ST. LOUIS Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, out since the All-Star break with a lower body injury, spoke for the first time after skating at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Sunday morning.
It was Demers second time on the ice since he re-aggravated the unspecified injury in Calgary on Jan. 24. He originally hurt himself on Jan. 17 in a home game against the Flames, missed two games, and returned on Jan. 23 in Edmonton before getting hurt again the next night.
Lungs are burning a bit, but it feels good to be out there, he said, immediately after coming off of the ice. Its been a little while since Ive been out there, so Im happy to be out there skating around, and I feel pretty good.
Demers said his injury is fine, and now its about getting back into game shape. He wont play against the Blues tonight, and it may make sense to keep him out for Mondays game in Washington, as well. The Sharks dont play again until Thursday night in Tampa Bay after their game with the Capitals.
In 35 games, Demers has two goals and nine assists for 11 points, a -7 rating, and 20 penalty minutes.
Tommy Wingels, out with a left shoulder injury suffered against Ottawa on Jan. 19, is also close to a return.
The Sharks are fairly deep on the blue line, but defenseman Colin White has struggled this season while Jim Vandermeer has been used sparingly as both a defenseman and fourth line winger.
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.
Their futures with the Sharks more uncertain than ever, pending unrestricted free agents Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are now free to take calls from other teams to gauge their potential interest.
Nothing can be signed with a new team before July 1, and there is a ban on discussing terms of any potential deal. Teams have already reached out to Marleau, per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, while Thornton is also reportedly receiving interest around the league.
While they could still return to the Sharks, it’s new territory for both, as neither Thornton nor Marleau has ever tested the unrestricted free agent waters. Most recently, they agreed to three-year contract extensions with the Sharks on the same day – Jan. 24, 2014 – in what was the final year of their current deals.
Whether they return to the Sharks could depend on the length of the deal. If other teams are willing to offer multiple-year deals to Thornton and Marleau, it makes their return to the Sharks less likely – particularly in Marleau’s case. Earlier in the offseason, NBC Sports California confirmed that Thornton was seeking a three-year deal, while Marleau preferred a deal of at least three years.
General manager Doug Wilson’s top priority this offseason is to re-sign goalie Martin Jones and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long term extensions. Those contracts would likely cost the team a combined $12-14 million, and would begin in the 2018-19 season.
There is an added risk to any team that signs a player over the age of 35, as it would be on the hook for the entire salary cap hit regardless of whether that player is active (unless that player is on long-term injured reserve).
Thornton turns 38 on Sunday, while Marleau turns 38 on Sep. 15.