Sharks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 2-0 loss to Red Wings

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 2-0 loss to Red Wings

BOX SCORE

There was no explosion like there was in last year's New Year's Eve matchup. But for the second year in a row, the Sharks weren't able to get into the win column before the clock struck midnight.

San Jose (17-21-3) went into Tuesday's game with a bit of an edge over the league-worst Red Wings (10-28-3). But Team Teal just wasn't dominant enough to get a jump on the injury-riddled Detroit squad at Little Saesars Arena as they were shut out 2-0 in the second and final meeting of the season between the two teams.

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' final game in 2019:

Neutral zone turnovers

San Jose got into bad turnover trouble last Friday against Los Angeles but appeared to have learned from their mistakes the following night against Philadelphia. The difficulty hanging onto the puck struck again in Detroit and a neutral zone turnover by Erik Karlsson resulted in the Red Wings taking a 1-0 lead in the second stanza.

To be fair, these turnovers aren't strictly the fault of the Sharks' defense. How the offense handles the puck and how ready the goaltender is to make a critical save also play a role here. But if San Jose doesn't cut down on the turnovers, they aren't going to be able to climb out of the Western Conference cellar.

The goalie battle

Martin Jones didn't play a bad game on Tuesday night -- his performance was far from some of the rough outings he's had this season. He was especially good on the Sharks' penalty kill, which kept the Red Wings' tepid power play off of the board.

The difference was that Jones let a goal squeak by him and his opponent, Jonathan Bernier, didn't. Bernier had himself a very strong outing on Tuesday, turning away quality chances the Sharks threw at the net. While his late-game stops made a big difference, he had two particularly big saves on Antti Suomela, who penciled back into the lineup with Melker Karlsson sidelined with an injury.

On that note ...

Fourth line

Suomela had a mighty return to the lineup, but his linemates on San Jose's fourth line didn't miss a beat either. Stefan Noesen and Joel Kellman haven't played together for very long, but their chemistry and physical style of play are exactly what the Sharks need.

Now that San Jose is finally getting positive production from its fourth line, the rest of the offense needs to follow suit. The Sharks are still in search of a four-line game -- and they're going to need that as this very tough road trip continues.

NHL trade deadline: What Sharks fans need to know before dealing ends

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AP

NHL trade deadline: What Sharks fans need to know before dealing ends

The Sharks are in a somewhat unfamiliar spot this trade deadline. 

San Jose almost certainly will not make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2015, making general manager Doug Wilson a seller heading into the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Wilson already has got the ball rolling puck dropped on this process, shipping out defenseman Brenden Dillon to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for a pair of draft picks. The return left a bit to be desired, as my comrade in content Brian Witt argued after the deal, but Dillon's departure formally marked the beginning of Wilson's re-tooling as he looks to get the Sharks back in playoff contention next season. 

Who could be on their way out? Which contenders have salary-cap space to burn? Here are the answers to the most pressing questions headed into Monday's deadline. 

When is the NHL trade deadline?

Monday, Feb. 24 at noon PT. 

How much salary-cap space do the Sharks have?

The fine folks at Cap Friendly project the Sharks will have $6,431,667 in salary-cap space at the deadline. The Sharks have not yet placed defenseman Erik Karlsson on long-term injured reserve, according to the site, and placing his $11.5 million cap hit on LTIR would give San Jose a significant amount of room to work with. 

Who are the pending unrestricted free agents on the roster? 

Forwards Melker Karlsson ($2 million cap hit), Joe Thornton ($2 million), Patrick Marleau ($700,000), Stefan Noesen ($700,000), defensemen Tim Heed ($960,000), Radim Simek ($675,000) and goaltender Aaron Dell ($1.9 million) all can become UFAs on July 1. 

Who is most likely to get traded? 

Karlsson seems to be the likeliest candidate. He's a versatile bottom-six forward with three seasons of 10-plus goals who spends a lot of time on the penalty kill. The Swedish winger is not going to command a haul, but he's exactly the kind of player rival GMs with Stanley Cup aspirations give up a mid-round pick for at the deadline. But Karlsson left the Prudential Center in a walking boot after the Sharks' loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, according to The Athletic's Kevin Kurz, and the severity of the injury will determine what kind of return -- if any -- San Jose could fetch for the forward.

The Sharks seem to view Simek as part of their future on the blue line, while Noesen has scored just five goals in 24 games with San Jose since the Pittsburgh Penguins waived him earlier this season. Dell, Marleau and Thornton are intriguing trade possibilities, however. 

The latter two wouldn't bring back much in a trade, but could the 40-year-olds compel a contender to pull a Ray Bourque and trade for a franchise icon in the twilight of his career? The call will be Marleau and Thornton's, especially in the latter case given the trade protection in his contract. 

Dell has seized the reigns as the Sharks' starter in net, and San Jose's handling of him at the deadline will make it clear how the team views him heading into the 2020-21 season. The Sharks won't trade him if they see him as their starter next year, but it could be prudent to maximize the return if they don't. They'll be worse in the short-term, increasing the likelihood the Ottawa Senators draft a top prospect with one of the picks the Sharks traded for Erik Karlsson, but that shouldn't weigh into their decision since that's the risk you run when you don't lottery-protect a pick. 

What about the rest of the Sharks' roster?

The Sharks are going to finish a mile out of the playoffs, and they have a lot of big money on the books. They are paying eight players at least $5 million: Two are done for the year (Erik Karlsson, Tomas Hertl), one is working his way back from injury (Logan Couture) and four of the five players have some kind of trade protection (Evander Kane, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones). Could the Sharks clear a star's salary at the deadline? 

