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2019 NHL All-Star Game: Which snubs most deserved trip to San Jose

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2019 NHL All-Star Game: Which snubs most deserved trip to San Jose

There will be some notable absences at the 2019 NHL All-Star Game in San Jose. 

Days after scoring a hat trick against the Sharks, Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin will skip the game to rest. Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who recently returned from an injury, is also sitting out.

Both players will be suspended one game for not attending.

And then there are the players who didn’t make it at all.

Yes, we know there will always be snubs. Each of the league’s four divisions have 11 representatives (nine skaters, two goalies), and all 31 teams are required to have at least one All-Star -- at least on the initial roster. That leaves 13 spots for how many deserving candidates? 

But even with that disclaimer in mind, some absences are particularly head-scratching. Considering on-ice performance and in keeping with the spirit of the event, here are a few players we think should've been in San Jose this weekend. 

VIEW THE BIGGEST ALL-STAR SNUBS HERE

Why Sharks' play against playoff teams is encouraging down the stretch

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Why Sharks' play against playoff teams is encouraging down the stretch

The Sharks apparently sent the Tampa Bay Lightning into a tailspin.

The Lightning has lost three of their last eight games since the calendar flipped, including one Thursday night to the Toronto Maple Leafs. San Jose handed Tampa Bay the first of those losses on Jan. 5, in one of the Sharks’ most impressive performances this season. 

Of course, the use of "tailspin" was purely tongue-in-cheek. It’s far too early to say a team that only lost seven times in regulation in the first half the season is “coming down to earth.” Even with Thursday’s loss, the Lightning is still nine points clear of the Calgary Flames in the race for the President’s Trophy. 

Tampa Bay's not-quite-a-funk began thanks in large part to what was arguably the best third period of the Sharks' season. Nursing a 3-2 lead entering the final 20 minutes, San Jose scored twice and held the Lightning to just 10 shot attempts across all situations, including only eight during 5-on-5 play. 

Against Tampa Bay, San Jose played to its strengths and possessed the puck. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks ranked no worse than fifth in their share of 5-on-5 shot attempts (first), unblocked attempts (second), shots (second), scoring chances (second), and high-danger chances (fifth) entering Friday.

But part of what made their performance against the Lightning so noteworthy was, well, that it came against the Lightning. Tampa Bay is in the top seven of each of those aforementioned metrics, and boasts one of the league’s deepest lineups up front and on the blue line. There’s a reason they’re so far ahead of the rest of the league. 

The Sharks’ win was not an outlier, though. San Jose is 12-9-1 against teams currently in playoff position, and boasts solid underlying numbers against that group. 

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
5v5 CF% 55.53
5v5 FF% 55.33
5v5 SF% 54.74
5v5 SCF% 54.56
5v5 HDCF% 54.44

Those numbers are right around what the Sharks have posted on the season as a whole, albeit slightly lower. That control hasn’t necessarily translated into 5-on-5 goals, however, as the Sharks have been outscored 54-49. In all, they’ve scored on around 8.5 percent of their 5-on-5 shots against playoff teams, while Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have stopped about 88.7 percent of the shots they’ve faced. 

That’s fairly emblematic of the first half of San Jose’s season, which is when 18 of the Sharks’ 22 games against teams in position to make the postseason occurred. Jones has been better lately, and the Sharks have tightened up defensively. Dell is still trying to rediscover his early-season form, but Jones’ improvement may be enough to assume San Jose's save percentage will rebound.

It’s fair to assume the playoff picture will change during that time, too. One team in the Eastern Conference is within five points of the last Wild Card spot (Buffalo), while five teams in the West can say the same (Edmonton, Anaheim, Vancouver, St. Louis, Arizona). 

