Emotional Nolan hangs up skates

665036.jpg

Emotional Nolan hangs up skates

SAN JOSE After exactly 1,200 NHL games, 422 goals, 885 points and almost 1800 penalty minutes, former Sharks captain Owen Nolan wanted to remind his mother of another accomplishment when he announced his retirement from professional hockey in a press conference at HP Pavilion on Tuesday.

I think back to when I broke into the league, my mom said jokingly to me, you better not lose any teeth, or youre in trouble, mister. Well, mom, 1,200 games later I still have them all, Nolan joked, with his immediate family sitting in the front row.

One of the most effective power forwards of his era, an emotional Nolan, who spent eight seasons with the Sharks from 1995-2003, sat beside Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and fought back tears.

When your body wont do what your mind and your heart is willing to do, its time to move on, a choked up Nolan said after a 15-second pause to collect himself. Ive enjoyed every minute of it, and had the opportunity to play with some great teams and some great teammates.

Among the players in attendance were current Sharks Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns, former teammates Mike Ricci, Dave Lowry and Scott Hannan, as well as Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who is in town for the Sharks-Calgary matchup on Wednesday night and who won gold with Nolan on Team Canada at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

VIDEO: Sharks time machine -- Nolan

Nolan also received congratulatory phone calls from Bryan Marchment, his agent Mike Barrett, and Bob Nicholson, the C.O.O. of Hockey Canada.

All essentially echoed Wilsons words of praise for the former first overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft.

He was one of the rare, prototypical power forwards that had enough skill to beat you either way, Wilson said. You look in this business, everybody is trying to find that type of player now. They just dont exist. To play that role its a physical role and very tough on your body and tough mentally and have the talent to do the other things, too, is rare.

RATTO: Is it time for the Sharks to retire Nolan's number?

He was also among the toughest and hardest players of his era to play against.

He was one of those guys that, he wasnt a dirty player at all, but if you crossed him, if he felt like he needed to get you, he had no problems doing it, Ricci said.

He was extremely competitive, said Marleau, who broke into the NHL in 1997, the year before Nolan was named captain. When he was at the top of his game, he was one of the most feared guys out on the ice. Not only could he score goals, he could lay you out with a body check or even drop the gloves and take care of it that way.

After getting traded by the Sharks to Toronto in 2003, Nolan spent time with the Maple Leafs, Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild. He was originally drafted by the Quebec Nordiques and moved with them to Colorado for just nine games before he was traded to the Sharks on Oct. 26, 1995.

He tried out for Vancouver this past September after spending last season in Switzerland, but the Canucks decided not to sign him. About a month ago, he ran into Wilson and the two talked about him retiring with the Sharks organization.

The ultimate thing was to have him retire as a San Jose Shark, Wilson said. It was something that he wanted and we wanted badly. Weve used today as a celebration and appreciation for what hes done for this franchise. It means an awful lot to us, and to see him and his family here is very exciting for us and very well deserved.

It was certainly a great gesture on their part, Nolan said.

Despite getting traded out of San Jose, Nolan kept his house, with plans to retire in the area one day.

I knew pretty well that come retirement time I was going to stay out this way, he said. My wife is from here, kids were born here, and I love it here. It was a pretty easy decision.

That didnt make it any easier for him to actually hang up his skates, though.

Its tough to give up something you love doing. I think I knew the time was already here. I think I knew it was here a little while ago, but the heart and mind just wants to keep doing it. Were all programmed to do it, and to try and gear down and accept that youre not what it once was

The fire is still there, you want to compete, but the body just cant keep up. I had to accept that, and finally realize that it was time to move on.

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

Melodrama demands that San Jose’s exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs be portrayed as the very likely end of the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau Era.

It probably won’t work that way, and probably shouldn't as will be explained further down your reading, but when you get shoved out of the postseason in your own building, melancholy is the order of the day. Even if the melancholy isn’t for any player in particular, but for an entire era.

Nobody will blame Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinal on bad luck (although Joe Pavelski going crossbar/post on the final power play of their season was close enough to it), or unjust officiating, or even lousy ice (though that was a fairly clear by-product for those who like their hockey a little less sticky). Edmonton took advantage of two critical Sharks errors 56 seconds apart in the second period, Oiler goaltender Cam Talbot cheated the gods multiple times when the Sharks weren’t vomiting up chances on their own, and young legs joined up with growing know-how to make this a just outcome.

But for Thornton and Marleau, a quick round of 30-on-1 interviews asking them if they thought their days in Finville Heights had finally come to an end were their mutual introduction to yet another unfulfilling offseason.

And a team whose core is among the league’s oldest was just exposed for that very flaw by a team that, in head coach Todd McLellan’s words, “Grew up, learned how to get into the playoffs, how to get a lead, how to play with it, and how to deal with a desperate team at the end of a game. Now we’ll see what they have to learn next.”

That learning will comes against the Anaheim Ducks, who are 15-0-3 in their last 18 games, including four straight against the Calgary Flames.

As for the rest of it, Edmonton earned its advancement without a big series, or even a single big game, from Connor McDavid. Rather, their difference makers were Talbot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (whose work with Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic against the Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski line was the defining matchup) Leon Draisaitl (after a rocky start), Oskar Klefbom (their best defenseman), Zack Kassian (who made the most of his 15 minutes of fame), and Drake Caggiula (whose promotion to the McDavid line at the expense of Patrick Maroon helped wake up Draisaitl).

Plus, McLellan finally got to deliver a rebuttal for his firing by the Sharks two years ago. He didn’t, of course, at least not where anyone could hear it, but the exploding fumigant of the 2015 season never sat right with him as the one who paid the full retail price. Now, with this result, he can let the NHL’s Stanley Cup media guide do the talking for him.

That, and having the team of the future, while San Jose is trying to sort out its past. This is a closing window, one which stayed open a very long time and actually pried itself back open a year ago for the run that took them to the Cup final, but it is now clear that they play at a pace the modern game has outrun. Thornton is still hugely important (he remained an impact player despite the leg injury that cost him Games 1 and 2), and there are no clear young replacements for the central group.

This is why all the melodramatic speculations about Thornton and Marleau in particular and perhaps the entire era ignore one central truth – there are not nearly enough replacements for a reboot, or even a course correction. They may be stuck as what they are – a group whose veterans are still their best players, playing a game that younger and faster players are likely to do better. The Pacific Division, being easily the thinnest of the four, may allow one more year of status quo, but while the day of reckoning has not yet arrived, the method is now clear.

And Edmonton, young, impetuous, sprightly and McLellanized Edmonton, has been the instrument of San Jose’s education.