Sharks

Sharks' season-long observations after conference final loss to Blues

Sharks' season-long observations after conference final loss to Blues

On paper, it might have been the best Sharks team ever assembled. But it all came to an end on Tuesday night, as San Jose lost the Western Conference final four-games-to-two to the St. Louis Blues.

Here’s a look back  -- and forward -- on where this franchise stands.

Stressful run

What we just witnessed had to be among the most stressful playoff runs in Stanley Cup history. San Jose got to their fifth ever conference finals by winning a pair of Game 7s, but never had a two-game lead in any of the three rounds.  There was never an opportunity to breathe or enjoy the view.

Disappointment

San Jose was one of four remaining teams this postseason, but the journey leaves more disappointment than accomplishment.  It’s an important perspective to remember how incredibly high the standards are for this team.

Jumbo's future

I don’t believe for one second that Joe Thornton has played his last game with the Sharks.  The bigger concern is how many more playoff opportunities he will get, after turning 40 years old as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Western Conference final appearances don’t happen every season, as we know.

Healthy Thornton

It was an important season to have for Thornton.  He transitioned to a third line center role, playing about five fewer minutes per contest, but still being effective. In addition, he racked up more milestones than I can summarize here, and most importantly: was generally healthy.

Captain America

Joe Pavelski had a tremendous rebound season, coming off a hand injury to lead the team in goals at 38, which was up from 22. He also is an upcoming free agent this summer, and will be 35 next season, but proved that his exceptional net-front play of tips and redirects may not have any correlation to age.

Vegas Game 7

The “Pavelski Payback” in Game 7 of the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights might have been the best overall moment and win in San Jose’s franchise history. Or at least in the history of SAP Center. Elimination was on the line, and scoring four goals in a four-minute span was an unprecedented tribute to the fallen Captain.  

"Clutch-ure"

Logan Couture had another monster postseason and is only two playoff goals behind the leader Alexander Ovechkin (50) since 2010.  He continues rising to the occasion on the biggest of stages. And despite losing two teeth in the postseason, “Clutch-ure” showcased among the biggest of hearts.

Meier improves

Timo Meier continues to take huge steps in his career.  Last season he reached 21 goals, and this campaign he eclipsed the 30-goal mark in 78 games. Meier also has developed the reputation of a hard-nosed player who can make power scoring moves and add a physical element of the game.  The restricted free agent is well deserving of a raise from his $1.65M salary from this season.

Karlsson's decision

Will Erik Karlsson be a Shark next season?  From my view, it’s a 50-50 proposition.  Sure, both side had months to work something out.  But at the same time, free agency is a huge opportunity for any big name, and I don’t blame Karlsson for exploring the options.

Should Sharks retain EK65?

Regarding Karlsson, it’s also a huge financial commitment by San Jose if they are to retain him.  He would likely become the team's highest-paid player and would become a big piece under the salary cap. It’s a large decision for the Sharks in the coming weeks, who made a huge personnel commitment to even acquire Karlsson from Ottawa.

Karlsson's up-and-down year

Karlsson’s regular season shouldn’t be held against him, but it was no doubt frustrating for San Jose. His first third was mostly acclimating to the new surroundings, his second third was dominant and impressive, and the final third was spent with an injured groin.  In total, he tallied three goals and 42 points in 53 games.  His playoffs were much better with 16 points in 19 games, especially impressive considering the injury he played through.

[RELATED: Sharks expect offseason of change after falling short]

Hertl's career season

Another career season goes to Tomas Hertl.  He scored 35 goals, but most importantly made the critical move from winger to center back in December. By the playoffs, he was taking almost 30 draws per contest, and often winning around 20 of them.  

(Mostly) steady Jones

Let’s be frank, there were questions surrounding Martin Jones in the regular season, and for the first four playoff games. It’s hard to argue with the body of work he showcased in all the playoff games since then.

Spotlight

San Jose enjoyed the national hockey spotlight more than ever in 2018-19.  The Sharks might have made the biggest trade of the season, acquiring Erik Karlsson in September.  SAP Center hosted the NHL’s All-Star Weekend in January.  And here in May, the Sharks got to play all of their third-round games on exclusive nights.

Sharks free-agency decisions: Will winger Gustav Nyquist stay or go?