[RELATED: Doug Wilson says Sharks' trade deadline deals must strike right balance]

This being the parity-pursuing NHL, all but nine teams are in the playoff bubble right around the All-Star break. If you expand our sample to include those teams, the Sharks are 20-12-4 against teams with a conceivable shot at the postseason. Unsurprisingly, they’re also about as strong of a possession team against those teams as they are against the entirety of the league.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
5v5 CF% 56.10
5v5 FF% 56.00
5v5 SF% 55.43
5v5 SCF% 56.17
5v5 HDCF% 57.46
5v5 GF 83
5v5 GA 81

In other words, the Sharks aren’t just making their hay against cellar-dwellers, and should be largely encouraged by their 5-on-5 performance against playoff teams. There is the risk of parsing down a still-developing sample size, which is why we didn’t examine the Sharks' special-teams performance against those teams. But, it’s still worth keeping an eye on down the stretch given the remainder of San Jose’s schedule.

In addition to Saturday’s trip to Tampa, the Sharks will also play the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals three days later. In all, 26 of San Jose's 33 remaining games are against teams currently within five points of a playoff spot.

As races tighten up down the stretch, that number will change. Still, it’s no thing that the Sharks have played particularly well against the teams that comprise the bulk of their schedule. That includes the Lightning, who have only lost consecutive games (in regulation or otherwise) once this season. 

It still won’t be a tailspin if Tampa Bay loses on Saturday, but it would be another important notch in San Jose’s belt. 

NHL trade deadline: Doug Wilson says Sharks' moves must strike right balance

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NHL trade deadline: Doug Wilson says Sharks' moves must strike right balance

Just over six weeks before the NHL trade deadline, the Sharks are playing their best hockey of the season.

San Jose entered Wednesday's game against the Arizona Coyotes riding a season-high seven-game winning streak, and has won 16 of its last 21 games. Since Dec. 2, the day the team met with general manager Doug Wilson following a blowout loss at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, the Sharks have the NHL's second-best record (behind the Tampa Bay Lightning) and are the league's best 5-on-5 puck-possession team (55.86 percent corsi-for, 55.76 percent fenwick-for per Natural Stat Trick). 

That leaves Wilson with a tightrope to walk ahead of the deadline. 

"The things that you identify that successful teams have, we're trending in the right direction," Wilson told NHL.com's Nick Costonika. "We feel good about it. But if there's a way that we can add a piece that fits ... Sometimes you add a piece that doesn't fit, or you get a guy that has got to be accepting of his role.

"You've got to balance your needs, the integration time and truly what your own group is doing, the dynamic and chemistry of our group, which is really a pretty special group."

Wilson told reporters last week that the Sharks would be willing to add players on expiring contracts for the stretch run, without necessarily intending to re-sign those players this summer. All-Stars Erik Karlsson and Joe Pavelski are among the Sharks who can become unrestricted free agents, while Timo Meier is set to hit restricted free agency for the first time. 

As of this writing, the Sharks would have around $5.1 million in salary cap space at the trade deadline, according to Cap Friendly. They are without first-round draft picks this year or next because of the Karlsson and Evander Kane trades, and could be without one in 2021 if the Sharks sign Karlsson to an extension and they make the Stanley Cup Final this June. 

Wilson told Costonika there are other factors to consider, too. 

"A big part of trade deadline is integrating players. We only have 19 games after the trade deadline," Wilson said. "So historically we'll identify what it is we might need, what ingredient we might need, and then factor in, 'Can we get them, what's the cost and what is the integration time?' So, there is a process that we follow."

A lot can change between now and Feb. 26. Including Wednesday, the Sharks will play 11 of 15 games on the road. San Jose will wrap up a four-game road trip in Boston the day of the deadline, but just six road games remain on the schedule after that. 

At the moment, though, Wilson said there's a lot to like about how his team his playing.

"Right now, if you look at a lot of the indicators, we're getting a lot out of a lot of people, meaning different ways," Wilson said. "We think we've got better hockey ahead of us. But we like our goaltending. We like our defense. I think we have four lines. We're getting a lot of secondary scoring. We're getting guys that are having good years. A few guys are saying, 'Well, I can be even better.' Yeah, you can. Then you just want to get playing the right way."