Sharks-Avs: What to watch for

714108.jpg

Sharks-Avs: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Monday nights Sharks-Avalanche game at HP Pavilion will have a bit of a different feel as the clubs are meeting for the first time since swapping forwards at the trade deadline, but the objective doesnt change.

The ninth-place Sharks (38-27-10) can greatly increase their already improving playoff chances with a win over 10th-place Colorado (40-31-6). Each team has 86 points, but the Avs have played two more games than San Jose.

KURZ: Reunion night at The Tank

In fact, San Jose could all but kill Colorado's chances with a regulation victory. That should add extra incentive, according to Ryane Clowe.

As much as you can try to bury teams out of this race, the better for us, Clowe said. Obviously, it would be great for us if we beat them tonight and it will hurt their chances, big time. Thats pretty high motivation that we should use tonight.

This is a great chance, the fact that we have a couple games in hand and if we can beat them tonight it kind of separates us, so that would be good.

San Jose could even re-take the Pacific Division lead if everything goes its way. The Dallas Stars visit Calgary and the Los Angeles Kings are in Vancouver in other Monday night action around the league.
REISS: Will the real Sharks please swim forward?

Its an important game for us. We need to take that jump and not fall behind, Joe Pavelski said. We want to keep moving forward.

San Jose is 5-2-1 in its last eight games.

We need everyone in the locker room to play well, and bring to the table what they can bring. I think thats the biggest thing, is weve had more team efforts lately, Pavelski said.

McGinn returns: Jamie McGinn already has eight goals and four assists in his first 13 games with Colorado, and has found good chemistry while playing the wing alongside Paul Stastny. In 61 games with the Sharks, McGinn had 12 goals and 12 assists.

Todd McLellan isnt surprised at McGinns success.

Hes a hell of a player. Hes had a career-type year. He is scoring goals, and hes given an opportunity to play a few more minutes there with a young team, said the coach.

He went there, established himself, and hes a confident player right now. And thats Jamie McGinn. We all liked him when he was here, and our job now is to go beat him when hes over there.

Daniel Winnik, meanwhile, has two big goals in the last two games.

Emotions will probably be running high with those players. It was tough seeing a guy go like Ginner, but its been great having the guys step in and theyve brought a lot to our team, Pavelski said.

Lineup the same: The Sharks are expected to ice the same lineup against the Avalanche that played in wins over Boston and Phoenix. That means Winnik will play with Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels, while Michal Handzus is between Dominic Moore and Torrey Mitchell.

Which one of those lines is the third, and which is the fourth? The Desjardins line, assumed to be the fourth line before the Phoenix game, played more minutes than the Handzus line on Saturday and was very effective.

As a coach you have a memory of last game, and you have to reward that group for doing what they did well, McLellan said. Its on a night-to-night basis. Theyre going to have to go out and establish themselves again.

I expect Zeus line to be much better than they were last game. Its good to have that healthy competition. There is no three, there is no four. Its just two lines that will get some ice time and whoever is playing well, is going to play.

On defense, Colin White and Jim Vandermeer are expected to be the healthy scratches again. TJ Galiardi wont get a chance to play against his former team, as hes still out with an upper body injury.

In the crease: Antti Niemi will make his 15th straight start in net for the Sharks, opposed by Semyon Varlamov.

Niemi is 1-0-1 in two games against Colorado this season, allowing seven goals in 123 minutes (3.39 goals-against average, .883 save percentage).

Varlamov hasnt been any better against the Sharks this season, going 1-1-0 while allowing eight goals in 123 minutes (3.88 GAA, .875 SP), although he recorded the overtime win on Dec. 13, 4-3.

Varlamov is 5-1-1 in his last seven starts.

The Sharks are 2-0-1 against Colorado this season, including a 5-4 win at home on Dec. 15.

Colorado still in the mix: Despite losses in their last two games, the Avalanche are 7-2-2 in their last 11. Mondays game in San Jose is the start of a three-game road trip, with stops on Vancouver and Calgary before a two-game homestand closes out their season.

A lot of speed, balanced scoring and a lot of scoring from different people, very good power play, McLellan said, when asked about the Avs. Varlamov has played extremely well over the last 10 or 15 games, and looks very confident in the net.

I think the game is going to have some tempo to it, and were going to have to be prepared to play that way.
Odds and ends: Patrick Marleau leads all scorers in the season series with five points (4g, 1a) including a hat trick on Nov. 20 in Denver. Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson will return after a five-game absence.

Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic

simek-radim-czech.jpg
AP

Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic

The Sharks have signed Czech defenseman Radim Simek to a one-year contract.

The two-way deal, originally reported by Radio Praha in the Czech Republic, is expected to be announced by the Sharks later this week, according to a source. Simek just finished competing for his country in the 2017 IIHF World Championships, skating in all eight games for the Czech Republic while posting one goal, one assist, 11 shots and a minus-two rating.

Simek, 24, has spent the last five seasons in the Czech League. In 42 games for Liberec in 2016-17, he posted 24 points (11g, 13a) and 30 penalty minutes with a plus-18 rating. A left-handed shot, he is listed at five-foot-11 and 196 pounds on the IIHF website.

The New York Rangers were also interested in Simek, according to the report.

