Sharks get 'emotional leader' Thornton back; Couture ditches cage

Sharks get 'emotional leader' Thornton back; Couture ditches cage

SAN JOSE – Joe Thornton almost certainly isn’t at 100 percent. If he were, then he would have been one of the six skaters on the ice in the closing seconds of Sunday’s Game 3 at SAP Center, as the Sharks were desperately seeking the equalizing goal that never came in a 1-0 loss to the Oilers.

Still, Thornton was a welcome addition to the Sharks’ lineup just two weeks after his left knee appeared to bend backwards on April 2 against Vancouver when he collided with the Canucks’ Michael Chaput.

The first period was probably evidence enough that Thornton is, in fact, the heartbeat of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks played perhaps their most physical first period of the season, getting credit for an incredible (and, yes, generous) 34 hits and dominating the game territorially, even if they couldn’t solve Cam Talbot. 

"I thought he was great. He's our emotional leader in there,” Pete DeBoer said. “A gutsy effort by him. There was just no keeping him out. I thought he came out and had a great game for us for not playing in a while.”

Joe Pavelski said: “It was a nice boost for us, definitely. Coming home, playing in this building, you could feel the excitement, the energy. Having him coming back as well, you could tell. You could feel it in warmups. It was definitely a boost.”

Although the Sharks took Game 1 of their series with the Oilers, they were badly outplayed throughout much of Game 2 in Edmonton. Pavelski commented that the compete level wasn’t where it needed to be.

Getting the outgoing and always chatty Thornton back on the bench offered a surge in that regard.

“It was great having Jumbo back. He’s an emotional leader, he’s a vocal leader,” Couture said. “He’s a guy that, it’s incredible what he plays through. The heart that guy has is pretty unbelievable.”

Thornton, as is typical, didn’t go into much detail about how he felt. He finished with two shots on goal, four shot attempts and two hits in 16:27 of ice time. He took just two faceoffs.

“I felt fine. I felt great. Feel healthy, and ready to go for Game 4 now,” Thornton said.

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In a shocking development, Couture decided to forego the full cage that was protecting his injured mouth with a standard visor. The center had commented numerous times that he was having trouble seeing the puck with the extra facial gear after a deflected puck on March 25 did major damage.

“Figured enough damage has already been done,” said Couture, who will require extensive dental work in the offseason. “If I get hit again, I’m just the unluckiest guy in the world.”

Couture said he got the OK from the Sharks’ medical staff to ditch the cage “about 15 minutes before warm-ups.”

Like Thornton, though, Couture surely isn’t operating at 100 percent. He’s managed one shot on goal in each of the three games in the series.

“I can’t put percentages on how I feel,” he said. “Everyone’s hurt in the playoffs. No one is 100 percent. I’m working my way back into it. I felt better tonight. Obviously would have liked to create some more offense, but I felt pretty good.”

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?


Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

No one asked, but I’m going to begin this week’s mailbag with my prediction for the Stanley Cup Final – Preds in six. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to a few of your questions…

Most likely to be moved this off-season? (Nik @niknisj25)

If the Sharks do make a move – and I’ve argued here that I think it may be time for a shakeup – they’ll surely be looking for someone up front to boost the offense. In that case, they’d likely have to sacrifice a defenseman or two.

The Sharks defense is the strength of the organization at the moment, as they had one of the best one-through-seven groups in the NHL this season. But it’s also an expensive one. The Sharks have nearly $27 million committed to their top seven defensemen next season, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is due for a hefty raise beginning in 2018-19.

One name that could be intriguing to other teams is Justin Braun. The 30-year-old has been a part of the Sharks’ top shut down pair with Vlasic for several seasons now, and is signed for the next three years at a reasonable $3.8 million cap hit. The Sharks could potentially move him for offensive help, and slot in a guy like David Schlemko alongside Vlasic, while finally giving Dylan DeMelo a chance to play on a nightly basis on the third pair. A Vlasic-Schlemko pair could be more offensive than Vlasic-Braun, too, because as adept as they were at keeping the puck out of their own net, the Sharks didn’t get many goals from their defenders outside of Burns.

Of course, the upcoming expansion draft all but assures that nothing will happen until Las Vegas selects its team on June 21. If the Sharks lose a defenseman to the Golden Knights, they’ll be more reluctant to move another one. Still, with guys like Joakim Ryan, Tim Heed, Julius Bergman, Mirco Mueller and now Radim Simek in the pipeline, the club might be able to handle a couple departures.

How do we fix the power play next season? Bring in a coach that could help us? Change up the lines, or style of play? (adam smith @kickback408)

One thing that won’t be happening is a new coach, as Doug Wilson recently confirmed that Steve Spott would be back alongside Pete DeBoer. Bob Boughner could move on if he gets hired as a head coach elsewhere, but Boughner’s focus is the team’s defense and penalty kill.

Obviously, the future of the power play depends on who is on the roster, beginning with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both saw their power play production dip this season.

Thornton went from 29 power play points in 2015-16 to 19 this season (he had eight power play goals in 2015-16, and just one this season). Marleau saw a decline from 25 power play points in 2015-16 to 16 last season. Even if both return, it may be time to try other bodies on the top unit.

Do you see Meier, Labanc and/or Sorensen having a breakout season next year? Or anyone else on the Barracuda? (Colin Dunn @ColinDunnACA)

Someone better had, because this team needs to start getting younger, and soon. One of the bigger disappointments of the 2016-17 season is that none of them apparently showed the coaching staff that they were prepared to play on a nightly basis at the NHL level.

Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, I would surmise, are at the top of the depth chart as far as forwards go. Their line in the playoffs with center Chris Tierney was the Sharks’ best through the early part of the series with Edmonton. As for Kevin Labanc, I think he’s fallen a bit since he had a brief run of success for the Sharks in December.

While the Sharks did a good job stockpiling some young players through the 2013-15 drafts, they’ve traded away a number of picks in recent years. In last year’s draft they didn’t have a first or third round pick; this year they don’t have any picks in the second, third or fourth rounds; and in 2018 they are already without their second and third round picks. 

It’s great to accumulate young players, but at some point they have to break through. Now is the time.

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

After five seasons with the Sharks, Larry Robinson is leaving the organization.

Robinson, 65, spent the last three seasons as the club's director of player development. He served as an associate coach from 2012-14.

TSN in Montreal and the Montreal Gazette originally reported the news.

The Sharks confirmed that Robinson's contract would be expiring, and general manager Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California that the divorce was amicable, and "because of geography." Robinson lives in Florida.

According to the Montreal Gazette

Robinson’s contract with the Sharks expires on July 1, but agent Donnie Cape said Thursday that San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has given him permission to speak with other teams. Robinson lives in Bradenton, Fla., and the long travel distance to San Jose is one of big the reasons he’s looking for a new team to work for.

Robinson seemed to ponder retirement in 2014, but signed a three-year extension to remain in the Sharks' front office. He worked mostly from his home in Florida the past two seasons, making occasional trips to San Jose, including during training camp.

In the summer of 2015, Robinson underwent surgery for skin cancer.

Recognized as one of the best defensemen in NHL history, Robinson won six Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens as a player, and holds the NHL record for playing 20 straight seasons in the playoffs. A 10-time All-Star and two-time Norris Trophy winner, Robinson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

Robinson was the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings from 1995-99, and the New Jersey Devils from 1999-2002 and again in 2005-06. He led the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2000. Robinson has nine Stanley Cup rings as a player and coach.

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The Sharks did not renew the contract of pro scout Jason Rowe, who had been with the organization for the past nine seasons. Rowe focused on eastern NHL and AHL teams.