Sharks

Sharks need Timo Meier, rest of young core to get going offensively

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USATSI

Sharks need Timo Meier, rest of young core to get going offensively

When Timo Meier scored an empty-net goal in the Sharks' 4-2 win over Chicago on Tuesday at SAP Center, you could see the look of relief on his face.

The Swiss forward has not been immune to the scoring woes that plagued the Sharks through the first month of the 2019-20 season. Since Meier signed a four-year, $24 million contract this summer, the pressure on him to produce has been greater than ever. 

Meier isn't alone. The Sharks put a lot of stock into their young talent this season, wanting players like Lean Bergmann, Dylan Gambrell and Noah Gregor to step up and take on larger roles. That transition hasn't been easy and San Jose collectively has struggled, placing more pressure on other young players like Meier, Kevin Labanc, and Tomas Hertl even greater.

But the Sharks are finally getting an idea of what their roster is capable of, following a win Tuesday that was partially fueled by the return of defenseman Radim Simek. San Jose has a chance to right the ship that is, without a doubt, a perfect set-up for Meier, Labanc and Hertl to get going. 

"Timo and Banker and those guys, those are guys who we're expecting a lot out of," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said last week. "They've got to take a step here this year. Some of those guys played in support roles in the past and benefited from playing behind some key guys. Now they're the key guys and with that comes some pressure to produce. They aren't the only guys, but I think we're expecting a lot from those guys and we're trying to hold them to that."

The results have been mixed through 16 games.

Labanc kept scoring during the Sharks' losing skids, but some of his defensive mishaps have him toward the bottom of the NHL in plus-minus. Dylan Gambrell began to find his footing after a less-than-impressive training camp but is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury.

Even Hertl, who took a huge leap once he started centering San Jose's second line, only has scored five goals this season. And then there's Meier, who has three goals through the first 16 games of the season when he had 12 goals at the same point last season.

Suffice to say, this isn't the start the Sharks hoped for. Fortunately for San Jose, it isn't too late for this contingent to take the next step. 

The Sharks got a visible boost on Tuesday night from Simek's return, and the nudge from the defense resulted in more offensive-zone time for San Jose. If that kind of elevated defensive play continues, it gives the offense an opportunity to create more scoring chances. Plus, DeBoer's newly-configured line combinations appear to have given the team an added jolt, as both Meier and Hertl showed a spark on a line together on Tuesday evening. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Marleau makes history playing in 800 straight games]

If the Sharks' offense uses Tuesday's win as a jumping-off point, San Jose could still turn around the season.

Granted, the Sharks won't play Chicago every night. San Jose has the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers coming up on the homestand, and each of those teams can challenge the Sharks in different ways.

If there was ever a time for the Sharks' young core to grow into bigger roles, it would be now. 

2020 NHL Draft lottery: Sharks benefit from Rangers getting No. 1 pick

2020 NHL Draft lottery: Sharks benefit from Rangers getting No. 1 pick

The Sharks' NHL draft lottery woes didn't go from bad to worse Monday.

The Ottawa Senators won't get the chance to select top prospect Alexis Lafreniere with the Sharks' pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and none of San Jose's division or conference rivals will be able to select him, either. The New York Rangers won Phase 2 of the draft lottery, grabbing the No. 1 selection in this year's draft after bowing out to the Carolina Hurricanes in the qualifying round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Lafreniere, widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, has franchise-defining talent. He has scored a whopping 297 points in the last three years in the QMJHL, including 112 in 52 games this season. The Sharks can rest easy knowing no team in the Pacific Division or Western Conference will have Lafreniere on a rookie deal for the next three years, though it was a possibility.

The Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets each had a 12.5 percent chance of landing the top pick (and thus Lafreniere) entering Monday night. Each team had at least 15 more points than the cellar-dwelling Sharks when the NHL season was suspended in March, and San Jose's path back to contention is fraught enough without adding a Lafreniere-starring team in the division or conference.

[RELATED: Why bringing Marleau back makes plenty of sense for Sharks]

The Sharks surely breathed a sigh of relief once they learned the Senators would select No. 3 overall with the pick San Jose used to acquire defenseman Erik Karlsson nearly two years ago, and they can do so again knowing Lafreniere won't be out west. The 2019-20 season will still sting, of course, if Ottawa's selection is used to draft an eventual franchise cornerstone, but the Sharks haven't had many victories to fall back upon in the last calendar year and this would certainly qualify.

It won't mean much if the Sharks aren't soon able to chart a path back to contention, though.

Why Sharks should sign Patrick Marleau for third go-around in San Jose

Why Sharks should sign Patrick Marleau for third go-around in San Jose

It has been widely presumed that if Patrick Marleau returns for a 23rd NHL season, he will do so with the Sharks, back where it all began.

He still is without a Stanley Cup on his career résumé after he and the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round of the NHL's expanded playoff format. The Penguins acquired him prior to the trade deadline in exchange for a 2021 third-round draft pick after he returned for his second go-around with San Jose early in the season.

Based on what his wife, Christina, tweeted Friday, it appears Marleau already has made up his mind about playing next season.

That really shouldn't come as a surprise. Though he isn't the top-end player he once was, Marleau showed this past season that he still has some left in the tank. And, on top of that, he only needs to play in 45 more games to pass NHL legend Gordie Howe for the most games played in league history.

Frankly, it would only be fitting if he set the record in a Sharks sweater. And now it would appear the ball is in San Jose's court as to whether or not Marleau will return to the franchise that drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1997 Entry Draft.

Aside from the appetizing narrative, there's reason why Marleau might get a third go-around in teal. All indications are that the Sharks intend to return to playoff contention next season, but due to their salary structure, don't expect any large salaries to be brought in -- San Jose already has plenty of those. Consequently, the Sharks are going to need to fill the lineup with some minimum-salaried players.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl 'finally back' on ice after tearing ACL, MCL]

At this point, you can bet that money isn't a top consideration for Marleau. If a true Cup contender doesn't present him with an offer, it would be difficult to envision a more appealing destination for him than San Jose. Marleau could be signed for the veteran's minimum, and given he scored 10 goals in 58 games with the Sharks this year, that might be a pretty good value.

It's certainly possible the Sharks find a superior player to take Marleau's hypothetical spot, or would rather give it to a younger player that is part of the future.

If that's not the case, though, signing Mr. Shark makes an awful lot of sense.