Three takeaways: Sharks hang with 'Hawks, don't capitalize on chances

Three takeaways: Sharks hang with 'Hawks, don't capitalize on chances

CHICAGO – The chances were there, but the goals were not in a 4-1 Sharks loss to the Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday night. The three takeaways from San Jose’s only appearance in the Windy City, at least in the regular season…

1 – Hanging with Chicago

As they have been several times in recent years, the Blackhawks may again be the best team in the Western Conference. They sit atop the NHL standings with 48 points after Sunday’s win, are 13-2-3 at home and 6-0-1 in their last seven.

The Sharks, though, hung with them, outshooting Chicago 34-26 and getting more scoring chances.

“We felt like we played a fairly good game early on, and it gets away from us there at the end,” Joe Pavelski said. “It was definitely a game that was there for us.”

The Blackhawks simply capitalized on their chances, while the Sharks didn’t, particularly in the second period when they were dominating possession while leading, 1-0. The biggest difference in the game was in net, as Martin Jones had a rare off night while Scott Darling was brilliant.

Pete DeBoer said: “To their credit, their goalie was excellent in the second period and weathered the storm. It’s a dangerous team, they don’t need many looks to find the back of the net.”

2 – Finding their energy

I asked DeBoer before the game which team he would rather be – the Sharks, who hadn’t skated at all since Friday’s game in Montreal, or the Blackhawks, who were playing the second of a back-to-back with travel.

“It’s a good question,” said the coach, who wouldn’t commit one way or the other.

The first period was, frankly, boring, as both teams looked slow and out and sync. But the pace picked up in the second and third periods, and it turned into a pretty good hockey game between two contending teams.

“I felt really good out there. I think a lot of guys did,” Chris Tierney said.

The condensed schedule due to the World Cup, and the silly “bye week” that the players requested, has made the regular season a hectic one. While the Sharks were concluding a stretch of four road games in six nights, Chicago was playing its fifth game in nine days. It can make for bad hockey at times.

“Both teams are playing a lot of games in a few days right now. We’re at the end of a road trip, and we’ve flown a lot. Both teams are [under the] same circumstances,” Logan Couture said.

3 – Solid road trip

Getting six points out of eight is commendable, as the Sharks went 3-1-0 on their four-game trip and are in first place in the Pacific Division by two points over Anaheim and Edmonton.

Couture said: “[The trip] was good. We didn’t play our best. I thought we got better as the trip went on. That’s a really good hockey team over there, and we played a pretty tight game against them.”

The focus now will be to finish strong at home against division opponents Calgary and Edmonton before the three-day Christmas break begins on Saturday.

“There’s not many more [games] here before the break so we have to try to put these points in the bank here before a little time off,” Pavelski said.

Sharks to buy out Paul Martin's contract


Sharks to buy out Paul Martin's contract

The Sharks placed veteran defenseman Paul Martin on unconditional waivers on Friday in order to buy out his contract, San Jose general manager Doug Wilson announced. The move came hours before this year's NHL Draft. 

"Paul Martin has been the utmost professional on and off the ice during his three years in San Jose," Wilson said in a statement. "His leadership, character and on-ice contributions have been essential to our success and in reaching the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The impact he has had on our organization, his teammates and many of our younger players will be felt for many years to come.

San Jose will save a little over $3.2 million this year, according to Paul Gackle of The Mercury NewsThe Mercury News, giving the team about $19.2 million in salary cap space this offseason. 

Signed to a four-year, $19.4 million contract in the 2015 offseason, Martin became a popular figure in the Sharks' dressing room. In his first two seasons in teal, he played alongside Brent Burns on the blueline, partnering with the towering defenseman en route to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2016 and in his Norris Trophy-winning season in 2016-17. 

The 37-year-old struggled to get into San Jose's lineup this season, leaving the second game of the season with an ankle injury. He would not play again in the NHL until Dec. 7, and eventually played 18 games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda.

After an injury to rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan, Martin seized the opportunity and returned to his old spot alongside Burns. Martin played all but 12:27 in the final 11 games without Burns, posting sterling possession numbers at even strength (58.39 corsi-for and scoring-chance-for percentages, according to Natural Stat Trick). 

He played in seven playoff games, too, but was replaced by Ryan after San Jose's Game 3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. After being one of just six players with whom the Sharks controlled a majority of the shot attempts in the first round against the Anaheim Ducks, the older defenseman struggled against the speedy Golden Knights. 

Martin is the third player who's contract the Sharks have bought out. San Jose bought out the final year of Martin Havlat's six-year, $25 million deal in 2014, and the last season of Adam Burish's four-year, $7.4 million contract in 2015. The defenseman will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, at the same time as the Sharks' other marquee signing from 2015: Joel Ward. 

NHL sets salary cap at $79.5 million, so how much can Sharks spend this summer?

NHL sets salary cap at $79.5 million, so how much can Sharks spend this summer?

UPDATE (June 22, 11:26 a.m. PT)The Sharks announced on Friday that they will buy out Paul Martin's contract. This article has been updated to reflect that. 

The Sharks will be able to spend up to $79.5 million on their roster this season, after the NHL and NHLPA announced the salary cap for the 2018-19 season. The salary floor was set at $58.8 million. 

That gives San Jose about $19.2 million in salary cap space, according to numbers from CapFriendly and The Mercury News' Paul Gackle,with forwards Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and defenseman Dylan DeMelo set to become restricted free agents (RFAs) and Joe Thornton headlining the team's list of pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs).

The Sharks have cleared just over $6.8 million in salary cap space trading Mikkel Boedker to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday and announcing on Friday that they will buy out Paul Martin. San Jose can have about an additional $1.8 million to work with if rookies Dylan Gambrell and Max Letunov start the season in the AHL. Should the club utilize the allowed offseason overage of 10 percent of the salary cap, it can add, approximately, up to $25.7 million in salary commitments this offseason.

All that space will be necessary, if recent reports are to be believed. They've been linked to two of the best free-agent forwards available: New York Islanders captain John Tavares and Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who looks to return to NHL after five years in the KHL. Hockey Graphs' Matt Cane's contract model projects Tavares' contract would carry approximately a $10.6 million cap hit, while Kovalchuk is reportedly seeking a contract worth around $6 million annually. 

San Jose, or any of the other 30 teams, can sign any player to a contract worth up to $15.9 million annually, or 20 percent of the league's salary cap. That is the maximum amount as allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.