Sharks

Sharks vs Flyers: For at least one night, the future is now

labanc-kevin-sharks-teal.jpg
AP

Sharks vs Flyers: For at least one night, the future is now

The last time the San Jose Sharks opened a season without Patrick Marleau on the roster, ties were still a thing. A day shy of 21 years ago, the Sharks last began a season without Marleau and tied the New York Islanders 2-2 on October 5, 1996.

The Sharks will begin their season tonight against an Eastern Conference foe for the first time since that night, hosting the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 PM, NBCSN). Marleau, meanwhile, begins his a conference and a country away: Suiting up for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Winnipeg Jets three-and-a-half hours prior.

San Jose is wasting no time without Marleau, at least if tonight’s lines are any indication. Top prospects Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier made the team out of training camp, and will begin the season on the first and third lines, centered by Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, respectively. This summer, Sharks management expressed confidence in their young players’ ability to fill Marleau’s void, given the remaining veteran talent on the roster.

“We talked to them about it. They know there aren’t many guys in this league of their age who get to play with centers like Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney,” director of hockey operations Doug Wilson Jr. told the San Jose Mercury News in July. “It’s really on them. They know the opportunity is there, and if it’s not them, it’s going to be someone else.”

On opening night, Labanc and Meier get an opportunity to do just that. And for one night, at least, the future is now in San Jose.

SHARKS LINES

Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton-Kevin Labanc

Surprisingly, Thornton and Pavelski were Labanc’s most common linemates last season. The trio played a hair over 143 minutes together, and attempted 54.48% of the shots at even strength, according to Corsica Hockey. That was the fifth-best of any San Jose line that played at least 50 minutes together last season. It’s a comfortable place for Labanc to begin the season, and the Sharks are hoping the scoring follows, as Pavelski and Thornton are both coming off of down years.

Mikkel Boedker-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi

This is a combination that Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer envisioned when Boedker signed last summer, reportedly going as far as writing the trio on a cocktail napkin. They only played limited minutes together last season, in part because of Donskoi and Couture’s injuries, but they were effective. They controlled 53.38% of the shot attempts in just over 78 minutes together last year, according to Corsica. All three players will need to bounce back this season. Boedker scored 25 fewer points last year than in 2015-16, while Donskoi’s dropped by 19 points, albeit in 15 fewer games. Couture’s 52 points in 73 games were also down from his last “full” season, when he scored 67 in 82 in 2014-15.

Jannik Hansen-Tomas Hertl-Timo Meier

Hansen, Hertl, and Meier played together in a very limited four minute sample last season, but Hertl played some substantial minutes with Hansen, as well as Meier, in 2016-17. On paper, this seems to be natural combination for a third line with offensive upside. Hertl and Meier, in particular, are strong possession numbers, but need to begin converting their chances. Hertl hasn’t shown he can be a reliable scorer centering his own line, while Meier scored just three goals last season.

Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward

In just under 32 minutes together last year, Tierney, Karlsson, and Ward attempted 50.85% of the shots at even strength, according to Corsica. A fourth line breaking even in puck possession is just about all you can ask for, but this is another line that will need to convert on their chances, as limited as they may be. The line didn’t combine for a goal at even strength last year, and with Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Carpenter waiting in the wings, the leash may not be long.

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Brenden Dillon-Dylan DeMelo

No surprises on the blueline, which remains intact from last season. I’m curious to see how, if at all, Deboer changes Vlasic and Braun’s usage. The two struggled against exceptionally tough competition last year, and the Sharks attempted 46.64% of the shots with Braun and Vlasic on the ice, according to Corsica. That freed up Burns offensively en route to the first Norris Trophy win of his career, and also allowed Brenden Dillon and then-partner David Schlemko to mop up minutes against softer competition (52.66% Corsi-For, per Corsica). Dylan DeMelo, who fills in for Schlemko after he was selected in the expansion draft by Vegas and eventually traded to Montreal, was not as effective with Dillon, but is probably ready for full-time duty after spending most of the last two seasons in the press box.

Martin Jones

Aaron Dell

No surprise in net, either, as San Jose’s $34.5 million man begins the season between the pipes. Jones signed a big extension this summer, but will need to be better than he was last season. His save percentage in all situations dropped to .912 from .918 in 2015-16, and his even strength save percentage fell to .915 from .925. His postseason resume speaks for itself, but he hasn’t performed at that level in the regular season consistently.

