Sharks organizational review: Wingers remain great asset for San Jose


Sharks organizational review: Wingers remain great asset for San Jose

SAN JOSE -- When it comes to the Sharks' offensive arsenal, their wingers are some of their best assets. Even when the offense had trouble waking up, bench boss Peter DeBoer didn't hesitate to throw his lines into the blender and come up with a combo or two that could get the team going.

Moving forward, the wings should remain one of San Jose's best-stocked positions -- even if there are some changes in personnel during the offseason.

Staple wingers like Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane set the tone for the Sharks when it came to scoring this past season. Kane was particularly impressive in his first full season as a Shark, adding a dash of grit to San Jose's attack all while registering the first 30-goal season of his professional career. 

But the 2018-19 season also saw a few young wingers develop into key players. Timo Meier emerged as one of San Jose's key offensive weapons this past season, securing his power forward status with a spot on Logan Couture's wing right at the start of the 2018-19 campaign. Kevin Labanc also deserves some credit for the work he did after a rough stretch in the middle of the season, rallying to become a reliable depth player opposite Marcus Sorensen on Joe Thornton's line. Sorensen deserves props too, creating solid chemistry with Thornton and setting up some of No. 19's biggest goals of the season.

Of course, there's due to be some juggling on the wings in the offseason with different players' contracts ending. Meier, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1, is likely staying in San Jose. When asked about Meier's future with the team during exit interviews, Sharks GM Doug Wilson briefly mentioned he'd had discussions with Meier's agent, giving the impression the team sees him as a key piece of their future.  

But two UFA wingers in Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist make things a bit interesting.

Donskoi, who was part of the Sharks 2016 Western Conference-winning team, struggled in the latter part of this last regular season before rebounding for Team Teal in the playoffs. Nyquist was San Jose's big acquisition at the trade deadline, who didn't quite find his spot in the lineup until the playoffs and became a good fit on Couture's wing opposite Meier. As of the team's last media availability session of the season, neither player was privy to any contract talks taking place -- although both expressed a desire to stay in the South Bay.  

The biggest question San Jose has at the wing position revolves around Pavelski, who is set to be a UFA as well. No. 8's skill and leadership have become key cogs in the Sharks' successes, and this past season showed how much the Sharks miss him if he's injured and can't play. The captain expressed to the press he and his family want to stay in San Jose, although at there still don't seem to be any contract talks taking place. If the Sharks don't have a deal done with him before the market opens, it could make the start of free agency very interesting.

[RELATED: Pavelski optimistic about working out Sharks contract]

Regardless of what happens with the team's big free agents, the Sharks also have wingers coming up the pipeline via the Barracuda. Jeffrey Truchon-Viel didn't see any NHL time last season, but after being signed to the team this spring could get a look once camp opens up. Soon-to-be RFA Francis Perron, who San Jose acquired as part of the Erik Karlsson trade, is also a winger who could get a look with the big club after being on the Barracuda's best players last season, provided he stays with San Jose. 

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

The Sharks aren’t used to losing. Say what you want about the team’s inability to complete a NHL playoff run and hoist a Stanley Cup, but there’s no doubt this team has been an excellent regular-season unit and a perennial contender for more than two decades.

The Sharks last finished the regular season below .500 during 2002-03 season, going on a 15-season run of winning hockey snapped this year. The Sharks were terrible despite plenty of star power, unable to improve on an awful start that got Peter DeBoer fired and left the team languishing in the Pacific Division cellar.

The Sharks didn’t handle it well.

Goalie Martin Jones was honest about that fact in an interview with SportsNet’s Elliott Friedman.

“When it started to spiral, we went our own ways instead of coming together,” Jones said in a column published May 14. “It’s something that will be addressed moving forward.”

Airing dirty laundry, even with a constructive spin, isn’t always welcome in the aftermath of a season gone awry. Jones’ teammates, however, had no issue confirming the fact the Sharks frayed a bit as losses started to mount.

