Sharks

What the Sharks can learn from Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues

sharksbluesusatsi.jpg
USATSI

What the Sharks can learn from Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues

SAN JOSE -- Sure, it probably stings for many Sharks fans to see the St. Louis Blues win the Stanley Cup. After all, it wasn't even a month ago the Blues defeated the Sharks in six games and cut Team Teal's run at the big trophy short. 

Despite all that, there are some things San Jose can take away from watching the Western Conference champions defeat the Boston Bruins. (And no, it doesn't have anything to do with getting away with hitting other players in the head.)

For starters, the Blues defensive effort could stay relentless for a full 60 minutes. The Sharks' defense had the ability to make or break their chances of winning during their 20-game playoff run. When working correctly, San Jose took away their opponents' scoring chances by keeping the opposition on the perimeter of the ice. But the Sharks also had a tendency of letting their feet off the gas and let the other team bulldoze through the neutral zone.

With the exception of Games 3 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Blues did a fairly consistent job taking the ice away from the Bruins and not letting up. Their effort in Game 7 was particularly strong, and they were able to carry it through until the end of the game. It also didn't hurt that Jordan Binnington basically stood on his head in Game 7 to keep Boston off the scoreboard.

St. Louis also regularly got contributions from different parts of their lineup. There's no denying the Sharks' depth was heavily tested at the end of their playoff run with multiple key players sidelined by injuries. Even so, when the Sharks looked their best when they got contributions from different parts of their lineup, whether it was the Joe Thornton-led third line or the Barclay Goodrow-centered fourth line. At the end of their playoff run, one of head coach Peter DeBoer's post-loss criticisms was that there were "not enough participants" in helping the team get a victory.

This is an area where the Blues excelled throughout the playoffs. When Vladimir Tarasenko and the top line wasn't finding the back of the net, St. Louis got firepower from the Ryan O'Reilly-led second line. When the bottom six couldn't get going against Boston, St. Louis got scoring help from their blueliners.

[RELATED: Shark split loyalties with Warriors/Raptors in FInals]

These are, of course, areas the Sharks are aiming to improve upon during the offseason. They've already started beefing up their defensive effort with the return of Bob Boughner to the coaching staff, plus they'll hopefully have an extra weapon in Radim Simek ready for next season. As far as scoring depth goes, San Jose has key pieces to build around as they figure out who will be with the team next season -- including Logan Couture, who was still the league leader in playoff goals at the end of the playoffs.

The 2019 Stanley Cup run just concluded, but it's never too early for the Sharks to lay the foundation for next year.  

NHL free-agency review: How Vegas Golden Knights stack up in Pacific Division

sharksvegasusatsi.jpg
USATSI

NHL free-agency review: How Vegas Golden Knights stack up in Pacific Division

Editor’s note: NHL free agency was fast and furious, and the moves that teams did (and did not) make set the tone for next season. All week, we’ll examine the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, and whether their free-agency approach put them in better, worse or the same position. Today, we dive into the Vegas Golden Knights.

The 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs can't be talked about without Game 7 between the Sharks and the Golden Knights in the Western Conference first round

In addition to being the ultimate edge-of-your-seat viewing experience, it gave the rest of the hockey world a glimpse into the bitter rivalry that has very quickly manifested between these two teams.

Despite being around for only two seasons, the Golden Knights have become a force to be reckoned with. And with most of the Pacific Division teams having down seasons, Vegas has emerged as San Jose's biggest competition on the West Coast.

So while the Sharks have a lot to focus on this offseason in terms of their own roster, it doesn't hurt to take a peek at what the opposition is up to, especially a team with no cap space to work with.

Here's a look at what Vegas has been up to since the free-agent market opened up.

Players who stayed

Vegas has been incredibly busy getting its players signed to deals this offseason, keeping important pieces of its roster together. They made the most noise in late June when they signed high-scoring center William Karlsson to an eight-year deal. The top-line pivot ranked second on the team last year with 56 regular-season points.

