Analysis: Sharks rely on experience to turn up heat on Oilers

Analysis: Sharks rely on experience to turn up heat on Oilers

SAN JOSE – There are varying opinions as to whether momentum in a playoff series carries over from game to game. Usully, it’s not worth diving too deeply into the subject.

But after a 7-0 Sharks win in Game 4 over an Edmonton team that lacks playoff experience, it’s fair to contemplate whether the lopsided nature of the victory on Tuesday resonates in a bad way in the Oilers’ dressing room headed into Thursday’s pivotal Game 5 at Rogers Place.

The longer a series goes, the more a team's experience should be able to temper the momentum, both good and bad. The Sharks weren’t gripping their sticks too tightly ahead of Game 4, despite going exactly 120 minutes without a goal, and it showed, especially after captain Joe Pavelski – who missed a wide open net in Game 3 that could have changed the course of the game – got the Sharks the first goal with one of his patented tips just 15 seconds after the opening faceoff.

The Sharks also know that just because they won so easily on Tuesday, Game 5 could quickly get away from them if they’re not ready to compete at the same level.

“It’s one win, that’s it,” Logan Couture said. “It’s 2-2, best-of-three left. We’re going to go try and win a game in Edmonton.”

Game 4, though, was the kind of response that tends to come from a veteran team that has seen and been through it all. The situation was strikingly similar to last season’s second round when the Predators outplayed the Sharks pretty thoroughly in Game 6 before San Jose went home and dominated Game 7, 5-0, to advance to the Western Conference Final.

Although coach Pete DeBoer has downplayed the importance of the experience factor since before the series began, that could be similar to last season when he did the same in the Sharks-Kings series, rejecting the notion of how much it meant for the Sharks to exorcise those playoff demons from the past – only admitting to it after the Sharks had knocked off their biggest rival.

That's not to say the young Oilers can't rise to the challenge and quickly put their awful performance in Game 4 behind them, of course. If Connor McDavid finally breaks through and puts the team on his back, it wouldn’t be overly surprising. This is still just a hockey game, after all.

There’s a chance, though, that McDavid - who looks to be getting frustrated - and his teammates will still be thinking about everything that went wrong in Game 4. And it was, in fact, everything.

Coach Todd McLellan said after the game that he actually wanted his players to ponder it for a little while.

“I don’t want our players to necessarily forget about it tonight,” McLellan said. “I’d like them to think about it, and think about some of the things that they need to do better. But, we will park the game.”

Somewhere in their minds, though, the Oilers will be aware that if they drop Game 5 at home, their season will be on the brink in Game 6 back in San Jose. After the bloodbath on Tuesday, the last thing they want is to have to go back to the Shark Tank in an elimination game.

Is the pressure back on the Oilers now?

“Maybe. I think we’re used to it over here,” Thornton said. “I’d like to think we can go into there and be confident.” 

Joel Ward said: “Hopefully [we can] just carry that momentum for our side. For us, it’s just worry about us. Keep putting on that pressure.”

The pressure was applied by the battle-tested Sharks in Game 4, big time. How the Oilers respond to it for Game 5 could determine the series.


Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes


Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.

Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.

From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.

The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.

Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.

What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.

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Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.

The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.

The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.

Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.

* * *

Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.

Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.

In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.

The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.

It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.

Report: Former Sharks forward awarded millions in suit against former agent


Report: Former Sharks forward awarded millions in suit against former agent

Dany Heatley last played in the NHL in the 2014-15 season, but he's still raking in hefty paychecks.

The former Sharks forward was awarded $6.5 million on Wednesday, when a judge ruled in his favor in a lawsuit filed against Heatley's former agent, Stacey McAlpine, and McAlpine's parents. 

The lawsuit, filed in 2012, claimed that McAlpine coaxed Heatley into unwise real-estate investments and withdrew over $4 million from Heatley's accounts without authorization.

After a five-year legal battle, Heatley was awarded $4.1 million from defendant company Presidential Suites Inc. and $2.3 million from the second defendant company Waterfront Development Inc, according to CTV Calgary.

Heatley, 36, played two of his 13 NHL seasons in San Jose, where he totaled 146 points (65 goals and 81 assists) in 162 games.

McAlpine was also sued in 2016 by former Senators defenseman Chris Phillips.