Sharks offseason questions: Will Antti Suomela be back next year?


Sharks offseason questions: Will Antti Suomela be back next year?

SAN JOSE - When the Sharks' 2018-19 season first got underway, it looked like Antti Suomela could be the answer the team needed in adding depth to their centers. But after tallying just eight points (three goals, five assists) through 27 games, the Finnish forward was reassigned to the AHL in December for the remainder of the season.

Fast forward to the present, and the 25-year-old is one of many restricted free agents the Sharks have to make decisions about this offseason. The question now is whether San Jose liked enough of what they saw from him in his first season to keep him on the roster. While his fate has yet to be written, it's fair to wonder if Suomela will be playing somewhere else next season.

Suomela was a good catch for the Sharks in the last offseason, coming off three campaigns in the Finnish Elite League that showed upward growth. He had just led his team,  JyP HT Jyvaskyla, with 60 points (21 goals, 39 assists) and a staggering plus-28 in 59 games. But after looking impressive during Sharks' training camp last September and starting the season centering Joonas Donskoi and Evander Kane, the Espoo, Finland native had trouble generating offense or making a positive impact on the game.

When NBC Sports California caught up with Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer back in January, Suomela was one name that came up in the discussion. Suomela only had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 17 games at the AHL level. Sommer was confident that once Suomela "figured out" what he had to do at the NHL level, he would be unstoppable.

“With him, the work ethic is there, and he has a big compete to his game,” Sommer said. “I think he just has to figure out the North American game. Things happen a lot quicker here than where he was at. But he’s picking it up.”

Suomela ended his 2019 tenure with the Barracuda, scoring 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 47 games. He rejoined the Sharks roster once the Barracuda's season was over, but never penciled back into the big league lineup as San Jose went on a 20-game playoff run that ended with a Game 6 loss in the Western Conference final to the St. Louis Blues.

Even when the Sharks' roster sustained numerous injuries down the stretch, Dylan Gambrell was the center of choice to pencil into San Jose's playoff lineup.

[RELATED: What does future hold for Dylan Gambrell?]

Needless to say, it goes to wonder if we've already seen the end of Suomela's stint in a teal sweater. San Jose has 14 players who will become RFAs this summer on top of having some very tough decisions to make with its stacked UFA class. And there has been no word yet on how many of those discussions are unfolding.

In short, it's really anyone's guess at this point who will still be in San Jose when the offseason is over. For this center, though, it's looking very possible he could be playing somewhere else next season.

Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change


Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change

SAN JOSE -- Thursday could have been a fresh start for the Sharks. As shocking and emotional as it was to go through a midseason coaching change, they were presented with the opportunity to turn things around.

Unfortunately, Thursday's game against the Rangers featured a lot of the same problems. Missed opportunities, loose late-game play and yet another notch in the loss column.

Sure, getting accustomed to a new coach's ways can take some time. But that doesn't give the Sharks a pass when it comes to playing a full 60-minute hockey game.

"It's tough, it's difficult, but there's no excuse," captain Logan Couture said after the 6-3 loss. "Lots of teams have [gone through a coaching change]. A lot of teams in this league have done it and they've gone on winning streaks. The team that did it last year won the Cup. So, we've got to find a way. Tonight wasn't good enough once again."

San Jose did, in fact, have a great chance to get back into the win column in Bob Boughner's first game behind the bench. Even with New York continuing to grind away, the Sharks were able to take a 3-2 lead at the 4:12 mark of the third period thanks to a big goal from Brenden Dillon.

But then the defense took its foot off of the gas and Martin Jones couldn't stop Mike Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin from pushing the Rangers over the hump. In a matter of minutes, the Sharks went from defending a lead to being in a hole they didn't have time to dig out of.

"When you have a lead in the third with 15 minutes left, you have to defend a little bit harder and not turn the puck over like we did," Couture continued. "Play harder in our own end, which we did not. Defend our slot harder tonight, and I don't think we did."

Dillon agreed. "Frustrating when you have a lead like that. Especially at home, we have to be able to close it out. If we give up the tying goal, and then a couple more, it's just frustrating."

Letting up late isn't the only thing that is plaguing the Sharks right now. San Jose has struggled to play a full 60-minute game for the bulk of the season thus far. Thursday's loss showed yet again that San Jose isn't playing full games on a nightly basis -- regardless of who is behind the bench.

"I think we did some good things tonight, but obviously it still wasn't a full 60," interim head coach Bob Boughner observed. "I think in the third period we ran out of gas there a little bit."

[RELATED: Boughner confident in staff, wants Sharks to play inspired]

Martin Jones, who surrendered three goals in the third period, agreed. "Have to play a full 60 minutes, you have to," he said, acknowledging that having an adjustment period with a new coaching staff isn't an excuse. "They had more jump in the third period than us. We've got to find a way in a tied hockey game to come out with a little bit more energy. I don't know how many shots or scoring chances we had in the third, but we need to apply more pressure in a close hockey game like that."

Whether it's applying more pressure or tightening up, the Sharks clearly still have a laundry list of things they need to clean up. Now with the dust settling in regards to the coaching change, San Jose has no other option but to dig deep and keep working.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Boughner reminded everyone. "We'll have a good practice day tomorrow. Sort some things out."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in disappointing 6-3 loss to Rangers


Sharks takeaways: What we learned in disappointing 6-3 loss to Rangers


SAN JOSE -- Considering all of the chaos surrounding the Sharks over the last 24 hours, you might have forgotten that they still had a game to play Thursday night.

It wasn’t the tightest game San Jose has played this season, nor was it the most dominant. And while the Sharks were able to take a late lead thanks to Brenden Dillon’s first goal of the season, the visiting New York Rangers buried a few late-game goals to hand San Jose a 6-3 loss and extend the losing streak to six games.

Here are three takeaways from Bob Boughner's debut behind the bench:

Defense still needs work 

Clearly, the Sharks are still a work in progress. A coaching change isn't going to make them a different team overnight. So while aspects of their game looked better on Thursday, there are still areas they need to tighten up, with defense being the area that stuck out the most against New York.

San Jose did a good job early on of being stingy in its own zone and leading the charge with eight blocked shots to the Rangers' two. But in the second period, the Sharks began giving the visitors more room to move the puck up the middle of the ice which, in turn, made Martin Jones' job harder. It's no wonder the Rangers were able to score two goals less than three minutes apart in that frame.

Goaltending remains a question mark 

During Thursday afternoon’s press conference, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson was adamant that the defense in front of San Jose’s net needs to be better, but so do the goaltenders. Jones made some nice saves against an opportunistic Rangers team that never slowed down throughout the game, but he wasn't at his best on San Jose’s third-period penalty kill when he gave up multiple goals that he should have had.

If the Sharks are going to rebound from the current losing streak, Jones must regain the confidence he played with at the end of November. There’s no way around it.

[RELATED: Boughner confident in staff, wants Sharks to play inspired]

Hertl is on the mend 

If there was one Sharks player who noticeably was better against the Rangers, it was Tomas Hertl. The Czech forward slowly has been recovering from an ankle injury that has encumbered his playing abilities. Against the Rangers, however, he looked like he's regaining some of his swagger.

Hertl's strength and patience paid off on the penalty kill when he beat netminder Alexandar Georgiev for a short-handed goal to open up scoring. But he also had a couple of chances later in the game that, despite not finding the back of the net, challenged Georgiev and New York's defense. Hertl might not be operating at 100 percent just yet, but at least he's showing flashes of the power forward he can be.