Sharks

As trade deadline looms, Sharks express confidence in Dell

As trade deadline looms, Sharks express confidence in Dell

SAN JOSE – The NHL trade deadline is less than two weeks away on March 1. It’s highly unlikely that the Sharks, who are coming off of their first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance and are in first place in the Pacific Division, will make any blockbuster transactions or overhaul the roster.

The likeliest place they would make a move, though, would be at the backup goaltender position. Although Aaron Dell has been outstanding in his first year, with a 6-3-1 record, 2.05 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, there is a thought that the Sharks should find a netminder that has a little more NHL experience in case something happens to Martin Jones. They did it when they brought in James Reimer last season, allowing Jones some valuable time off down the stretch, and it might make sense for them to do it again.

In the dressing room and on the ice, though, the confidence in Dell is high and grows with every outing. Last Saturday in Philadelphia in his most recent game, when Dell stole the Sharks a point in a 2-1 overtime loss, coach Pete DeBoer gave the 27-year-old his most ringing endorsement to date.

“I don’t know what else he could do to show that he’s an NHL caliber goalie so far,” DeBoer said on Feb. 11. “Those are decisions that Doug [Wilson] makes, but in my mind, that’s not an issue right now for us.”

Dell, speaking on Thursday after an optional practice at Sharks Ice, was aware of DeBoer’s comments.

“It’s an honor to get some compliments like that from a guy like him,” Dell said. “He’s right, though, that it’s Doug Wilson’s decision in the end. Me and him have no control over that either way, but it’s nice to get a compliment like that from him.”

So, what does Wilson think? At the beginning of the month, the general manager was asked his opinion on how Dell has handled his first season in the NHL. 

“A big part of it is, do his teammates believe in him and play for him? Yes, they do,” Wilson told CSN on Feb. 2. “Aaron has come in and given us some big wins at key times. We believe in Aaron.”

Is it a risk going into the playoffs with a backup that has hardly any NHL experience, though?

“What you’re referring to is the comfort you have with the unknown. When you have a comfort with somebody that you know well, that the teammates and coaches know, that makes it much more comfortable,” Wilson said. 

“We’ll see what transpires between now and then. As I’ve said, we always explore any ways we can add to this hockey team.”

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The Sharks are fortunate that Jones has remained healthy this season, although some fatigue may be setting in. The starting goalie has seen his save percentage drop from .924 in November, to .916 in December, to .911 in January to just .882 so far in February. He has started 49 of 58 games, and those declining save percentages seem to indicate he’s been playing too much.

If Dell ends up being the permanent backup, there’s a good chance he’ll get more action than he’s seen so far, as the Sharks saw how valuable it was for Jones to rest up before the playoffs last spring when Reimer started eight of the final 19 games.

After the bye week from Feb. 20-24, the Sharks have 22 games over the final 43 days of the season. Asking Jones to play more than 13-15 of those would be a risk.

Dell believes he can handle more responsibility if need be.

“With every game I think I get some more experience, and get a little more comfortable,” he said. “I think if I was playing more regularly that would come a little quicker.”

Justin Braun expressed confidence that Dell could even handle the number one role, too, if it ever came to that.

“He’s an older guy, he’s been around the leagues and he’s probably learned a lot over the years doing that and [knowing] how to win and handle different situations,” Braun said. “It doesn’t seem like he’s one of those guys that’s going to get rattled or flustered or anything. He’s just going to keep going and doing his job, and that’s a nice thing to have back there.”

DeBoer said: “Every time we [put] him in there he’s found a way to have success or help us win or play well. That’s all you can ask. For me, you don’t overthink those things. He’s getting the job done, and deserves to be here.”

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

Nearly five months after taking a puck to the mouth that resulted in major damage, Logan Couture is still dealing with the aftereffects of his surgically repaired mouth, which now features several false teeth.

Appearing on the NHL Network this week, Couture was asked how he’s feeling with less than one month to go before the Sharks open training camp on Sep. 14.

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth. 

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

Couture was injured on March 25 in Nashville. He was set up just outside the crease in the offensive zone when a Brent Burns point shot hit a stick before squarely battering the now 28-year-old’s mouth.

After missing the final seven games of the regular season, Couture returned for the Sharks’ playoff opener. He managed to play in all six games of the first round loss, posting two goals and one assist for three points, although he struggled at times and was seemingly targeted by the Oilers.

Couture is currently in his hometown of London, Ontario where he’s staging a casino event for brain research. Fellow Sharks Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo will take part, as will other NHL stars like the Kings’ Drew Doughty.

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

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Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.

Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.

From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.

The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.

Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.

What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.

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Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.

The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.

The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.

Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.

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Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.

Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.

In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.

The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.

It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.