Simek will likely begin next season with the AHL Barracuda.

The Sharks have signed a number of free agents out of Europe in recent seasons, including Joonas Donskoi in 2015 and Marcus Sorensen and Tim Heed last May.

 

Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

More than four weeks have passed since the Sharks were dispatched by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau appear no closer to signing contract extensions than when the season ended. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson faces some of the toughest decisions of his 14-year tenure as the head of the hockey department in the coming weeks, beginning with the two best players in franchise history.

And, no, there are no back room handshake deals here between the Sharks and either of Thornton or Marleau, allowing the Sharks to protect extra players in the upcoming expansion draft. The two veterans are still pending unrestricted free agents in the truest sense, and it’s no certainty that either will return to San Jose.

* * *

Re-signing Thornton would seem to be more of a priority than re-signing Marleau, as centermen are more valuable than wingers. Thornton’s line, with Joe Pavelski and whoever the left wing happened to be, was still drawing the opposition’s top defense pair on many nights this season. Marleau was on that line at times, but was shuffled up and down throughout the year, spending about half the season on the third line.

Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL. As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17. Last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, the World Cup, and the condensed schedule seemed to take their toll. Thornton, who typically downplays anything remotely negative, admitted more than once that this season in particular was a grind.

But perhaps just as important to the Sharks is what Thornton brings to the team emotionally. Pavelski may still be the captain – and an effective one, at that – but Thornton is still the heartbeat. Pete DeBoer made that clear after Game 2 of the first round against the Oilers, talking about what Thornton’s absence from the bench in those first two games meant to the team in terms of a bench presence.

“It’s old school accountability with Joe. It’s black and white,” DeBoer said. “He came up in an era and at a time and around people who you weren’t worried about hurting feelings. You said what needed to be said. That’s not always the case now in modern dressing rooms and with modern athletes. He’s a great resource for us, because there’s no greater pressure than peer pressure, especially from a Hall of Fame guy like that.”

So what might it take to retain Thornton and keep him from hitting the open market? 

It has been previously reported that Thornton wanted a three-year deal, and that remains the case. As for money, I would expect Thornton – who has taken hometown discounts in the past to stay in San Jose – to ask for at least $5 million per season, minimum. Our best guess here is that a Thornton-Sharks pre-July 1 agreement would probably look something like three years and somewhere between $15 – 17 million.

Whether the Sharks would be willing to make that kind of commitment to Thornton, who will be 38 in July, is unclear. If they are not, Thornton could listen to offers from other teams beginning on June 24, when the window opens for unrestricted free agents to speak with other teams.

Still, Thornton’s first choice is to remain in San Jose. The Sharks don’t have anyone that could replace him on or off the ice. There should be a deal to be made here, either sooner or later.

* * *

Marleau’s future with the Sharks seems much hazier.

Unlike Thornton – who put up with public ridicule from Wilson and had his captaincy stripped – Marleau’s commitment to the organization hasn’t been quite as steadfast. Recall in 2015, of course, when Marleau’s preference for a brief stretch was to leave the Sharks. We reported here in November, 2015 that he was willing to accept a trade to three teams, while ESPN reported that Marleau’s agent was “quietly exploring the market” as late as January, 2016.

While those feelings seem to have passed over time, Marleau hasn’t been as emphatic as Thornton in his desire to return. When asked on April 24 if he would like to come back to the Sharks, Marleau said: “Yeah, it would be nice. We’ll see if that’s an option. A lot of time here before this decision needs to be made.”

At this point, though, Marleau may be asking for a bit much in his next deal. It’s believed that the franchise’s all-time leading scorer is, like Thornton, seeking a contract of at least three years.

That shouldn’t be overly surprising. When asked then if he wanted a multi-year deal on April 24, Marleau said: “Yeah, I think so. … I still feel like I have at least five good years in me, or maybe more.”

As we wrote here in early February, it may not make much sense for the Sharks to commit to Marleau for more than one year for a number of reasons, including potential long-term (and surely expensive) contract extensions for Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, something Wilson has made his top priority this offseason. 

If Marleau is seeking a lengthy commitment from San Jose, I don’t see how that works from a business perspective for San Jose, which has a number of prospects in the system at wing that could potentially fill the hole Marleau would leave. Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, in particular, could be ready to take the next step, and both would be much cheaper options (Meier has two years left on his entry level deal, while Sorensen is a pending restricted free agent that won’t require a huge raise).

* * *

Further complicating matters is that Thornton has never been shy about wanting to win with Marleau by his side. The two famously announced their nearly identical three-year contract extensions on Jan. 24, 2014, and Thornton would still prefer to have Marleau return to San Jose with him.

“Hopefully, I can come back and Patty can come back,” Thornton said after the season ended. “I think this team is a very good team. I think this is a Stanley Cup caliber team. I really believe that."

Considering the salary cap for next season has not yet been revealed, and that Wilson can’t officially extend Jones or Vlasic until July 1, the general manager could be forced to wait a little while before finalizing anything with either Thornton or Marleau. That makes it all the more likely that the Thornton and Marleau camps will at least get an opportunity to hear from other clubs and consider other offers in late June.

In short, anything is still possible. And Wilson, Thornton and Marleau all have some difficult decisions on the horizon in a Sharks offseason that is unlike any other.