Sharks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win vs. Blues in Game 1

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Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win vs. Blues in Game 1

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – It was fast, feisty and darn entertaining right up to the final buzzer. Game 1 of the Western Conference final between the Sharks and St. Louis Blues was every bit as entertaining as advertised.

The Blues made things very interesting in the final minutes, but San Jose's second-period scoring surge was enough for the Sharks to hold on for a 6-3 win Saturday at SAP Center.

Here are three takeaways from Game 1.

Physicality is at an all-time high

The Sharks told the press a day before Game 1 they were expecting a far more physical series with the Blues than with the Colorado Avalanche in the second round – and they weren’t kidding. St. Louis didn’t hold back any physicality in Game 1, out-hitting the Sharks 41-35.

San Jose cranked up its own intensity as the game went on – but this is also an area where the Sharks can get into trouble later in the series if they don’t keep their game clean. While they responded with hits of their own, they were also smart and only went to the penalty box once before a few scrums broke out late in the game. Smart physical play is going to be key through the rest of the series.

Timo Meier checks off all the boxes

A physical series such as this one is a good opportunity for power forward Timo Meier to really use his mix of strength and speed. Meier showcased both in Game 1, as he scored two goals and led the team with five hits.

Meier's work on the first goal really stood out. He muscled his way around Blues defense Jay Bouwmeester before putting his foot on the gas and holding onto the puck until he was in perfect position to power it past goaltender Jordan Binnington. 

Sharks get to Binnington in his San Jose debut

The Sharks fielded a lot of questions after Friday’s practice about what they thought they could do to be successful against Binnington, who led the Blues' playoff push after taking the reigns in St. Louis' crease. San Jose had not faced the rookie netminder at all before Saturday night, but still managed to get the jump on him. Game 1 was the second time Binnington had allowed five (or more) goals in a game this season.

That doesn't mean the Sharks will score five goals a game en route to the Stanley Cup Final, considering Binnington was one of the NHL's best goalies down the stretch. Plus, Alex Pietrangelo and the rest of St. Louis’ blue line are likely going to tighten up their game in front of Binnington as the series continues.

It’s going to be up to the Sharks to keep grinding for goals like they did Game 1.

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should forward Micheal Haley stay or go?

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should forward Micheal Haley stay or go?

When the Sharks claimed Micheal Haley off waivers this past winter, everyone wondered when he would get into his first scrap.

He wasted no time, taking on Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby the very next day. 

After leaving San Jose in 2017, there was no better way for Haley to announce his return.

Love him or hate him, Haley comes as advertised. He's a no-nonsense kind of player whose job is to keep opponents in check when they try knocking his teammates around. And when it comes to laying down the big hits, he does so without hesitation.

Now, the 33-year-old forward is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Here's a look at why he might stay in San Jose, and why he potentially already has played his last game in teal.

Why he could stay

Fans have strong opinions toward Haley, but teammates and coaches love having him in the mix. San Jose wouldn't have brought him back otherwise. Even though Haley wasn't an every-day player, coach Peter DeBoer liked having him in his arsenal.

While many aren't fond of Haley's physical style of play, there's no denying he brings a level of toughness that most of the Sharks' lineup doesn't have. For San Jose to keep up with some of the West's meaner teams, it helps to have a player who doesn't mind playing with some grit.

Why he could go

With the opening of free agency rapidly approaching, San Jose will be busy moving players around in an effort to create salary-cap space to lock down some of its main players. With space being created so the Sharks can sign those high-priority UFAs, it isn't likely Haley would receive a long-term deal as a utility player.

The Sharks also need more skilled players in their bottom six. While having a physical player like Haley benefited the Sharks during their hard-hitting playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights, what they really need next season is depth scoring. Haley tallied just three points in 19 regular-season games with San Jose, which doesn't quite help.

[RELATED: Sharks might be willing to trade Dillon]

The verdict

The Sharks might love having a player of Haley's caliber on their roster, but it seems more likely he'll play for a different team next season.

San Jose has a lot of work to do in order to sign some of its big-name players who are about to hit the market, so a bottom-six skater such as Haley won't take top priority. Additionally, the Sharks need more depth scoring after their bottom two lines had trouble producing deep into the playoffs.

So, with those two elements taking top priority, Haley's second tour in teal might be over.

NHL rumors: Sharks might trade Brenden Dillon for salary-cap relief

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NHL rumors: Sharks might trade Brenden Dillon for salary-cap relief

The Sharks are in a bit of a pickle.

San Jose has several important unrestricted and restricted free agents it wants to bring back, but not a lot of salary-cap space to re-sign everyone.

So, one possible solution is to trade out some salaries to make the numbers work.

One player that could be a casualty is defenseman Brenden Dillon.

The Athletic's Kevin Kurz confirmed an Ottawa Sun report that the Sharks "might be willing to deal" Dillon in order to free up cap space to re-sign captain Joe Pavelski.

Dillon is scheduled to make $3.27 million next season, in the final year of his contract

Dillon has formed a formidable defense with Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, but the Sharks might be able to absorb the loss of Dillon with the emergence of Radim Simek.

[RELATED: DeBoer optimistic Pavelski will re-sign]

The NHL on Saturday set the 2019-20 salary cap at $81.5 million. With $66,657,417 in salary on the books, the Sharks at the moment have $14,842,583 in cap space to try to re-sign their 10 free agents.

Sending out Dillon isn't optimal, but if the Sharks want to keep guys like Pavelski, Timo Meier, Joonas Donskoi and Kevin Labanc, they might have to bite the bullet.