Five questions for the Sharks' stretch run

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Five questions for the Sharks' stretch run

As the Sharks prepare for the stretch run and the calendar turns to February, here are five questions to ponder about the Pacific Division leaders.

Is the Pacific Division race in the bag?

Maybe not in the bag, but it sure seems like the Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings are the only two teams with a chance to capture that automatic high seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The division as a whole has taken a step backwards this season, as Dallas, Phoenix and Anaheim are all but out of the race for first place. The Kings, meanwhile, are the worst team in the league when it comes to goal scoring (2.16 per game), although a solid defense corps and goaltender Jonathan Quick help to make up for their lack of firepower. Its the Sharks division to lose, as San Jose still leads it with several games on hand with the Kings. They would be wise to wrap it up before the final two games of the season though, when the Sharks and Kings face off in a home-and-home series to conclude the regular season. Theres still a distinct possibility those two games will determine the Pacific Division championship.

Do the Sharks need to upgrade at forward?

Yes. As they stand right now, the Sharks' depth up front cant compare to fellow Western Conference powers like Vancouver, Chicago and Detroit. The third liners have had their moments, and Jamie McGinns 10 goals are a pleasant surprise, but players like Torrey Mitchell and Michal Handzus have been inconsistent. Injuries to forwards Marty Havlat and Ryane Clowe exposed San Joses offense, which struggled mightily with two goals or less in six of the eight games before the All-Star break. Whether or not the Sharks can make a move to upgrade the position will be determined in the next couple of weeks leading up to the February 27 trade deadline, but you have to believe Doug Wilson is seeking help.

How will the schedule affect the Sharks?

San Jose arguably has the toughest schedule of any team in the league from now until the end of the regular season. February includes a 16-day, nine-game road trip, while March has no less than 17 games on the schedule a franchise high for any month in team history. The Sharks wont be able to rely on goaltender Antti Niemi this time around, either, as Todd McLellan has remarked that Niemi may have been a bit tired when the playoffs began last April. Fortunately, he has Thomas Greiss at his disposal, and Greiss has been outstanding as the backup goaltender. Hell have to keep up his strong play, too, as McLellan is likely to give him at least six-to-eight starts during what is a grueling couple of months.

Will Havlat and Burns have better second halves?

Brent Burns, yes; Havlat...tough to say. The two big additions this offseason havent exactly performed up to their potential, leading many to question the trades with Minnesota over the summer. Still, Burns appeared to be getting more and more comfortable headed into the All-Star break, and was showing some of his flash on offensive by jumping into the zone to generate scoring chances. His defensive play has been very good for most of the year, but he can do more than 17 points in 47 games. As for Havlat, a hamstring injury will keep him sidelined until March. That will give him time to get back his skating legs as the team prepares for the playoffs, but the Sharks will simply need more out of him than they got in his first 26 games while wearing a teal uniform (2g, 13a). If they dont, and the team makes an early playoff exit, it will be safe to say that the Havlat acquisition was a bust.

Will the power play improve?

As well as the Sharks have played five-on-five this season, the power play was dismal in the two months leading into the All-Star break. With so much talent at forward and on the points, its difficult to determine why, although the team could probably be accused of trying to be too fancy at times. That includes Joe Thornton, who has thrived with a man advantage in his career but whose numbers are way down in that category. The power play runs through Thornton, and its a good sign that the Sharks captain has a power play assist in two of his last three games. If the Sharks are going to make any noise in the playoffs, the power play absolutely has to produce more than it has.

Sorensen returns to Sharks after having 'positive impact' last season

Sorensen returns to Sharks after having 'positive impact' last season

Editor's Note: The above video is from March 2, 2017

One of the Sharks’ young forwards expected to challenge for a full time roster spot this season has been re-signed.

Marcus Sorensen, who started the year in the AHL before working his way up to the Sharks, signed a two-year contract extension the team announced on Tuesday. A source told NBC Sports California that the deal is worth $700,000 at the NHL level for each of the next two seasons.

In 19 regular season games with the Sharks, Sorensen, 25, posted one goal and three assists. He appeared in all six playoff games against Edmonton, posting one goal and one assist.

In 43 games with the AHL Barracuda, Sorensen had 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points.

"The time he spent with the Sharks this season, and the positive impact he had, proved that he can be an effective player at the highest level,” assistant general manager Joe Will said in a statement.

Sorensen originally signed with the Sharks as a free agent on May 13, 2016. He was originally drafted by Ottawa in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, but spent six seasons playing in Sweden before joining San Jose.

Sorensen was a restriced free agent. The Sharks have just one RFA left to sign in forward Barclay Goodrow.

https://twitter.com/sorensenmarcus/status/887412566447628288

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Now that the dust has settled on the draft and free agency, here’s a meaty offseason Sharks mailbag before my vacation…

Who will replace Patty's leadership? (philip malan‏ @pmalan1979)

Patrick Marleau was a good example for other players in that he always came to camp in great shape and took care of himself between games, allowing him to be very productive into his later years. 

But let’s not overblow it. From what I understand, Marleau preferred to avoid confrontation, and was never the guy in the dressing room challenging other players to step up. That was left more to guys like Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, with Logan Couture growing into that role in recent years, too. When it comes to veteran leadership there are other guys still in the dressing room of more value than Marleau. His leaving town shouldn’t change the dynamic.

