Thornton: Blues were 'flat-out better'

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Thornton: Blues were 'flat-out better'

SAN JOSE It might not have occurred to Sharks captain Joe Thornton right away, even though it was painfully obvious to anyone who watched San Joses five-game, first round flameout to the St. Louis Blues in April.

But at some point during his summer vacation time in Canada and abroad in his wifes homeland of Switzerland, Thornton watched some of those Sharks-Blues games again and came to a distinct conclusion.

They were just a better team. Flat out, they were just a better team than us last year, said Thornton, who has returned to San Jose to begin training for a season that is likely to be delayed due to labor issues.

RELATED: Sharks captain Joe Thornton thinking about hockey, not lockout

Thornton couldnt (or, more likely, was unwilling) to put a finger on any specific reasons why the Blues were better, when asked the natural follow-up question of why. But, he doesnt really have to.

General manager Doug Wilson told a media contingent on July 1, during a conference call to announce the signing of Adam Burish, that the Sharks have to re-establish their identity of going after people. That was a follow-up to what Wilson said in late June, prior to the NHL Draft:

One of the bigger issues that we talked about initially was the identity of this hockey team. We got away a little bit from it, said Wilson on June 18. The passive reactive...thats not part of our identity or how we want to play. There were moments where it crept in.

Against St. Louis, the Sharks looked like the decidedly slower team could their lack of aggression, on the penalty kill and elsewhere, be the primary culprit for that? Thornton doesnt disagree with that sentiment.

Yeah, when were aggressive, were tough to beat, said the captain, who turned 33 in July. Weve seen that in past years, and well get back to that. Im sure Todd McLellan wants to get back to being more aggressive.

The Sharks moves this summer, although they didnt pull off anything earth-shattering, are an extension of Wilsons philosophy that the team didnt impose its will on the opposition nearly enough. Defenseman Brad Stuart plays an in-your-face style and immediately improves the Sharks defensive depth, while Burish is known as an agitating motor-mouth that can get under an opponents skin, as well as aid the penalty kill. New associate coach Larry Robinson brings a wealth of experience to the San Jose bench, and he wont be afraid to kick the Sharks in the butt, as a team or individually, when necessary. Assistant coach Jim Johnson is also on board, joining the Sharks from Washington, while Matt Shaw was fired by San Jose.

REWIND: Robinson hire brings experience, credibility to Sharks

Playing against Stuey in Detroit and LA, hes a really strong reliable d-man who plays physical and plays hard minutes, said Thornton of the player that was part of the trade to Boston that brought him to the Bay Area. Who wouldnt want a guy like that on your team? I think thats a huge upgrade for our defense.

Adam Burish should help address the penalty kill issues we had last year. Hes just a scrappy player from playing against him, and is the type of guy you want on your team and is tough to play against.

REWIND: Sharks sign Adam Burish

What the Sharks didnt do (up to this point, anyway) is break up their core group, despite some speculation that they would try to trade defenseman Dan Boyle or ask Patrick Marleau to waive his no-trade clause. Instead, San Jose is seemingly hoping that players like Brent Burns can have a more effective second season in teal, while young talents like Tommy Wingels, Andrew Desjardins, TJ Galiardi and Justin Braun can all continue to improve and have an impact.

RELATED: Sharks roster

Thats fine with Thornton.

I think we still have a great team, and I personally still believe in this team a lot, he said.

I still think were one of the best teams in the NHL. It would have been strange seeing some guys go after weve done some pretty good things. Obviously, we havent won a championship, and thats our goal, but with getting Stuey and getting Adam I think were a better team than last year. Hopefully we can show it.

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

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AP

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.