Why Sharks' defensemen could bring back big haul at NHL trade deadline

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Why Sharks' defensemen could bring back big haul at NHL trade deadline

If the Sharks are going to make a big move at the trade deadline, it's going to involve one of their defensemen. While there are numerous forwards who could get traded elsewhere, like Melker Karlsson, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, they're not going to bring back the kind of return that will significantly expedite a rebuild. Timo Meier is the lone exception, but San Jose would have to be blown away with an offer to move on from the talented 23-year-old, and even then, it's not certain general manager Doug Wilson would elect to do so.

So, if the Sharks are going to beef up their roster for the future, it likely will involve taking a step back in the present, with a prominent defenseman on his way out. Luckily for San Jose, one could argue the price just went up for one of their skilled blueliners due to several injuries across the league.

Just in the last week, the Columbus Blue Jackets lost defenseman Seth Jones (ankle fracture surgery) for the next eight to 10 weeks, the Montreal Canadiens lost defenseman Shea Weber (sprained left ankle) for the next four to six and St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester endured an extremely scary cardiac episode. Bouwmeester was said to be "doing very well" after undergoing tests Wednesday, but there is no word on if or when he will be able to return to the ice.

St. Louis currently sits in first place in the Western Conference. The Blue Jackets occupy the first wild-card spot in the East, and Montreal trails the second one by eight points. This is to say, all three teams suddenly have both a need and the motivation to go out and acquire a defenseman. Depending on what kind of player they're looking for, the Sharks might be their best place to shop.

Of all the players on San Jose's roster, defenseman Brenden Dillon is the most likely to be traded. His sound positioning and extremely physical demeanor are the kind of traits playoff teams are looking for, and as a pending unrestricted free agent, the Sharks have every reason to try to get something for him. If Bouwmeester has a lengthy absence or is unable to return this season, Dillon -- who also is a left-handed shot -- could make a lot of sense for the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Even if that's not the right fit for Dillon, though, he is still all but assured to be playing for someone other than San Jose after the deadline.

While Montreal and Columbus also would have use for Dillon, there's a chance they might be more interested in a different Sharks defenseman.

Even before Weber went down, the Canadiens reportedly were looking to acquire a top left-side defenseman as far back as October. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has spent his entire career in San Jose, but he's originally from Montreal and has been Weber's regular defensive partner in international competition with the Canadian national team. Vlasic and Weber are very different players, but clearly, there's reason why the Canadiens might have interest. Vlasic has a full no-movement clause through the 2022-23 season and a modified no-trade clause for the three seasons after that, but if there's any destination he would be willing to waive that for, might it be his hometown?

From a similarity perspective, Brent Burns' playing style is far more akin to Weber's than Vlasic's is. If the Canadiens aren't confident Weber will be able to return within the expected timetable, or won't be his usual self if and when he does, they could do a whole lot worse than Burns. Of course, it's not that simple. Burns has a modified no-trade clause through the 2024-25 season, so he has a significant say in where he wants to play. He also carries an $8 million cap hit per season for the duration of his contract, so the money could prove to be an additional hurdle. That said, of all the teams in the league, Montreal has the eighth-most projected cap space remaining this season, according to CapFriendly, so they could afford to put him on the books.

You know who has more projected cap space than Montreal? That would be the Blue Jackets, who rank fourth in that category according to CapFriendly. Jones is one of their two best defensemen, and now they could be without him for the remainder of the regular season, if not longer. Like Burns, Jones plays on the right side and leads his team in average ice time per game. Burns not only could perfectly slot in for Jones, but also would make Columbus a more formidable opponent down the backstretch and into the postseason. Not to mention, he could provide a much-needed veteran presence for the second-youngest team in the league.

While the Blue Jackets have the available cap space to realistically make a deal for Burns, there are a couple of potential issues that might rule out such a move.

For one, Burns would have to waive his modified NTC, and Columbus isn't exactly a traditional hockey hotbed. Then again, one could say the same thing about San Jose. Additionally, the Blue Jackets might not have what the Sharks would be looking for in return for Burns. Columbus does not own a second or third-round pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft, and it's prospect pool recently was ranked dead last in the NHL. When and if San Jose ever moves on from Burns, you can be sure they'll be looking for talented, young and controllable assets in return.

[RELATED: Merkley leads Sharks' No. 25 ranked prospect pool in NHL]

Of Dillon, Burns and Vlasic, Dillon is far and away the most likely Sharks defenseman to go. But with the recent injuries around the league, one could argue there now is a greater demand for each of them. With more teams potentially engaging in a bidding war, the Sharks might be able to get a considerably larger haul than they would have just a week ago. 

How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

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How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

That is not how the Sharks wanted to enter the All-Star break.