FLYERS LINES 

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds

Dale Weise-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny

Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

2017 second overall pick Nolan Patrick is set to make his NHL debut, and Claude Giroux will debut at left wing. Giroux’s produced on the wing before, but previously played on the right side and has largely played center over the last few seasons. The Flyers are hoping the move sparks Giroux, who is coming off of his worst offensive year since 2010, as well as his center, Sean Couturier.

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald

Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg

Philadelphia boasts one of the youngest, most promising bluelines in the league, but some of that promise will have to wait at least one night: 21-year-old Travis Sanheim will not make his NHL debut tonight, nor will 22-year-old Samuel Morin play in his second NHL game. There’s still plenty of youth in the lineup tonight, as Gostisbehere, Hagg, and Provorov are 24, 22, and 20, respectively.

Brian Elliott

Michal Neuvirth

The Flyers opted not to bring back Steve Mason, who will begin his season against Marleau with Winnipeg, and instead signed Brian Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million deal this summer. Elliott’s coming off of his worst season since 2013. He may never again reach the heights of the .935 even strength save percentage he posted with St. Louis two seasons ago, but some better luck shorthanded (.873 shorthanded save percentage last season, his worst since 2011) could allow Elliott to re-emerge as one of the league’s better goalies.

Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal

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USATSI

Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal

Just two days before one was scheduled, the Sharks avoided an arbitration hearing with center Chris Tierney, and re-signed the restricted free agent to a two-year deal on Wednesday, the team announced. The deal is reportedly worth just shy of $2.94 million annually, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

"Chris had his best season as a professional last year and stepped up his level of play in multiple areas," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We've always known he was a responsible, defensive-minded player, but he took his offensive game to the next tier and showed that he can be a productive player in all three zones. We look forward to watching him continue his evolution in 2018-19." 

Last season, the 24-year-old Tierney set career-highs in goals (17), assists (23), points (40), shots on goal (118), and ice time (16:00). Tierney also generated expected goals at the highest rate of his career (0.62 per hour), according to Corsica Hockey. 

A 2012 second-round pick, Tierney entered last season in an uncertain place. He signed his one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer last summer, and head coach Peter DeBoer challenged him to improve. 

“I came into the year wanting to prove a point. I believe in myself. I think I’m a good hockey player,” Tierney told the San Jose Mercury News in December. “I wanted to come in and show people that I could play an offensive role on the team.”  

DeBoer used Tierney slightly differently this season, as the forward started a career-high percentage of five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone (31.12 percent) and a career-low percentage of defensive zone starts (29.68 percent), per Corsica Hockey. Tierney responded in kind with his aforementioned career-best offensive numbers, and seized the third-line center role after versatile forward Tomas Hertl stayed on the wing.  

With Tierney back in the fold, the Sharks now have just under $4.4 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly. That’s for a roster carrying 14 forwards, seven defenseman, and two goaltenders, and San Jose’s actual cap space may change depending on the outcome of various positional battles in training camp. 

This summer, Tierney became the fourth Sharks player since 2008 to file for arbitration. In every case, including with Tierney on Wednesday, a settlement was reached prior to a hearing. 

The Sharks also signed a pair of prospects to entry-level contracts on Wednesday. Defenseman Ryan Merkley, San Jose’s first-round pick this June, and 21-year-old forward Alexander True, who scored 28 points in 68 games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda last season, both inked deals with the organization.

Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double

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USATSI

Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones won't just enter the season with a different paycheck, the result of entering the first year of a five-year, $34.5 million contract extension that he signed last July. He'll also have a new mask.

Toronto-based artist Steve Nash unveiled a look at Jones' mask design for the upcoming season Monday morning on Twitter. The design again features San Jose's secondary logo but with some subtle differences.

Eagle-eyed mask afficionados will notice a couple of tweaks. First, there now are two sharks on the side, compared to only one last season. Those sharks boast orange eyes seen on the back of his mask last season

For comparison, here's a look at Jones' mask from last year.

The 28-year-old netminder is entering his fourth season in San Jose's crease. Jones posted a .915 save percentage in 60 regular-season starts and followed that with a .928 in 10 postseason starts as the Sharks advanced to the second round. 

We'll get our best look at Jones' new mask in action when training camp opens in mid-September, and, assuming he plays, in a game as soon as the Sept. 18 preseason opener against the Ducks.