Will Thornton be bumped from the top line center role? Who do you think will replace Marleau on the PP? (Elle‏ @LikeShiningOil)

The whole “top line” designation is something that us writers and broadcasters like to use, and I’m going to keep using it for Thornton so long as he and Pavelski are on the same line. That said, there will be plenty of games where the Couture line gets more even-strength ice time than the Thornton line. I guess my point here is don’t read too much into the labels. I don’t expect Thornton’s ice time to go down from what it was last season. He’s averaged 18 minutes and change in each of the past five seasons, and probably will again.

As for replacing Marleau on the power play, I would tab Tomas Hertl as the frontrunner, but I’m sure the Sharks will try a number of different looks there in training camp. After finishing 25th in the NHL last season they pretty much have to, right?

How will the lines roll this season, if you were to prognosticate now? (Erik Kuhre @Puckguy14)

It seems like we say this every year, but it depends on where the Sharks see Hertl slotting in. Last season Hertl started out on the wing of the top line after offseason knee surgery before moving to center fairly quickly. I know he battled through yet another knee injury during the season, but Hertl’s 22 points in 49 games was a disappointing total.

If the season were starting today, I’d put Hertl on the wing of the Thornton line again with, of course, Pavelski on the other side. Here’s what I’ve got in that scenario:

Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Jannik Hansen – Chris Tierney – Mikkel Boedker
Melker Karlsson – Ryan Carpenter – Joel Ward

Extras: Marcus Sorensen, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow

(One guy who is really going to have to fight to keep his spot is Ward. I could see him getting pushed out, but for now I’m leaving him in).

Will there be a tough guy in the lineup to protect the kids? (Jim Kelley)

The Sharks signed free agent Brandon Bollig a couple weeks ago to replace Micheal Haley, but I don’t seem him as a regular in the NHL lineup. Bollig could be a guy they recall if they think it’s necessary to dress a pugilist, like when Pete DeBoer brought up Haley late in the 2015-16 season for the sole reason of fighting Darnell Nurse, who had jumped Sharks defenseman Roman Polak just two weeks earlier for no real reason.

Do you think Chris Tierney is capable of more point production at this point in his career? (Ian Stephenson)

Count me among those that thought Tierney was ready to have a better season last year after his strong performance in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Still, he’s just 23 years old, and his line in the series against Edmonton with Meier and Sorensen was a very effective one for long stretches of play. This is a huge year for Tierney, who had to settle for the Sharks’ one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer. Perform, and he’ll get paid. Struggle, and he could be on the move.

Do you think the Sharks will trade either Grosenick or Dell? Doesn't seem Grosenick has much more to prove in AHL. (Chris Greni)

No, they’ll hold on to all three for the time being. Getting Troy Grosenick re-signed to a one-year deal was a nice move on the Sharks’ part, considering Aaron Dell still has just 20 games of NHL experience. Perhaps if they both continue to play well the Sharks could dangle one as trade bait later in the year, but it wouldn’t make sense at this point. 

Any thoughts on DW using the offer sheet to bring in scoring help? There’s several serviceable RFAs out there still waiting for contracts. (Tony Martinico)

Keep in mind that some of those high end RFAs, like Colton Parayko, Nino Niederreiter and Tomas Tatar are currently headed for arbitration, which takes the offer sheet off the table.

Purely speculation here, but I have to wonder if the Sharks have at least kicked around trying to ink Leon Draisaitl to an offer sheet. You have to think Berlin native Hasso Plattner would love to add the “German Gretzky” to the roster. I know we're settling into the part of the NHL offseason where typically nothing happens, but it was July 19 when the Flyers signed Shea Weber to a monster offer sheet five years ago.

And, of course, Doug Wilson has used the power of the offer sheet in the past, signing Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2010 and then using the threat of an offer sheet with Boston to acquire Martin Jones.

Which Cuda player, aside from Meier, Labanc and Sorensen, would you expect to be a dark horse and could make the big team out of camp? (olin @sleepymofo)

Keep in mind that the sixth and defensemen spots are open, too. I would presume that Dylan DeMelo is the frontrunner to replace David Schlemko, but Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan are coming off of strong seasons in the AHL. Perhaps one of them overtakes DeMelo in training camp.

As for other forwards than those you mentioned, Goodrow could end challenging for a spot on the fourth line. I get plenty of questions about Danny O’Regan, too, and perhaps he makes a push. The issue with O’Regan is that although he’s a skilled player in the minors, he’s probably not quite skilled enough to make up for his small frame at the NHL level. I view him more as a fill-in guy.

Any word on [Barclay] Goodrow and [Marcus] Sorenson? I'm assuming they didn't sign their QO's? (DaveBPilot‏ @DaveBPilot)

Yes, that’s safe to assume, since the deadline was Saturday. They remain RFAs, and negotiations will surely continue.

Still, it’s worth mentioning what happened last year with Matt Nieto. The forward didn’t sign his qualifying offer, as he was pushing for a multi-year deal, and ended up signing for one year for less than he would have made had he accepted the original offer. He was waived and claimed by Colorado.