Vegas also kept some of their depth from last season, locking up forwards Tomas Nosek and Brandon Pirri, and backup goalie Malcolm Subban. 

The Golden Knights still have a couple of players hanging out as free agents. But given they currently have zero room under the salary cap, according to CapFriendly, there will be moves made before anyone else gets signed.

Players who left

The lack of breathing room under the salary cap has, as expected, signaled the exit of a handful of players Vegas had on its roster last season.

Defenseman Colin Miller was traded to the Buffalo Sabres and forward Erik Haula was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes ahead of free agency. Center Ryan Carpenter signed a three-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks in the first couple hours of free agency, and French forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare became one of many players scooped up by the Colorado Avalanche that same day.

Rumors have also been swirling that RFA Nikita Gusev could be headed to another team given Vegas doesn't have any room left under the cap, but there could also be another trade in the works to free up some money.

While the moves leave roles to be filled on Vegas' roster, it allows some of its promising young prospects to step up. The Golden Knights likely aren't done making moves this summer.

Better, worse, or the same?

Even with some pieces being moved around this offseason, the core of the Golden Knights is still intact.

With no cap space to work with, Vegas probably will make more moves this offseason. The Knights still, however, look like they're going to be the Sharks' toughest division rival for another season.

NHL free-agency review: How Edmonton Oilers stack up in Pacific Division

NHL free-agency review: How Edmonton Oilers stack up in Pacific Division

Editor’s note: NHL free agency was fast and furious, and the moves that teams did (and did not) make set the tone for next season. All week, we’ll examine the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, and whether their free-agency approach put them in better, worse or the same position. Today, we dive into the Edmonton Oilers.

It was only a couple of postseasons ago when the Oilers booted the Sharks from the Stanley Cup playoffs. But boy, have they spiraled out of control since then.

Despite having one of the best hockey players in the world on their team, the Oilers have developed a reputation for being inconsistent and sometimes looking like they really don't give a darn. The drama got turned up an extra notch this past season with the firing of coach Todd McLellan in November and of general manager Peter Chiarelli in February.

Now Edmonton is set with a new bench boss and GM and is making moves in free agency to improve its roster. But is it enough to completely rebound from a disappointing 2018-19 campaign?

Here's a look at what the Oilers have done since the free-agent market opened. 

Players who signed

New GM Ken Holland has gone to work trying to provide the Oilers with offensive depth in free agency, re-signing forwards Alex Chiasson and Jujhar Khaira and adding Markus Granlund, Tomas Jurco, and Gaetan Haas. 

But the most interesting signing thus far has been that of goaltender Mike Smith, previously with the Calgary Flames. Smith is coming off an inconsistent season where he lost out on the starting job to David Rittich, but was good down the stretch -- although the Flames were booted pretty quickly from the playoffs.

This addition could go one of two ways. Smith could have a bounceback season playing for David Tippett -- who has been his coach twice before -- or lose out on the starting job yet again, this time to Mikko Koskinen. 

Whichever goalie wins the job is going to have a challenging time with the lack of quality defense being played in front of them. Speaking of ...

Players who left

Edmonton started clearing room before the market opened by buying out the rest of Andrej Sekera's contract. Even though Sekera's career has been on the decline since he sustained an ACL injury a couple of seasons ago, it leaves a void on the Oilers' blue line.

Not ideal if your team is going up against an offense like the Sharks' multiple times a season.

[RELATED: Sharks re-sign RFAs Gambrell and Suomela to contracts]

It's believed Holland is going to make a big trade at some point this summer ahead of training camp to beef up the blue line. Until that happens, though, Edmonton's defense isn't looking too sturdy.

Better, worse, or the same?

As of right now, the Oilers don't appear to have made any big changes that could completely turn their fortunes around and still have pieces they need to add before next season starts.

They may have a new coach and general manager in place, but they'll need to do more than that if they want to be more competitive next season.