Coming off consecutive wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars, San Jose had a chance to reach the unofficial midway point of the regular season riding a massive wave of momentum, perhaps large enough to carry the team back to the postseason. All that sat between the Sharks and that development was a crucial three-game road trip against Western Conference foes.

At the very least, San Jose needed to keep its head above water. Instead, the Sharks drowned in disaster.

Facing the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks -- all teams San Jose potentially would have to leapfrog to make the playoffs -- the Sharks reverted back to kind of performances that put them in such a deep hole in the first place.

San Jose was outscored 14-4 and outshot 117-73 over the course of the three games. Those two stats obviously are interconnected, but Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner pointed to another area of failure as a big reason for his team's struggles.

"The big difference this road trip is we've been horrible in the faceoff circle," Boughner said following the 4-1 loss in Vancouver on Saturday night. "You're never starting with the puck. Even in the offensive zone, you're chasing, and you can't chase pucks all night. That limits your possessions and tires you out."

Boughner's correct. The Sharks were thoroughly dominated in the faceoff circle over the course of the road trip, which might have had something to do with them scoring only one goal over its final six periods of play. San Jose won only 45.1 percent of the draws against the Coyotes, 45.6 percent against the Avalanche and only 38.0 percent against the Canucks.

It's only the third time this season the Sharks have won fewer than 49.0 percent of the draws in three straight games, and the most recent instance also coincided with a three-game losing streak. Whether it's shooting, scoring or simply gaining possession of the puck, Boughner is hoping the All-Star break will provide the Sharks with the needed respite to address their shortcomings.

"This is probably a great break for everybody, mentally," Boughner said. "Recharge the batteries and come back and try to forget about this week of hockey and put a good week in as soon as we get back."

[RELATED: Report: Wilson won't disrupt Sharks' core at trade deadline]

The Sharks' final week heading into the All-Star break was an unmitigated disaster. If they're still planning on qualifying for the postseason, they can't have any more like it.

How players' meeting was catalyst for Sharks' suddenly-hot power play

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How players' meeting was catalyst for Sharks' suddenly-hot power play

SAN JOSE -- From Nov. 19 to Dec. 31, the Sharks' power play was beyond putrid, scoring only twice on 49 attempts. But since the turn of the calendar, San Jose has been scorching with the man-advantage.

In the Sharks' 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at SAP Center on Thursday night, San Jose went 1-for-3 on the power play, with the lone marker proving to be the game-winning goal -- an absolute howitzer from Joe Thornton. By scoring that power-play goal, Thornton became the oldest player in franchise history to score a game-winning goal at 40 years, 191 days. But more importantly, it continued a trend in which the special-teams unit seems to have gotten back on track.

Counting Thornton's goal, the Sharks are now 5-for-11 with the man-advantage in 2020, scoring at least one power-play goal in four of their five games. So, what's different?

According to defenseman Brent Burns, well, not much at all.

"Getting bounces," Burns explained. "You're seeing things go in that previously never did. Instead of hitting a stick and going out, it's going in. Just quick movement and getting shots. I know it looks easy from where you guys sit, but the difference between [a shot] getting through and not is pretty minimal.

"It's nice to see that going in and guys getting confidence from that. But I wouldn't say there's much difference."

While Burns' explanation seems perfectly plausible, the good bounces aren't necessarily happening now by accident. Just before the power play caught fire, some of its critical members got together to try to figure things out.

"We had a dinner probably five, six games ago as a group of five, and chatted a little bit," Sharks winger Evander Kane said after the win. "[The power play] seemed to kind of take off from there. We've got some good puck movement going on. We don't care who scores and it's working right now."

When pressed for more details about that meeting of the minds, Kane was mum on the specific participants. But whatever was said certainly appears to have worked. 

"We knew that we hit rock bottom," Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said of the power play. "You could see that we changed personnel, changed units around and it started clicking. And I think the biggest difference is we're not holding on to pucks on the power play. We're making other teams adjust because we're having good puck movement and I believe that our shooting mentality is a lot better."

As impressive as Thornton's shot was -- and boy did that thing move -- Boughner pointed to a less obvious reason for the puck finding the back of the net.

"And on that goal, great shot by [Thornton]," Boughner said, "but I think he could see where [Barclay Goodrow] was, and it was in the goalie's eyes. And the last few power-play goals, they're all the same. Timo [Meier] the other night in St. Louis. [Goodrow] is doing a real good job of sitting on the lap of that goalie. So it's nice to have options. That unit has been excellent for us."

[RELATED: Sharks captain Couture blames himself for fractured ankle]

The two points resulting from the win will aid the Sharks as they attempt to climb their way back into the playoff picture. They still have a long way to go, but Thursday's performance can serve as a building block as they attempt to piece some victories together. With Logan Couture expected to miss several weeks with a fractured ankle, San Jose can use every offensive boost it can get. The power play has found a groove, and the longer it can keep it up, the longer the Sharks can keep their postseason hopes alive.