Sharks not satisfied, in prime position to win Stanley Cup

Sharks not satisfied, in prime position to win Stanley Cup

SAN JOSE – The offseason is a time for NHL players to unwind and forget about hockey for a little bit. For the Sharks, as successful as their 2015-16 season was, it ended on a sour note in a six-game Stanley Cup Final defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. After nine straight months of hockey, downtime was necessary.

Joel Ward headed back to his hometown of Toronto for the summer, which isn’t exactly the best place to not think about hockey. But not even Ward could have been prepared for what he saw one day while out for a stroll down one of Toronto’s busy thoroughfares.

“I was walking down the street with my girlfriend to go get a burger or something. I just happened to sneak a peek at a bar downtown and it was [Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley’s Stanley Cup party],” Ward said. “I had to go chug a beer when I got home.”

Ward and his teammates had a short summer, and are now aiming to finish the job with a championship. They are in prime position to do it, too, returning virtually their entire roster and upgrading both the forward and defense positions with offseason adds Mikkel Boedker and David Schlemko.

San Jose was exposed as being a bit too slow against the Penguins, and Boedker’s biggest asset is his speed. Schlemko is much more mobile than the departed Roman Polak on the back end, too.

Joe Thornton said: “Mikkel flies up and down the wing. He creates a lot of space. David in the back moves pucks real well and he skates real well. We’re going to have a little bit faster team this year, for sure.”

The message from management is clear – the Sharks are still going for it.

“We had an unbelievable year, but we’re not satisfied,” Logan Couture said. “We want to get back there and we want to win it. We believe in this room that we’re capable of doing that this year. Adding pieces like that only helps us.”

The Sharks will also be more used to their head coach from the outset, as Pete DeBoer enters his second season in charge. Last year under its new coaching staff, the team was inconsistent through Christmastime with an 18-18-2 record through its first 38 games. The Sharks only really took in the second half.

Paul Martin said: “It’s a lot easier when you know what to expect and the way [DeBoer] likes to run practices and what he expects out of you day in and day out.”

It’s an advantage for DeBoer, too.

“Compared to starting last year right from scratch, we’re starting almost where we left off last year and we can build on that. That’s nice,” DeBoer said on the first day of camp. “The tough part is you don’t get to start where you ended last year. You have to start right at the bottom of the mountain again and start climbing.”

[KURZ: Ask the experts: Sharks' aging core a concern?]

Perhaps the biggest concern headed into the season is that the Sharks will again be counting on some aging players in important roles. Despite suggestions early in camp that there were some prospects primed to break through to the NHL full time, none of them ended up making the opening night roster. Former ninth overall pick Timo Meier could get to the Sharks at some point, but an illness has him sidelined for several more weeks.

Still, the Sharks have done an admirable job injecting some youth into their lineup. Boedker should be entering his prime at 26. Couture is still just 27, and played the best hockey of his life in last year’s playoffs. Joonas Donskoi, 24, came out of nowhere to establish himself as a top six forward last season, and both Tomas Hertl, 22, and Chris Tierney, 22, made major strides in their game last season.

Thornton, Ward, Martin and Patrick Marleau are all at least 35, and captain Joe Pavelski is 32, but general manager Doug Wilson is confident they can all continue to play at a high level while the youth surrounding them should continue to improve.

“We’ve got some older guys, certainly, but they play young. They love the game,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we’re an old team, I don’t think we’re a young team. I think we’ve got a group of players that are very experienced, and I think they respect each other. 

“Like any hockey team that has success, you’re a sum of all your parts.”

Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal


Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal

Just two days before one was scheduled, the Sharks avoided an arbitration hearing with center Chris Tierney, and re-signed the restricted free agent to a two-year deal on Wednesday, the team announced. The deal is reportedly worth just shy of $2.94 million annually, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

"Chris had his best season as a professional last year and stepped up his level of play in multiple areas," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We've always known he was a responsible, defensive-minded player, but he took his offensive game to the next tier and showed that he can be a productive player in all three zones. We look forward to watching him continue his evolution in 2018-19." 

Last season, the 24-year-old Tierney set career-highs in goals (17), assists (23), points (40), shots on goal (118), and ice time (16:00). Tierney also generated expected goals at the highest rate of his career (0.62 per hour), according to Corsica Hockey. 

A 2012 second-round pick, Tierney entered last season in an uncertain place. He signed his one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer last summer, and head coach Peter DeBoer challenged him to improve. 

“I came into the year wanting to prove a point. I believe in myself. I think I’m a good hockey player,” Tierney told the San Jose Mercury News in December. “I wanted to come in and show people that I could play an offensive role on the team.”  

DeBoer used Tierney slightly differently this season, as the forward started a career-high percentage of five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone (31.12 percent) and a career-low percentage of defensive zone starts (29.68 percent), per Corsica Hockey. Tierney responded in kind with his aforementioned career-best offensive numbers, and seized the third-line center role after versatile forward Tomas Hertl stayed on the wing.  

With Tierney back in the fold, the Sharks now have just under $4.4 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly. That’s for a roster carrying 14 forwards, seven defenseman, and two goaltenders, and San Jose’s actual cap space may change depending on the outcome of various positional battles in training camp. 

This summer, Tierney became the fourth Sharks player since 2008 to file for arbitration. In every case, including with Tierney on Wednesday, a settlement was reached prior to a hearing. 

The Sharks also signed a pair of prospects to entry-level contracts on Wednesday. Defenseman Ryan Merkley, San Jose’s first-round pick this June, and 21-year-old forward Alexander True, who scored 28 points in 68 games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda last season, both inked deals with the organization.

Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double


Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones won't just enter the season with a different paycheck, the result of entering the first year of a five-year, $34.5 million contract extension that he signed last July. He'll also have a new mask.

Toronto-based artist Steve Nash unveiled a look at Jones' mask design for the upcoming season Monday morning on Twitter. The design again features San Jose's secondary logo but with some subtle differences.

Eagle-eyed mask afficionados will notice a couple of tweaks. First, there now are two sharks on the side, compared to only one last season. Those sharks boast orange eyes seen on the back of his mask last season

For comparison, here's a look at Jones' mask from last year.

The 28-year-old netminder is entering his fourth season in San Jose's crease. Jones posted a .915 save percentage in 60 regular-season starts and followed that with a .928 in 10 postseason starts as the Sharks advanced to the second round. 

We'll get our best look at Jones' new mask in action when training camp opens in mid-September, and, assuming he plays, in a game as soon as the Sept. 18 preseason opener against the Ducks.