Sharks' Havlat remains a playoff rainmaker

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Sharks' Havlat remains a playoff rainmaker

BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS -- Todd McLellan said he saw the old San Jose Sharks he had come to know and like in the overtime periods of Game 1 of this Western Conference quarterfinal.

They were calm. They were saying all the right things, the San Jose head coach said as he basked in the temporary warmth of the Sharks 3-2 double-overtime victory over St. Louis. Nobody was fidgeting.

With one notable exception.

I always fidget, he said.

And he fidgeted for good reasons Thursday. Despite the first true repayment on the Martin Havlat trade, despite Antti Niemis first official game theft of the postseason, despite the exemplary work of the fourth, er, third, er, DesjardinsWingelsWinnik line -- despite all these things, the Sharks were backing up just as much as they were pressing forward.

And therein lies the central truth of Game 1 of this series, which the Sharks lead, 1-0. They are playing a team that will make them look overmatched for elongated stretches, and they will have to cling on tightly to the younger and faster Blues to keep the games close enough to win.

What they have, in sum, is enough experience to keep the fidgeting to a minimum. They may still lose this series, but they wont do it by being either overwhelmed or easily defeated.

And they may win this series, but they wont do it without knowing that the Blues are good and getting better.

Look, they played good, we played good, St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. I thought there were stretches where we seemed to be in pretty good command.

But command isnt enough, as anyone who has just started watching hockey on Wednesday could tell. Theres the matter of finishing, and the Sharks, well, finished.

They finished because the Blues couldnt clear their zone for the games final 40 seconds, because Logan Couture, one of the Sharks de facto veterans, hit Ryane Clowe with a tape-to-tape pass and then had the wit to pick St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, because Clowe found Havlat, who had nearly cost them the game in regulation, and Havlat did what he has done with considerable regularity in his career.

He scored an important postseason goal, beating Jaroslav Halak from 30 feet with a well-aimed slap shot and sending the alleged underdogs home one to the good. The goal was Havlats second of the game, and 15th in his last 27 playoff games.

I was just trying to do my part, Havlat said, seeking the most benign way to take credit for propelling the Sharks. It was good for me, because it was a stupid penalty that I took before, a penalty I cant take.

The penalty in question was his sluefooting of Halak behind the St. Louis net at 6:31 of the third. It was well behind the play, was thoroughly unhelpful even if he had gotten away with it, and it set up Patrik Berglunds seeming go-ahead goal.

But Havlat, who missed more than half the season, is a playoff rainmaker, and has been since 2003, when he helped get the Ottawa Senators into the Stanley Cup Final.

He is part of that experience the Sharks keep talking about as though it is the antivenom to St. Louis considerable bite. Niemi is part of that experience as well, and his 40 saves, 14 of which came in the first overtime, allowed Havlat to enjoy his evening. So was Coutures pick of Shattenkirk, a veteran ploy in a veterans game.

But there was also just enough youth, shown most clearly by Desjardins, Wingels and Winnik. They started the evening as the fourth line, had seven fewer shifts than the putative third line centered by Dominic Moore, but they played important minutes in the third period and the overtime, and it was their speed and persistence that created the game-tying goal 5:16 from last call.

In sum, the Sharks raised their game just enough, and held service just enough, to have enough of a cushion for Havlat to earn his bones, and give themselves a reason to believe that St. Louis may lose a bit of their belief. The Blues swept San Jose in the regular season, and it means zero this morning.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.