Sharks organizational review: Center position could be big question mark


Sharks organizational review: Center position could be big question mark

SAN JOSE -- The center position was an ever-evolving area of the Sharks' game during the 2018-19 season, with its highs, lows and changes in personnel. 

The team had added depth this past season with Joe Thornton moving to third-line center and with Tomas Hertl's successful transition to the pivot partway through the season. But San Jose also had difficulty finding a regular winning combination for its fourth line, and at the end of the regular season, it was ranked 15th in the NHL with a 50.3 faceoff win percentage -- and its four best skaters in the faceoff circle all spent the majority of their seasons playing on the wing.

Given the Sharks had some serious questions to answer involving the center position after Chris Tierney was sent to the Senators in the Erik Karlsson trade before the season started, San Jose ended the season with decent depth down the middle. Looking ahead to next season, however, there is room to grow -- and a couple more questions that need to be answered.

The Sharks' top lines are pretty much set, with Hertl and Logan Couture centering them. Couture has been a staple down the middle for San Jose for some time now, and his work over the past season with Timo Meier on his wing gave the Sharks an opportunity to score goals on a nightly basis.

Hertl's arrival as a key center for the team was more of a surprise, as he continued to build his game as a power forward after coach Peter DeBoer put him at the pivot before the turn of the new year. Hertl continued to grow in the position as the Sharks made a 20-game playoff run, taking over responsibilities with captain Joe Pavelski out of the lineup. Hertl went 56.2 percent in the faceoff circle during the playoffs, and played with a broken pinkie finger. Just imagine how much he can improve now that his finger is fixed.

San Jose's bottom lines are a bit of a different story, though, especially if Thornton doesn't return next season. Either way, there still will be an unofficial tryout to see who will best fill in that center role.

While Barclay Goodrow spent a chunk of the past season in that position, it seems very likely Dylan Gambrell will get a good look after spending last season bouncing between the AHL Barracuda and the NHL club. Of course, that's dependent on the Sharks signing the restricted free agent this summer, although that seems like a strong possibility.

If fellow center and RFA Antti Suomela still is around next season, he also could get a look, much like he did on the third line at the start of this past season. Another RFA on San Jose's long free agent list is Rourke Chartier, who began the season centering the fourth line while Thornton was dealing with complications involving his surgically repaired knee. However, injuries hampered Chartier's playing time at the AHL level this past season, and his future with the team remains a mystery. 

One player we didn't see up at the NHL level over the 2018-19 season was Alexander True. The young Danish center is coming off a team-leading 55-point campaign with the Barracuda, and he could get a look with the big club when training camp gets underway.

[RELATED: Couture could finish as top goal scorer in Cup playoffs]

Again, the Sharks might look to add another center to the mix if Thornton doesn't return next season -- and even more so if Pavelski goes to a different team. Even if San Jose makes a deal to keep gritty forward Micheal Haley, that still leaves the Sharks with a lack of skill down the center of their lineup.

In addition to centers from the Barracuda receiving a look, there's a chance the Sharks could make a trade for a more skilled player to help fill that void. San Jose also could add a center or two in this year's draft, although that likely wouldn't have an impact on the big club until after this next season.

Red Wings hilariously troll Logan Couture on Pavel Datsyuk's birthday


Red Wings hilariously troll Logan Couture on Pavel Datsyuk's birthday

Pavel Datsyuk's birthday might not be a day that Sharks center Logan Couture circles on his calendar every year, but he was reminded Saturday.

In honor of "The Magic Man" turning 41, the Detroit Red Wings' Twitter account posted a GIF of Couture falling victim to Datsyukian dangle. Couture, understandably, was none too pleased. 

To make matters worse -- or at least more ironic -- for Couture, the GIF in question came on his 24th birthday. The Sharks hosted Datsyuk's Red Wings on March 28, 2013, back in Detroit's last season in the Western Conference and just two years after San Jose eliminated the Winged Wheel in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second straight season.

The Red Wings were in the Western Conference for the first four years of Couture's career, and he played more regular-season and playoff games against Detroit (24) during that span than any team other than the Los Angeles Kings (30). Couture credited those matchups for helping him develop in a piece for The Players' Tribune in 2015, and called Datsyuk's deke "an example that my teammates will probably never let me live down." 

"Thankfully, I’m far from the only one to be victimized by Pavel," Couture wrote at the time. "He has the best hands in the NHL. One little trick he likes to do is stick-handle between a player’s tripod — between their feet and stick. He’ll even use the net as a prop to make you look dumb."

[RELATED: Why DeBoer credits Thornton for Sharks' historic Game 7 power play]

Datsyuk retired from the NHL three years ago to return to his native Russia, and signed with hometown Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the KHL this summer. There were rumors of him considering an NHL return, but Couture won't have to worry about Datsyuk's stickhandling much moving forward. 

Well, at least until the next time someone digs up the clip. 

Why Peter DeBoer credits Joe Thornton in Sharks' wild Vegas comeback


Why Peter DeBoer credits Joe Thornton in Sharks' wild Vegas comeback

In the aftermath of the Sharks' improbable -- if controversial -- Stanley Cup playoff comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the first round, San Jose coach Peter DeBoer credited veteran center Joe Thornton for speaking up in the immediate aftermath of then-captain Joe Pavelski's head injury. 

Earlier this week, San Jose's bench boss revealed that the 40-year-old did so at the expense of his own playing time. DeBoer told The Athletic's Craig Custance at a presentation during the Hockey Coaches Conference in Toronto this week that, when the Sharks scored their third goal on the contentious major penalty back on April 23, Thornton said DeBoer shouldn't put the veteran's power-play unit on the ice. 

Kevin Labanc scored the Sharks' fourth goal -- and his fourth point -- of the power play 28 seconds after Couture tied the game 3-3. San Jose scored two goals within 1:04 of the major penalty being called, with forwards Couture, Labanc, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl joined on the ice by defenseman Erik Karlsson. Thornton, Evander Kane, Gustav Nyquist and Marcus Sorensen took the ice with defenseman Brent Burns after the first two goals, but the Golden Knights held the second unit to two shots on goal and no goals for nearly two minutes of power-play time. 

Couture tied Game 7 with about 1:20 remaining on the power play, scoring the top power-play unit's third goal on their fifth shot attempt. On their sixth, Labanc gave the Sharks the lead. 

[RELATED: Sharks prospect Chekhovich has skill to earn NHL spot]

They still needed overtime to advance to the second round, but riding their hot hands resulted in an historic power play for the Sharks. According to DeBoer, he can thank Thornton for that.