Sharks

Vlasic, Jones extensions vital to Sharks' long-term success

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AP

Vlasic, Jones extensions vital to Sharks' long-term success

SAN JOSE – The biggest news coming out of Sharks-land on Saturday, the first day of free agency, was Joe Thornton agreeing to return on a one-year deal that will be finalized shortly and Patrick Marleau continuing to weigh offers from other clubs.

But more vital to the team’s long-term ability to compete was general manager Doug Wilson extending defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and goalie Martin Jones to eight-year and six-year deals, respectively. Each player would have been an unrestricted free agent in exactly one year without an extension.

In Vlasic, 30, the Sharks will continue to employ one of the NHL’s best defensive defensemen, and a player that has been as vital to their success over the past decade as just about anyone. In Jones, the Sharks made it known that the 27-year-old is now their franchise goalie. He may be the first that can boast of that title since Evgeni Nabokov.

They are two pieces that the team can build around, to borrow a commonly used phrase from Wilson, both now and for the future.

“They are core pieces of our team in key positions,” Wilson said. “I said it at the end of the year and I say today, getting these guys under contract was just a really high priority for this organization. We’re glad it’s done and behind us.”

There never seemed to be much doubt that these deals would get done, as Vlasic and Jones both expressed their desire to remain in San Jose past the 2017-18 season. Vlasic, who earned an average $4.25 million over the course of his current deal, gets a pay bump to an average of $7 million per year, while Jones, who will earn $3 million this season, will see his salary nearly double to $5.75 million per year on average beginning in 2018-19.

Indications are that negotiations were smooth, and the fact that they were both signed on the earliest date allowable by the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement is evidence enough of that. There will be no distractions once training camp begins for two players that would have generated all kinds of interest had they reached unrestricted free agency.

“All I have to worry about it focusing on playing hockey right now. It’s important,” Jones said. “I didn’t have a lot of doubts that it wasn’t going to get done anyway. But, it’s nice to get it out of the way and just focus on hockey, for sure.”

Vlasic said: “I wanted long term because I want to be in San Jose for a long time.”

Along with Brent Burns, who will see an eight-year extension kick in this season, Vlasic gives the Sharks have the kind of one-two combination among their top four on their blue line that few teams possess. Vlasic will skate against the opposition’s top players more often than not, while Burns will create offense like few NHL defensemen can.

In March, Vlasic said a big part of the reason he wanted to stay in San Jose was because the Sharks are “competitive every year.” The team has missed the playoffs just once since Vlasic broke in as an 18-year-old rookie in 2006-07.

Speaking before it was learned that Thornton would return, something Vlasic was clearly hoping for, he said: “I signed because we have the players and the team to go all the way, and it starts with a foundation of players, with a good goalie, a good back end.”

Jones, who came to San Jose in the 2015 offseason, has shown he can handle a heavy workload while giving the team steady goaltending on a nightly basis. Critics point to his .915 save percentage over his two seasons in San Jose as being an average mark, but Jones doesn’t often see an abundance of shots, and tends to make some of his biggest saves in key moments. He rarely allows bad goals.

Jones also has a tendency to elevate his game in important situations, including the postseason, as he has a .925 save percentage and 2.01 goals-against average in 32 career Stanley Cup playoff games.

“He plays big when it matters,” Wilson said. “That’s always been his history. Obviously, we don’t get to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago without him. The ultimate compliment for a goalie is that his team loves playing in front of him and they trust him. He has that. He’s just coming into his prime, too, as far as a goaltender.”

Jones was no sure thing to succeed when Wilson made the gutsy decision to send a first round pick and a prospect to Boston for a goalie that had just 34 games of NHL experience. 

It’s a deal that currently looks like one of the best that Wilson has ever made in his 14-plus years as the team’s top hockey executive.

“They put faith in me, and ever since I’ve been in San Jose it’s been a really good experience for me,” Jones said. “I just felt really welcome and at home. Very excited at the prospect of just playing at least seven more years here.”

 

Watch Logan Couture give Sharks critical 1-0 lead in Game 6 vs. Vegas

Watch Logan Couture give Sharks critical 1-0 lead in Game 6 vs. Vegas

The Sharks didn't score early, but they did score first in Game 6 of their Stanley Cup playoff first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Logan Couture opened the scoring with nine seconds remaining in the first period Sunday. The Sharks center gathered a loose puck in the neutral zone for a partial breakaway, then beat Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for his fourth goal of the series. 

Couture's goal was historic for the Sharks. They had not scored the first goal at T-Mobile Arena in 10 previous regular-season and playoff meetings in Sin City. 

[RELATED: Burns named Norris Trophy finalist for third time in career]

The winner of every game this series scored the first goal, and the Sharks hope history repeats itself Sunday. They entered Game 6 trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, and need a win to keep their season alive for (at least) one more game. 

They have the critical lead. Now, it's about maintaining it.

Sharks' response to adversity will be critical in Game 6 vs. Vegas

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USATSI

Sharks' response to adversity will be critical in Game 6 vs. Vegas

The Sharks have a tough task ahead of trying to fend off elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 6 of their first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer told reporters in Las Vegas before the game that his team isn't the only one to face adversity trailing 3-2 in a best-of-seven series.

But how the Sharks respond to that adversity -- whether it be mounting injuries or breakdowns against a hot Vegas offense -- that could be the difference in forcing a Game 7 or not.

"I think that's going on in every dressing room with every team playing right now," he said when asked if San Jose's injury woes through the first five contests give them any more of an edge. "I don't think we're at an advantage because we have more of it."

There also is, of course, the matter of the Sharks playing this potentially decisive game at T-Mobile Arena, which already has a reputation as one of the NHL's toughest barns in its second season. The Sharks have certainly had their fair share of trouble there, particularly in the Games 3 and 4 of this series. But as DeBoer reminded the press, the Sharks haven't always been down on their luck in Sin City.

"We've won in here before," DeBoer said. "We won in here in the playoffs last year, we won in here in the regular season this year." 

San Jose's bench boss added that his team's home isn't exactly easy for opponents to play in, either.

"I think it's the same as them coming into our building," he said. "You've got to deal with the momentum swings and the crowd getting into it, and the push we're going to see right off the bat." 

[RELATED: Burns named Norris Trophy finalist]

Scoring the first goal Sunday will be critical for both teams. The Sharks have won both games in which they scored first, but have all lost all three when the Golden Knights did -- as early as 16 seconds into the game. 

"The first goal is obviously important," DeBoer said. "If we don't get it, then how we respond to that is going to be critical."

At the end of the night, the Sharks' response to adversity could be the difference between winning or losing against a tough Vegas squad.

"You're down to the best of the best, and you're seeing around the league that anybody can beat anybody," DeBoer said. "You need depth, you need health, you need goaltending. It's a battle of attrition and we have to find a way here."