Wilson told reporters Tuesday that the Sharks have "the bones in place" of a playoff team next season, and it's difficult to envision San Jose reaching that goal without most of those contracts -- or equivalent players at different positions with similar salaries -- on the books. The Sharks tinkered around the edges of the roster in 2015 when they last missed the playoffs, saving the splash for the summer in trading for Jones. 

Don't bet on the Sharks trading a big name -- or a prospect for a big name -- Monday, and save your predictions for NHL draft weekend in late June.

[RELATED: Hannan explains what Dillon, Sharks are going through]

Who are the contenders to keep an eye on?

Any team in the Stanley Cup playoffs is a possibility, but some teams are worth monitoring more than others. Below is a non-exhaustive list of contenders who could call Wilson before Monday. 

  • Colorado Avalanche: The Avs currently have more salary-cap space than any team in playoff position (over $25.5 million as of this writing, per Cap Friendly), and top-six forwards Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri currently are on injured reserve. NHL executives reportedly believe the Avalanche could be a fit for Thornton, and he wouldn't add any long-term money to Colorado's books. 
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told The Athletic that he is "looking for a bottom-six guy who can give us depth, fit in on different lines, give us some balance." That could be Melker Karlsson, if healthy, though Pittsburgh's lack of 2020 picks and subpar farm system mean Wilson should have better options elsewhere.  
  • Vegas Golden Knights: The Sharks have never traded with their division rivals, but Peter DeBoer now is behind the Golden Knights' bench. Vegas is right up against the cap, even with Alex Tuch on LTIR. San Jose would be able to retain salary on each of its pending free agents, or even take back a matching contract. Could the Knights be a Karlsson fit, given his history with DeBoer? 
  • Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes and lackluster goaltending have gone together like peanut butter and jelly over the last half-decade, and this year is no different. Carolina is in the bottom third of the league in 5-on-5 save percentage while in a fierce fight for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot. The Canes reportedly are interested in Chicago netminder Robin Lehner, and Dell would be a cheaper fallback option -- if the Sharks actually decide to trade him. 
  • Nashville Predators: Calling the Predators "contenders" is generous, but Nashville still has a path to the postseason. The Predators, like the Sharks, fired their coach earlier this season in hopes of meeting preseason expectations. Could Preds GM David Poile pull the trigger on a blockbuster, and possibly for one of the Sharks' aforementioned big contracts? Nashville seems like as good an option as any to pull off something surprising this deadline. 

 

Programming Note: The "2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show" is coming your way this Monday, Feb. 24 at 11:30am on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBayArea.com! How will the Sharks be impacted heading into the Noon deadline? Don’t miss it!

Alex True proving to be Sharks' silver lining in season of dark clouds

Alex True proving to be Sharks' silver lining in season of dark clouds

The Sharks team that took the ice against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night is not the one San Jose entered the season with. Heck, it's not even the one it entered the month with.

Captain Logan Couture has been out since early January with a fractured ankle. Tomas Hertl was the next marquee player to fall, tearing ligaments in his knee and ending his season on Jan. 29. All-world defenseman Erik Karlsson lasted two additional weeks before his season ended with a broken thumb. Evander Kane isn't injured -- that we know of -- but he hasn't played any more recently than Karlsson, as Thursday's 2-1 loss marked the third and final game of his recent suspension.

And what has all that left the Sharks with? A giant, gaping hole at the top of their lineup.

"I think those are the games where you sort of see that lack of offense, that lack of skill that's out of our lineup really play effect," San Jose interim coach Bob Boughner said following the one-goal defeat at Prudential Center. "You can get by some nights with it, and if you get a power-play goal or you get a couple bounces, you get some puck luck, but on nights like this, you don't have a Karlsson, you don't have a [Couture], you don't have Hertl, you don't have Kane -- those are the guys that chip in those one or two extra pucks a night."

Against the Devils, the Sharks did not score a power-play goal, nor would you describe them as being particularly lucky with the way the puck bounced. Without those additional boosts, it's clearly going to be tough for San Jose to get by in its extremely diminished state, even against a similarly struggling team like New Jersey. Team Teal simply doesn't have anywhere near the margin for error that it is accustomed to.

The only goal the Sharks did score Thursday wasn't lucky, and it came from a group of players who likely wouldn't have even been on the ice if not for the laundry list of absences. Defenseman Tim Heed, playing in his second game since Karlsson went down, got San Jose on the board with a shot through traffic from the point. Jacob Middleton, playing in his first game since Brenden Dillon was traded to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, earned the primary assist. Alex True, appearing in his seventh career NHL game (all since Hertl got hurt), had the secondary helper, continuing a stretch in which the 22-year-old rookie has taken advantage of the opportunity afforded him. It was his fourth point -- all assists -- since making his debut.

"He has come in and been very detailed," Boughner said of True. "He has provided us with that big center that we need on those depth lines, and he has chipped in offensively. He has got a few points here of late, and it's because he's in, he has got that reach, he has got that stick on puck. He's trying to be physical, so I think that helps us. We're getting depth scoring from those guys. Unfortunately, no offense coming from the top of the lineup."

[RELATED: Hannan explains what Dillon, Sharks are going through]

The lack of scoring from the top of the lineup -- or what's left of it, at least -- is obviously a major concern. But at the very least, some of the players whose paths to the NHL were previously blocked are proving they deserve to be part of San Jose's future.

And, given the current state of the team, that's one of the best things that can happen for the Sharks throughout the rest of a season where dark clouds have been far more prominent than silver linings.