Tim Heed

Sharks organizational review: Inconsistent defense faces uncertain future

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AP

Sharks organizational review: Inconsistent defense faces uncertain future

Since Peter DeBoer took over at the helm, the Sharks have marketed themselves as a "defense first" kind of team. But even with high-profile players and a couple of dominant winning streaks, Team Teal ended the regular season with the eleventh-most goals-against in the league.

The good news is San Jose's blue line is already looking to get a boost in the future -- even if the future of some of its personnel is still unknown.

The Sharks will almost certainly have two key members of their d-corps back in Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Burns is coming off another Norris Trophy-worthy campaign and fought off the flu to keep his ironman streak alive. Vlasic may have gotten off to an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, but after being sidelined midseason with an injury returned to be one of San Jose's key defensemen down the stretch.

The blue line can get a boost from there if Radim Simek returns to the lineup healthy next season. After his impressive rookie campaign was cut short by a knee injury, the Czech d-man has been relentlessly rehabbing in an effort to get back to game action. San Jose's defense no doubt looked its best at the halfway point of the regular season when Simek was healthy and paired up with Burns. (And when Erik Karlsson was healthy, but we'll get to him in a second.) Getting the Simek-Burns combo back together already speaks well for the Sharks' future.

As will getting the Burns-Boughner duo back together. There's already a ton of excitement over Bob Boughner rejoining the Sharks' coaching staff next season given the good relationships he has with the veterans in the locker room. Having him back in the fold could be just what San Jose's defense needs to be more consistent.

That consistency is still a bit tough to determine, however, because it isn't certain what the rest of the d-corps will look like next season. At its best, San Jose's defense had Burns paired with Simek, Vlasic reunited with Justin Braun, and a healthy Erik Karlsson paired with Brenden Dillon.

Now, Karlsson is the most talked-about player about to hit free agency and  Braun's name has popped up as potential trade bait if the Sharks really want to push to keep Karlsson on the team. Even if Karlsson is the only member of this season's starting d-corps who doesn't return, that leaves Dillon in need of a defense partner for next season and making up for No. 65's skill set will be no easy feat.

Things get even more interesting in regards to the blue line's depth. Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed are set to hit free agency on July 1 and aren't locks to return -- both of whom had to step into the lineup multiple times this season when one of the starting six d-men were injured. There's no word on whether either skater will be in San Jose next season, although Heed's numbers were better in both the regular season.

[RELATED: Sharks can improve on wingers situation]

Not everything is so up-in-the-air, however, as San Jose has some promising defensemen coming up through the pipeline. Jacob Middleton, who got a couple of games in at the NHL level last season, will likely get a few more looks with the big club this upcoming season. Nick DeSimone is set to become an RFA but could get a look with the big club if he stays in San Jose after a 46-point season (14 goals, 32 assists) with the Barracuda. There is a similar case for Kyle Wood, who is coming off a 35-point campaign (6 goals, 39 assists) in his first season with San Jose's AHL club. 

Sharks offseason questions: What's next for Erik Karlsson, blue line?

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AP

Sharks offseason questions: What's next for Erik Karlsson, blue line?

SAN JOSE - At the start of the 2018-19 regular season, all eyes were on the Sharks' defense after the team acquired Erik Karlsson and gave themselves one of the most dangerous-looking blue lines in the league.

With San Jose's offseason underway, the focus yet again is on the Sharks' d-corps and the decisions that could change how it looks next season -- and those changes aren't just hinging on whether Karlsson stays in San Jose for another season.

For starters, Karlsson isn't the only Sharks' d-man hitting free agency. Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed, who penciled into the lineup at various times this season when Karlsson was injured, are both without new contracts ahead of July 1. Neither one is guaranteed to come back, although Heed's chances of staying in teal seem a bit higher.

Even though Ryan, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, saw more playing time during the playoffs than pending unrestricted free agent Heed did, it never seemed like Sharks coach Peter DeBoer was completely satisfied with what he saw from No. 47. While the Sharks benefitted from having both players down the stretch when the blue line got banged up, it seems likely San Jose will give Barracuda blueliner Jacob Middleton a longer look at the NHL level in place of Ryan. 

Keep in mind, the Sharks also are hoping to have Radim Simek back healthy at the start of the next season. The Czech d-man has already made huge strides in recovering from a devastating knee injury that cut his impressive rookie campaign short.

According to teammate and fellow countryman Tomas Hertl, Simek has been "working really hard" and "will for sure be ready for next year." It's fair to say San Jose's defense looked its best when both Simek and Karlsson were in the lineup healthy. With Simek back alongside Norris Trophy hopeful Brent Burns next season, the Sharks' d-corps will get an instant boost.

Speaking of Burns, San Jose's blue line is already primed to look a little different next season now that Bob Boughner is rejoining the coaching staff. Boughner did great work with San Jose's blue line before taking the head coaching job with the Florida Panthers, including working No. 88 during this Norris-winning campaign. Just imagine the impact he could have on a defense with both Burns and Karlsson in the mix -- if Karlsson does, in fact, stay in the South Bay.

This brings us back to Karlsson, who is still the big player to watch. When addressing the media on locker cleanout day, Karlsson didn't give any indication as to whether he wanted to stay in San Jose or go somewhere else. Despite posting a tweet to Sharks' fans that looked as though he may have been saying farewell, SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman reported just a week later that Karlsson is strongly considering whether he wants to remain in San Jose.

[RELATED: Will sharks be able to bring back Nyquist next year?]

Although his 2018-19 campaign was hampered with injuries, Karlsson clearly was a good fit on the Sharks' blue line when he was healthy, tallying 45 points (three goals, 42 assists) through the regular season and 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) through the playoffs. 

Suffice to say even after Karlsson makes a decision, San Jose's blue line will remain an entity to watch as we get closer to the opening of free agency.

Sharks' Joe Pavelski day-to-day but unlikely to play in Game 1 vs. Avalanche

Sharks' Joe Pavelski day-to-day but unlikely to play in Game 1 vs. Avalanche

SAN JOSE – Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer is classifying Joe Pavelski as day-to-day after the captain sustained a scary injury during San Jose's Game 7 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.

Pavelski left Game 7 at the 9:13 mark of the third period after getting cross-checked off a faceoff by Cody Eakin and falling to the ice and hitting his head. No. 8 was bleeding profusely and had to be helped off the ice by a few of his teammates with a towel being held to his head. DeBoer wouldn’t specify exactly what Pavelski’s ailment was, but said the top-line forward was “feeling the effects” of the injury and likely won’t be in the lineup for Game 1 of the Sharks' second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche.

“It could’ve been worse, you could’ve been dealing with a fractured skull,” DeBoer told the media after Thursday’s morning skate. “Thankfully, we weren’t.”

Pavelski did not take the ice for practice Thursday, although the press was told he was in the building.

Teammates Melker Karlsson and Tim Heed were also missing from practice Thursday morning. Joonas Donskoi, who missed Game 7 against the Knights with an unspecified injury, skated in a non-contact orange sweater early Thursday morning but left the ice before practice got underway. Micheal Haley returned to practice for the first time since sustaining an injury during Game 3 against the Knights.

When questioned about the status of players missing from practice, DeBoer chalked it up to the team being banged-up just like every other team still in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.

“Like anybody this time of year, we have a lot of game-time decisions,” DeBoer said.

[RELATED: NHL apologizes to Vegas for mistake on major penalty call]

The Sharks will open up their second-round series against the Avalanche at SAP Center on Friday.