented in franchise history, and still it fell short. One naturally would assume that if San Jose is going to end its lengthy Stanley Cup drought, it will occur while some or most of that talented and decorated core still is intact.

Any sort of work stoppage -- for however long -- would therefore rapidly increase the speed with which that window closes.

Now, there is optimism that the two sides will be able to avoid any such lockout, but there are a few contentious issues that will be at the heart of the negotiations, most notably the percentage of player contracts held in escrow, and the feasibility of NHL players participating in the Winter Olympics mid-season. Given how certain star players have set up their contracts for the 2020-21 season, it's clear that optimism isn't shared by all.

[RELATED: Why 2021 NHL Expansion Draft is threat to Sharks' cup hopes]

For instance, $12 million of Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid's $13 million 2020-21 contract is in the form of a signing bonus to be paid in July. Similarly, Toronto's John Tavares will make more than $11 million of his $12 million 2020-21 salary in the form of a lump sum, thereby ensuring he'll receive the vast majority of his salary whether there's a lockout in 2020 or 2022, or not at all.

The most recent NHL lockout reduced the 2012-13 season to 48 games. The one before that eliminated the 2004-05 season altogether. If the next one occurs anytime soon, it will steal time from the Sharks that they simply don't have.