Sharks mic up Dillon, offering glimpse into hockey's fighting culture

Sharks mic up Dillon, offering glimpse into hockey's fighting culture

SAN JOSE – Ask anyone in the league who’s been around the Sharks’ Brenden Dillon, and they’ll likely tell you that off the ice he’s one of the more gentlemanly players in the game today. That might surprise some outsiders, who have become accustomed to seeing the six-foot-four, 230-pounder drop the gloves and throw haymakers when he deems it necessary to stand up for one of his teammates.

But a video circulating on social media and talked about on The Today Show on Thursday morning, in which Dillon was mic’d up during a fight with Nashville’s Austin Watson, offered a glimpse into the 26-year-old’s personality. Immediately after exchanging blows with Watson in the second period of a game on March 11, Dillon and the Predators forward had a friendly chat from their respective penalty boxes that made it sound as if they were lifelong buddies.

In reality, Dillon didn’t recall ever even chatting with Watson in the past.

“People were asking, ‘is that your buddy?’ I literally have never met Watson before. I don’t know him at all,” Dillon said on Thursday.

For those that have seen the video, the “Joey” they were referring to was the Predators’ Ryan Johansen, whom Dillon said he knows “really well.”

That affable back-and-forth doesn’t happen after every fight, of course, but it’s not uncommon for hockey players in leagues that still permit fighting to be friends with one another, or to quickly move on from some rough stuff that has happened on the ice. It’s simply an accepted part of the culture and the game.

In this instance, Dillon was simply sticking up for Paul Martin, who was on the receiving end of a heavy hit from Watson.

“Some of [the fights], I for sure wouldn’t want to see the guy, talk to the guy, [or] touch the guy ever again in my life,” Dillon quipped. “There’s others where you’re able to joke around about it a bit. At the end of the day, you’re still going to go out and play hard, and finish your check on him the rest of the game whether you’re a good buddy or not.”

The Sharks have acquired players in recent years that had some run-ins with current guys already in the dressing room. Raffi Torres assimilated quickly into the dressing room when he was brought in four years ago, and Roman Polak was welcomed, too, despite pummeling Justin Braun in a playoff series while he was still with St. Louis in 2012. Most recently Jannik Hansen joined the team, and mentioned in his conference call with the local media just after the deal that he had fought Dillon once before.

Neither Hansen nor Dillon was worried about any discomfort, though, from a fight that had happened two years earlier.

“A guy like Jannik Hansen, three weeks ago is one of your worst enemies, and now you’re playing with him on the same team. You want nothing but the best for the guy,” Dillon said. “Last year when Polak came here, he [had] fought Brauner or something, and it was kind of like, is there going to be any awkwardness? I don’t think there ever was. You maybe joke around about it at first.”

“I think it’s something in the world of sports you respect one another, you respect what you do on a nightly basis. That’s kind of what hockey is. I think that’s something that separates it from football and baseball. You get a five-minute penalty for it, you come back out and play hard. There aren’t too many guys that will hold grudges. Obviously if there’s a bad hit there might be a little bit, but in certain instances like that one (with Watson), it just happened.”

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.

* * *

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.