“When you’re losing and things aren't going your way, frustrating builds and it builds quickly,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said. “With us, a lot of guys in our room have never gone through a season like that. Some may have years ago, but not recently. From top to bottom I don’t think anyone handled it the best possible way. I’m obviously in that group. There’s a lot that I think I can learn from.”

[RELATED: What Couture learned from first season as Sharks captain]

The Sharks were tested during a difficult campaign and they didn’t always pass, but the veteran leaders are determined to use it as a teachable moment to handle adversity better in the future.

“It’s easy for guys to be good guys if everything’s going well, but you don’t really grow from that,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “You know what this feels like now. A lot of guys hadn’t been through a lot of that before. It’s not easy. Guys here know it’s hard. They have grown through a culture that has been very successful through a lot of work and a mental edge. It’s important not to lose that mental edge. It was not fun. There aren’t a lot of positives you can take from [season], other than not wanting to go back there. It’s frustrating. There’s nothing great about it.”

[RELATED: Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search]

Defenseman Erik Karlsson wasn’t happy about the team’s response to adversity, but he didn’t consider it out of the ordinary or something that frayed relationships that could linger into future seasons. The Sharks’ goal is to contain a bad campaign and make it the outlier their history suggests it could be.

“When things don’t go your way individually and as a team, it’s nothing more than natural that you start thinking in different directions and looking for solutions that might not be there,” Karlsson said. “Overthinking is one of the biggest mistakes you can make but something we all do in tough situations. That’s especially true when you don’t feel like you are doing enough or playing up to your own standards.

“Anything that happened this year was a normal reaction you would’ve gotten on any team in any sport. … I didn’t see anything alarming, and I don’t really judge the things that happened this year. You get to see a lot of different sides of people you hadn’t seen before, and you learn a lot about yourself. This year is something for each individual to learn from when looking at the situation and what they could do differently if a situation like this creeps up again.”

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Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane


Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

Sharks captain Logan Couture thanked Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu for speaking out against racism in hockey, tweeting a note Saturday that said the sport and society "are only scraping the surface in what desperately needs fixing."

"Racism exists in society, it also exists in hockey," Couture wrote. "That's a fact. Growing up in this game is a privilege. [At times,] I think most of us have been at fault for turning a blind eye when it comes to racism. It cannot continue."

Kane later tweeted his appreciation of Couture's message.

Kane, who is black, has become increasingly vocal speaking out against racism within -- and beyond -- the sport in the past year. In September, Kane told TSN 1040 in Vancouver that hockey lagged behind other professional sports in diversity and addressing racism after fan told him to "stick to basketball" in an Instagram comment. Kane called a story in "The Players Tribune" earlier this month authored by Aliu, whose revelation that Bill Peters directed racial slurs towards him in the AHL led to the Calgary Flames firing their now-former coach late last year, a must-read for everyone involved in hockey.

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody Monday outraged Kane, tweeting that video of the incident made his "[f---ing] blood boil." Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, could be heard on video saying "I can't breathe" as former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck while three other officers at the scene looked on. Chauvin and the three officers were fired Tuesday, and Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

[RELATED: Kerr says he, white people have to do more to fight racism]

Kane said Friday in an interview on ESPN's "First Take" that white athletes couldn't leave speaking up against systematic racism to their black peers. While Kane felt supported by his teammates, he told "Writers Bloc" on CJCL in Toronto later that day that hockey's team-first culture often encourages silence on a wide range of issues in the sport and outside of it.

“Is it going to change? I hope," Kane said (H/T Sportsnet's Sonny Sachdeva). "I’m going to try to be a part of the solution and process in creating that change. But … when it comes to social injustices and racism in hockey, it requires change at the top. Because, you know, that’s the only way true change is going to take place. At the top. Because it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.

“And until things change at the top ... until they make the necessary change to condemn these sort of acts and mindsets … and really weed out that type of thought process, we’re going to be stuck in the same position we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often publicly comment, said in a rare statement Friday that the Sharks applauded Kane's "rational and thoughtful response to the terrible tragedy" of Floyd's death. Defenseman Mario Ferraro retweeted the statement, and Couture's note is the first tweeted by one of Kane's San Jose teammates in support.