Sharks taking it to the wire

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Sharks taking it to the wire

The Sharks have won three consecutive games. They are back in third place, looking to host an opening round series against Chicago rather than hosting celebrity golf tournaments and duck blind bacchanals. Everything for them is swell.

And Todd McLellans eyes still look like Ryane Clowes forehead.

There is something invigorating about a playoff chase. The senses are heightened, every minute is exhausted on the task at hand, scoreboard-watching takes on an inordinate importance. And thats just for fans, whose usual exertions top out at dodging the check.

But McLellan can enjoy none of this because he has no expectations about Anaheim on Wednesday. He is safe tonight because none of the other members of the Gang of Six play, but tomorrow its back to the horrifying grind of coaching a team that scares the hell out of him.
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San Joses inconsistency has been a thing of exquisite beauty. They have turned the notion of playing to form into a minute-by-minute experience, and momentum into a hilarious joke. They are anything but trustworthy.

We know this because the Sharks got a long and sustained standing ovation for beating the bejeezus out of Colorado Monday night, a bar so low by recent historical standards that it should never have come to that at all. Grubbing for points is not something the Sharks are used to. Moreover, having to exert dominance on a team that is still in the race in name only because they have so few games left to get the lover they have always taken for granted is quite the eye-opener.

San Jose won Monday the way it won Saturday against Phoenix . . . by grinding every shift and letting the skill emerge out of the run of play rather than singular feats of brilliance. They are at their best when the glamorous stuff comes naturally and by the hard work of winning the defensive and neutral zones first, and they are their worst when trying to do it front to back.

But we knew that in February, when they couldnt do it hardly at all, and we knew it in December, and we knew it last summer when they traded Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi for Brent Burns and Marty Havlat. They were trading style for substance, only they spent much of this season disavowing substance because they were still addicted to style.

And McLellan turned several shades of blue trying to convince them otherwise, to the point where he is now essentially out of words. All he can do is change lines, run what few practices there are, and show them the standings. He said as much Saturday when he said they all scoreboard-watch now, an admission most coaches would never allow outside the dressing room.

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He said it for a purpose, to get them to understand the inspiration of humiliation on their own, because saying, Youd rather be 10th than 3rd? Then keep doing what youre doing, every day gets monotonous, and players hate monotony.

So three wins in a row and third place overall has cured them? Hah! You havent been paying attention. They play Anaheim Wednesday, a team that is their doppelganger in so many ways, separated only by the Ducks miserable start. Then in Phoenix Thursday, and then nine days after that they are done. The Gang of Six is now closer to four, as Colorado has run out of games, and Calgary still has three teams to pass.

The assumption was that 96 points would be needed for a playoff spot, but that has been lowered to 94, a number that would have eliminated a team in four of the last six seasons. San Jose needs to split its final 12 available points to manage that, and even then the Sharks would be cutting the pastrami a bit fine.

But projecting what they will do even now is a fools game. There are no more projections, or even educated guesses. It is a night-to-night proposition, with no guarantee or signpost that a night will be good or bad until it is over. Monday night was one of their best performances in weeks, and yet they lost Logan Couture for the final 12 minutes to scare people halfway to hells waiting room.

So no wonder McLellan looks awful, and no wonder Clowes forehead knows it isnt the most gnarled object in the room.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

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

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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.