Brodie Brazil's 'Bay Area pressure rankings'

848367.jpg

Brodie Brazil's 'Bay Area pressure rankings'

1. San Francisco 49ers
In all reality, Jim Harbaugh's squad was two untimely turnovers away from a trip to the Super Bowl last year. Thirteen regular season wins, and one in the 2011 playoffs against New Orleans did not happen by accident. Their three losses came by a grand total of 15 points.

Thus, you can see why the bar has been significantly raised for a franchise which doubled its win total in the span of one offseason. The fan-base expects a lot from an established Alex Smith, an improved stable of receivers, a steady running threat, and one of the best defensive corps in the league.

2. San Francisco Giants
In the last several years, Giants fans have almost become acclimated to expect no-hitters, World Series wins, perfect games, and now, yes, even double rainbows. Whether it's reasonable or not, San Francisco's 2010 "Band of Misfits" team has kept the fan-base thinking that anything can happen, in any given year. Although the majority of faces have changed since then, most of the key players (Posey, Cain, Sandoval) are still in position. For as long as they are, expectations will be very high of the Giants.

3. San Jose Sharks
Some are under the impression that one by-product of the Sharks roster is a "window of opportunity", which is soon to be closing due to the age of key players. However no such thing exists for the franchise, as long as it continues to foster from below (but that's another story). Nonetheless, the time is indeed now in San Jose, where a franchise has been knocking on Stanley's door for eight years now, has reached the conference finals twice in three years, and has a lineup on paper which could reasonably be etched on the side of the Stanley Cup.

4. Golden State Warriors
A new ownership group, an outstanding draft class, and a planned move to San Francisco have a lot of Warriors fans revitalized. Maybe the revolving door of players and coaches is going to be shut. Consider it still the honeymoon period for the "new" Golden State franchise, a potentially much different club than the one which hasn't qualified for the postseason in 17 of the last 18 years. Ranked fourth here, the pressure will rise significantly on the 'Dubs' once they consistently have a proven winning product on the floor, as Bay Area basketball fans traditionally carry high expectations for their lone NBA franchise. Even though it's been practically dormant since the early '90's, this area is a sleeping giant for its quality basketball.

5. Oakland Raiders
If these rankings were created last year at this time, the Raiders would have been placed much higher. A lot was expected as they continued building on a single plan. But after new ownership, a new general manager, a new head coach, and coordinators, Oakland has seemed to buy itself some time in terms of success. What can the fanbase reasonably and realistically expect from a team which was 8-8 in a fragile division last year? It's not to say the Raiders can not be good this season, only that the true fan should understand they're remodeling the house, and that might take a certain period of time to get right.

6. Oakland Athletics
General Manager Billy Beane decisively hit the "reset" button on his franchise this past winter, in trading away some of his best proven commodities for younger prospects who would see playing time this season. This left a lot of predictions looming that the A's could lose upwards of 90 to 100 games in 2012. And even after the Athletics have remained a playoff contender for much of July and all of August, it is still considered extreme "overachieving" if they do qualify for the postseason. Also consider the A's and Giants have maintained nearly identical records for the better part of a month now, but expectations on how they finish are still worlds apart. The earliest the A's could feel pressure is next season, and that would require them to make the playoffs this year. Until that chance, expect Oakland to take advantage of flying well below the pressure radar.

Report: Division rival interested in Joe Thornton

Report: Division rival interested in Joe Thornton

The mere thought of Joe Thornton wearing a Kings sweater may be enough to cause some Sharks fans to lose their lunch.

But it might be a possibility.

According to LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen, the Kings consider Thornton to be a “priority” should be hit the open market as a free agent. While the two sides are currently allowed to express mutual interest, NHL rules forbid them from discussing terms of any deal until Saturday at 9 a.m. PT.

Rosen points to a number of individuals in the Kings' organization that have ties to Thornton, including general manager Rob Blake, who played on the Sharks with Thornton from 2008-10. Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager in Boston and currently serves as the Kings’ senior advisor to the general manager. Glen Murray, a former teammate and frequent linemate of Thornton’s with the Bruins for three-and-a-half seasons, is in Kings player development.

The Kings, under new management since replacing Dean Lombardi with Blake, and head coach Darryl Sutter with John Stevens, have put a priority on finding players this offseason that can get pucks to dangerous scoring areas. 

Adding one of the best passers in the history of the NHL would surely help in that regard. Thornton sits 13th in the NHL all-time with 1,007 assists.

Rosen writes: “Los Angeles has been a dominant possession team without being a high scoring team for the better part of the last six-plus seasons, and it was articulated earlier in the off-season that the team needed to do a better job of taking advantage of that possession discrepancy. In trying to find players with the ability to turn possession into actual production, the team has placed an emphasis on finding players capable of distributing the puck into high-danger in the attacking zone. There might not be another player in the NHL – let alone unrestricted free agents – who is as gifted of a passer of Thornton, which places the team’s needs in concert with the future Hall of Famer’s skill set.”

As reported here previously Thornton, who turns 38 on Sunday, is seeking a deal of three years. That might not be agreeable to the Sharks, who are likely to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term and expensive contract extensions that would kick in with the 2018-19 season.

Of course, Thornton could also be using the Kings as leverage to get a new deal in San Jose, where he would prefer to remain.

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

The Sharks have issued qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow, while cutting ties with three players in the system.

Tierney, 22, posted 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 80 games last season, serving primarily as the fourth line center. He has 64 points (24g, 40a) in 202 career games over three NHL seasons, all with the Sharks.

Sorensen posted one goal and three assists in 19 games with the Sharks last season, his first in the NHL. The 25-year-old played in all six playoff games against Edmonton, scoring one goal and one assist.

Goodrow, 24, skated in three games for the Sharks last season with one assist. He has 16 points (4g, 12a) in 77 games over three seasons with the Sharks, although has played in just 17 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Forward Nikita Jevpalovs, defenseman Patrick McNally and goalie Mantas Armalis - also known for his career as a male model - were left unqualified and are now unrestricted free agents.

Earlier in the offseason, the Sharks signed pending restricted free agents Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson. Donskoi received a two-year deal at a salary cap hit of $1.9 million, while Karlsson was signed to a three-year deal at $2 million annually.