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Sharks rival Drew Doughty doesn't think Brent Burns deserves Norris Trophy

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Sharks rival Drew Doughty doesn't think Brent Burns deserves Norris Trophy

We're down to two weeks remaining in the NHL season, and there's still plenty left to be determined.

Only five of what will be a grand total of 16 playoff spots have been clinched, and the races for many of the other 11 are likely to come down to the final days of the season. The same can be said for certain individual award races.

The former of those types of races doesn't really apply to the Sharks. They've already clinched a playoff spot and barring something crazy, they likely will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round.

As for the award races, there's still plenty at stake and how certain players finish their respective individual seasons could prove to be the deciding factor in who goes home with the hardware and who will have to wait at least another year.

Both San Jose's Brent Burns and Calgary's Mark Giordano have been jostling back and forth for pole position in the race for the Norris Trophy -- given to the league's top defenseman -- practically all year long. And it appears they'll finish it that way, as well.

One former Norris Trophy winner -- Los Angeles' Drew Doughty -- was asked his thoughts on the current race ahead of the Kings' game in Calgary on Monday, and let's just say he didn't mince words when it came to evaluating Burns' candidacy.

Burns currently leads the Sharks and all NHL defensemen with 77 points -- one more than he had in 2016-17 when he won his first Norris. Giordano, meanwhile, ranks second among all NHL defensemen with 72 points. Burns has played in two more games than Giordano so far this season, but his 1.03 points per game still rank slightly ahead of Giordano's 0.99.

Giordano's Flames are the odds-on favorite to finish with the most points of any Western Conference team, though, and that could certainly work in his favor in such a close race.

[RELATED: Sharks need better goaltending with playoffs around corner]

Meanwhile, Doughty's Kings are currently dead last in the Western Conference, 10 points behind the next-closest team. Any realistic shot at the playoffs went out the window a long time ago, and Doughty himself is on pace for his fewest points in a season in which he played more than 48 games.

Doughty has a Norris and a couple of Stanley Cups to his resume, so his comments can't be completely disregarded. But that sure sounds like sour grapes from a frustrated veteran towards a longtime division rival, which -- given the history between the Sharks and Kings -- shouldn't really come as a surprise.

Patrick Marleau thanks Sharks fans for warm welcome back to San Jose

Patrick Marleau thanks Sharks fans for warm welcome back to San Jose

Patrick Marleau is home. For the first time since returning to the Sharks, Marleau skated in front of the home fans at SAP Center on Sunday night. 

As you might guess, it was an emotional scene for both Marleau and the Sharks faithful. The 40-year-old couldn't help but let out a few tears when fans erupted at the sight of him on the jumbotron in the first period of a 3-1 win over the Flames

On Monday, Marleau took to Twitter through his wife Christina's account to thank Sharks fans for such a warm welcome back to The Tank.

[RELATED: Patrick Marleau left lasting mark on Maple Leafs]

The Sharks, who dropped their first four games this season, have now won two straight since signing Marleau to a one-year contract on Oct. 8. He already has three points -- two goals and an assist -- in the two victories.

Marleau spent the first 19 seasons of his 22-year NHL career with the Sharks before he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 2017-18 season. He's San Jose's all-time leader in games played (1,495), goals (510) and points (1,085).

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

SAN JOSE - One of the biggest criticisms of the Sharks at this early point in the season has been that its younger players hadn't stepped up yet.

That changed on Sunday evening in San Jose's 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames. 

Sure, San Jose's young stars Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc all found the net in the victory. But when Hertl and captain Logan Couture addressed the media postgame, independent of each other, both pointed to newcomer Dylan Gambrell's emergence over the last few games as a key factor in the Sharks' recent success.

Gambrell's positive production as fourth-line center is giving San Jose more offensive depth. While the Sharks' forward attack is still a work in progress, the 23-year-old forward is evolving into the pivotal player the team needs.

"He's been given an opportunity and these last two games he's really shown what he's been capable of," Couture said. "When we have that line playing well and the other three rolling over, we're a tough team to beat."

Head coach Peter DeBoer agreed with the assessment of his captain.

"For him, that's all about competing," DeBoer said of Gambrell. "Sticking his nose in there and competing. His skill and speed will take over and he's starting to do that here regularly."

There was a spotlight on Gambrell heading into training camp after he signed a two-year contract following a season in which he bounced between the AHL and NHL. But the University of Denver product didn't readily establish his game when he was plugged into the top six through the preseason and, like the majority of the Sharks, struggled out of the gate in the first few games of the regular season. 

After penciling back onto the fourth line, Gambrell's game visibly changed. 

"I think he saw that he was close to being sent back. That's the reality of it," DeBoer admitted. "He wasn't as effective (in training camp) as he is now. And maybe that's on us. Maybe we asked him to do too much. We played him on the wing on the top two lines and maybe it was too much for him."

Back at the center position on that fourth line, however, the speedy forward has been on an upward trend. He's been more effective in the faceoff circle and more aggressive on the puck, which gives San Jose depth down the middle that they, frankly, have been missing since last season.

"He had a little tough start but now he's playing a really hard game and this is what we need," Hertl said. "Good on faceoffs, strong on the puck."

Continuing that higher level of compete can make the Sharks' quest to establish a four-line game a bit smoother. As San Jose has encountered through the first six games of the season, the Western Conference is stacked with teams that can get production out of any line they roll out onto the ice. While the Sharks' offense is still in the process of getting healthy -- Marcus Sorensen is still sidelined -- the team needs to get its four-line game in place if they're going to completing recover from their rough start to the season.

[RELATED: Sharks fans give Marleau standing ovation]

"In this league, you need four lines," Hertl summarized. "It's not about just one line. Every night you need four lines plus your goalie."

If Gambrell can continue this upward trend, the Sharks have a better chance of achieving that goal.