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Sharks free-agency decisions: Will winger Gustav Nyquist stay or go?

There are firsts in every NHL career.

For winger Gustav Nyquist, that meant waiving his no-trade clause with the Detroit Red Wings and joining the Sharks ahead of February's trade deadline -- the first time he had ever been traded.

Now, just a couple months later, the 29-year-old forward is set to become an unrestricted free agent -- another first in his hockey career -- and possibly could be on the move yet again.

Here's a look at why Nyquist could stay, and why he could be headed to another team before the summer is over.

Why he could stay

Nyquist told reporters at the Sharks' final media availability of the season last month that he was open to staying in San Jose. At the time, there had been no contracts talks -- a thread that appears common among the Sharks long list of pending free agents. 

It's worth noting that was before Nyquist's good friend Erik Karlsson re-signed in San Jose earlier this month. Nevertheless, Nyquist had nothing but good things to say about the Sharks' organization.

"I love it here. I had a great time here," he said on May 23. "I had a great experience, a great three months. It's nothing I've thought about. it's still a month away. I know I don't have a contract for next year yet, but we'll see what happens."

The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported Wednesday that San Jose "hasn’t closed the door bringing [Nyquist] back," despite having just over $14.8 million in salary-cap space with only seven forwards under contract.

Although it took Nyquist a bit of time to find where he fit on his new team, he found a home on Logan Couture's wing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In all, Nyquist scored 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 39 regular-season and playoff games. 

Should he stay, Nyquist can help round out the Sharks' forward depth. Being more familiar with the team at this point, the Swedish winger could even have a bigger impact for the Sharks next season. 

Why he could go

About that lack of cap space. The Sharks are rumored to be trying to move players just days ahead of the beginning of free agency in an effort to free up some breathing room, meaning their roster could look drastically different next season whether or not they can keep unrestricted free agents like Nyquist and Joe Pavelski.

In Nyquist's case, the Sharks may not be able to give him a contract that matches his needs. An eight-year veteran with a growing family -- Nyquist and his wife welcomed a baby girl into the world during the Sharks' 20-game playoff run -- likely wants a long-term deal. Nyquist, who becomes a free agent with the expiration of a four-year contract he signed in Detroit, probably is looking for a five- or six-year contract. 

San Jose, at least at this moment, hasn't struck a deal with captain Joe Pavelski. Agreeing to a term long enough for Nyquist might not be in the cards, either. 

[RELATED: Sharks troll Golden Knights in schedule release graphic]

The verdict

As much as Nyquist genuinely seems like he wants to stay in San Jose, it's possible the Sharks have trouble keeping him.

With players currently meeting teams ahead of the free agent market opening up, Nyquist could potentially meet with a team he likes that could later present him with a deal that suits him. LeBrun reported Wednesday that Detroit and the Edmonton Oilers are interested.

That isn't to say the door has completely closed on Nyquist staying in San Jose. However, considering the Sharks' lack of wiggle room under the cap, that will be difficult. 

NHL rumors: Sharks want to trade Aaron Dell to clear salary-cap space

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NHL rumors: Sharks want to trade Aaron Dell to clear salary-cap space

There could be a goalie on the move in San Jose. 

SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman reported Tuesday that the Sharks "would like to move Aaron Dell." The 30-year-old has spent his entire three-year NHL career in San Jose, but that could be coming to an end due to the Sharks' salary-cap complications:

San Jose would like to move Aaron Dell, who has a $1.9 million cap hit and $1.6 million in cash. It’s believed the Sharks tried to make it part of the Patrick Marleau trade, which complicated things for an extra 12 hours or so.

The Sharks have just over $14.8 million in salary-cap space, according to CapFriendly.com, and will try to lock up an array of their own restricted and unrestricted free agents.

Both Sharks goalies -- Dell and starter Martin Jones -- experienced down years this past season. Dell appeared in 25 games, four fewer than the previous season, and saw his stats take a significant dip. 

Dell allowed 70 goals -- three more than 2018 in four fewer games -- and his save percentage went from .914 to .886. His goals against average also rose from 2.64 to 3.17. 

[RELATED: Why ex-Sharks star Marleau wants to play in California]

The Sharks have already made noise this offseason, and don't expect that to stop anytime soon.