Nashville Predators

Former Sharks forward Joel Ward figuring out next step of NHL career

Former Sharks forward Joel Ward figuring out next step of NHL career

When he officially retired one week ago, it had been 751 days since Joel Ward’s last NHL game.
 
Which puts Ward in that rare category of former athletes, who just kind of… forgot to self-announce their end.
 
“I was just so busy focusing on my little guy here,” Ward said via FaceTime. “That, I kind of got sidetracked.”
 
Ward was referring to his 1-year old son Robinson, who was one of the several key elements that helped with the mental conclusion of his hockey career.
 
“If I ran into you, I’d pretty much tell you I was done,” Ward said. “But for a lot people that didn’t know, they were still up in the air. It was good for me Monday to tell my story, and put it to rest.”
 
Ward penned one beauty of a goodbye note in The Players’ Tribune to make it official.
 
He shared memorable pieces of an uphill hockey journey, including the passing of his father, the dedication of his mother and the storybook path of playing 726 NHL games, despite never even being drafted.
 
“What a ride it was for me,” Ward reminisced. “Back then, If I could play just one game that would be great.”
 
Ward’s first NHL game came with the Minnesota Wild, but he was more prominently known for his time with the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals. However, it’s no coincidence he has made San Jose his permanent home.
 
“We have a lot of roots here, my little guy was born here,” Ward said. “Right at El Camino hospital up the street. A lot kind of hit home and seemed like a good fit at the time. We’ve made the transition of sticking out here.”
 
Now that the Ward family is settled, Joel has his eventual sights on a hockey coaching career.
 
“I don’t really have anything set in stone,” Ward explained. “It’s just something I’d kind of like to pursue.”

[RELATED: Newly-retired Ward hopes to return to Sharks as a coach]
 
After 11 NHL seasons, Ward has a resume of experience that should go over well in a dressing room.
 
“I’ve been in bottom end of the lineups to playing a couple times on the top end,” Ward said. "Just feeling like I could relate to a lot of guys.
 
“It would be insane for me not to share.”

Why 49ers' George Kittle snuck into Sharks game during NFL season

Why 49ers' George Kittle snuck into Sharks game during NFL season

It was two days before the 49ers were scheduled to host the Seattle Seahawks in a prime-time, Monday night showdown at Levi’s Stadium.

San Francisco tight end George Kittle, who was listed as doubtful due to battling knee and ankle injuries, decided he couldn’t miss out on a chance to watch his friend Filip Forsberg and the Nashville Predators take on the Sharks from SAP Center.

In order to remain under the radar, Kittle had to leave the Predators gear at home.

“I had to sneak down there,” Kittle told The Athletic. “I couldn’t wear Preds gear because I was actually sitting in the Sharks alumni suite. It was pretty funny.”

Listen and subscribe to the 49ers Insider Podcast:

Kittle’s offseason home is in Nashville, and his wife, Claire, has become friends with Forsberg’s girlfriend, inspiring a kinship between the two athletes.

“I play Xbox with him. I try to go to as many games as I can. We hang out,” Kittle said. “He came out to the NFC Championship Game during (the) All-Star break, which was pretty awesome. We’ve just become friends. We hang out in the summers whenever he’s off and back here and not in Sweden.”

[RELATED: Kittle recalls his unforgettable first meeting with The Rock]

Forsberg scored the Predators’ lone goal that night, as the Sharks rallied and won in a shootout.

This isn't a big surprise coming from Kittle, who has a habit of enjoying other local sporting events during the NFL season.

How Sharks' wild comeback win vs. Predators epitomized 2018-19 season

How Sharks' wild comeback win vs. Predators epitomized 2018-19 season

Progamming note: Watch the re-air of the Sharks' comeback win over the Nashville Predators from Oct. 23, 2018 tonight at 8 PT on NBC Sports California.

They didn't know it at the time, but a win over the Nashville Predators on Oct. 23, 2018 ultimately laid bare the Sharks' strengths -- and weaknesses -- that would define their 2018-19 season.

The Sharks beat the Predators 5-4 that night in Nashville, overcoming a two-goal deficit with just under eight minutes remaining in the third period with a three-goal barrage in five minutes and 28 seconds. San Jose’s offense could keep up with just about any team last season, and lackluster goaltending largely necessitated said firepower.

Martin Jones stopped just 25 of the 29 shots he faced, even though the Sharks outshot the Predators in all situations (32-29) and held slight edges in 5-on-5 shot attempts, shots and scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. Nashville created more high-danger chances (8-6) and expected goals (1.46-1.38) than San Jose at full strength.

Only the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning scored more goals (319) than the Sharks (289) last season, which was the most prolific in franchise history. Yet the Sharks finished with just a plus-31 goal differential, as Jones and backup goaltender Aaron Dell posted career-worst save percentages while the Sharks allowed the NHL’s 11th-most goals (258).

The Sharks ranked no worse than 12th in suppressing high-danger chances, scoring chances and expected goals at full strength, yet San Jose allowed 111 5-on-5 high-danger goals in the NHL. Only the Ottawa Senators -- defenseman Erik Karlsson’s former team -- and the Edmonton Oilers allowed more, and those teams finished an average of 22.5 points outside of the postseason.

But the Sharks had enough offensive talent to overcome their goaltending woes, finishing two wins shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. San Jose was too depleted to hang with the St. Louis Blues by the end of the Western Conference final, but a healthy Sharks team would’ve had a great chance to advance. The 2018-19 Sharks were an elite puck-possession team, capable of scoring in myriad ways.

That was evident in the aforementioned comeback win over the Predators. The Sharks scored twice on the power play, twice at even strength and once short-handed. Brenden Dillon got the comeback started with an end-to-end rush on the penalty kill, then-captain Joe Pavelski finished off a 3-on-2 fewer than 30 seconds later and a pair of Norris Trophy winners -- Karlsson and Brent Burns -- combined to seal the victory.

[RELATED: Sharks' Burns says "teachers are legends" amid pandemic]

The Sharks couldn’t have known their ninth game of 2018-19 would prove so instructive, but the win over the Predators set the tone for what was to come.

For better and worse.