Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

SAN JOSE – Less than 48 hours before the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday at noon, the Sharks’ brain trust has at least one important decision to make.

Are they comfortable rotating left wingers in and out of the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski line, or should an upgrade be attempted via the trade market? There are a number of players said to be available that could provide the team with some forward depth and scoring punch ahead of the playoffs.

Seven different wingers have played on that so-called top line, none of them lasting more than one continuous stint there than Patrick Marleau from Nov. 21 – Jan. 3. 

In total, seven different players have started a game on that line, including Marleau (25 games), Tomas Hertl (13 games), Kevin Labanc (6 games), Mikkel Boedker (5 games), Timo Meier (4 games), Joel Ward (4 games) and Melker Karlsson (4 games). Injuries have played a role, of course, but it seems as if coach Pete DeBoer has been looking for someone to seize that position. 

Pavelski, though, didn’t seem overly worried about the ongoing alternation.

“We’ve had a few different players there, and I don’t think it’s a concern,” said the captain. “You’re always looking for chemistry and something set in stone if you can get it, but throughout a game, things change.”

DeBoer laid out what he’s looking for in a player to skate alongside Thornton and Pavelski, as well as the kind of player that wouldn’t fit in that role.

“You have to play [at Pavelski and Thornton’s] level and their work ethic,” said the coach. “They want the puck. They want to hunt the puck and want someone to get in there and retrieve pucks so that they can have possession. 

“I can tell you a guy who doesn’t fit would be a guy who is strictly a shooter, or kind of lets other people do the work and just goes to holes. They need somebody that’s going to work at their level and hunt the puck, so that’s got to be part of it.”

Labanc is the latest player to hold down that spot, starting there for the last four games and remaining there for Monday’s practice at Sharks Ice. Just 21 years old, Labanc has contributed a respectable seven goals and 18 points in his first 46 NHL games. Still, he hasn’t scored a goal in his last 22 games, and has just one assist and four total shots in the last four games.

It’s debatable whether the still-smallish Labanc is ready for the rigors of an NHL schedule on a full-time basis, which would make it dangerous for the Sharks to go into the postseason with someone like him in such a key position. DeBoer, though, praised the rookie’s recent efforts.

“I thought he’s done a good job. He’s got some of those [aforementioned] attributes,” DeBoer said. "He’s an offensive guy, [and] he thinks on their level offensively.”

Other teams in direct competition with the Sharks for a Western Conference title are adding pieces, particularly up front. Anaheim acquired scoring winger Patrick Eaves from Dallas, the Blackhawks brought in Detroit forward Tomas Jurco, and Minnesota gave up a haul to Arizona for center Martin Hanzal.

If the Sharks don’t make a move, they will likely go the whole season without bringing in a single player from the outside other than their young prospects. That would be unique, especially for a team that has championship aspirations.

Pavelski seemed to insinuate that he expects at least one body to arrive.

“Whoever we get, hopefully they’ll fill a little depth or add a little something, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

But if not?

“It doesn’t change anything if nothing happens, that’s for sure. We’re going to keep trying to get better.”

 

Notes: Sharks' Donskoi nearing a return; Sorensen recalled

Notes: Sharks' Donskoi nearing a return; Sorensen recalled

SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi took part in his first full practice in more than a month on Monday, as he battles back from an upper body injury and the flu.

He will not play against the Maple Leafs at SAP Center on Tuesday, but appears to be close.

“He looks good. Getting closer,” Pete DeBoer said. “Obviously, it’s been awhile. It’s his first real practice and contact. So, it’s a good step.”

Donskoi, who is wearing a brace around his right shoulder, said he “feels great,” and joked that it’s been “boring” skating only with injured defenseman Dylan DeMelo, “even though he’s a really good guy.” He was supposed to accompany the team to its game in Vancouver on Saturday, but fell ill.

Donskoi skated on the third line right wing with center Tomas Hertl and left wing Melker Karlsson for Monday's practice. The Sharks’ top two lines remained the same, while the fourth line was Chris Tierney centering Joel Ward and rookie Marcus Sorensen. 

Micheal Haley did not skate for personal reasons, but is expected to be available for the Maple Leafs.

Donskoi has been out since aggravating an injury on Jan. 23 in Colorado, and has missed 16 of the last 19 games overall. In 44 games, he has six goals and nine points for 15 points and an even rating.

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The Sharks recalled Sorensen on Monday morning, while reassigning forward Barclay Goodrow to the Barracuda. Sorensen has one assist in two NHL games this season.

In 43 games with the Barracuda, the 24-year-old winger has 34 points (17g, 17a).

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The Sharks confirmed to CSN that their third round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft belongs to the New Jersey Devils, as compensation for DeBoer. Originally, it was thought that the Devils would not seek compensation for the coach, who was still under contract despite getting fired by New Jersey on Dec. 26, 2014. He was named as Sharks coach five months later.

San Jose still has its first round pick, a fourth, fifth, two sixths and three sevenths in the upcoming draft to be held in late June in Chicago. Its second round pick was dealt to Toronto last season as part of the deal for defenseman Roman Polak.

Sharks feel fortunate with timing of bye week

Sharks feel fortunate with timing of bye week

VANCOUVER – The condensed Sharks schedule has resumed, with a vengeance.

Saturday’s game in Vancouver started a stretch of 22 games over the final 43 days of the regular season for San Jose. The remaining slate features 16 games in the month of March alone, and five back-to-back sets. A game against Calgary at home on April 8 is the finale.

It’s going to be a brutal grind.

Fortunately, the Sharks feel that their bye week came at the right time, as they had five days off with no practice from Monday through Friday, when they boarded an afternoon charter for British Columbia. They had dropped six of eight headed into it, and fatigue was undoubtedly a factor.

Prior to the break, the general feeling was that the Sharks felt privileged with the timing of the bye week. Joe Pavelski was even more emphatic about that notion on Saturday morning, when the complete team reconvened for the first time at Rogers Arena.

“It came at a great time. Everyone’s excited for a break when we get it,” Pavelski said. “Obviously it’s a long season, and you get to go do something you want for a few days, it makes it pretty nice.”
 
Joe Thornton said: “It was just nice to relax and enjoy ourselves.”

The Sharks have essentially had a break in each of the last three months, as the league shut down for Christmas for three days in late December, and the All-Star break came at the end of January. Some teams had their bye weeks as early as the beginning of January, which doesn’t make much sense.

“I thought our breaks were pretty well scheduled – Christmas, All-Star, and then this,” Chris Tierney said. “It was all about a month apart. Hopefully, that pays off.”

It’s been well documented that a number of the Sharks’ veteran players have seen a drop in production, after the club played all the way until June last season in getting to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final. Thornton, Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joel Ward, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin all had some ups-and-downs throughout the first 60 games.

Although the Sharks have maintained first place in the Pacific Division, a commendable achievement to be sure, some guys just looked like they needed some time off.

They got it, and now they can turn their attention as a group to finishing the regular season strong and going into the postseason in prime playing shape. 

Really, that’s all that matters.

“We’ve got a big home stretch coming down the end here, [22] games to finish off strong to put ourselves in a good position going into the postseason,” Ward said. “We’re excited about the capabilities of what we have going.”

Thornton said: “We’ve got a lot of games here in a short period of time, so hopefully we all got our rest and get ready for the stretch run.”