All posts by Josh Wegman

Sharks squandered best Cup chance, but the window isn’t completely shut

Could it be the end of an era in San Jose?

The Sharks were bounced from the Western Conference Final in six games by the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, marking a disappointing finish for a team that undoubtedly had a Stanley Cup-or-bust mentality.

This was supposed to be San Jose's year. With the beloved Joe Thornton on his last legs vying for his first Stanley Cup, the acquisition of pending UFA Erik Karlsson, a handful of youngsters playing out their entry-level deals, and a supremely skilled lineup in its prime, it seemed at times like the Sharks were a team of destiny.

From a pure talent perspective, this was arguably the best Sharks roster ever assembled. Yes, even better than the 117-point Presidents' Trophy-winning squad in 2008-09, or the team that lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

But after falling short of the ultimate goal, it's possible the roster could undergo a dramatic transformation this offseason, leaving in the dust the organization's best chance at a Stanley Cup.

Who's coming back?

Michael Martin / National Hockey League / Getty

The Sharks are projected to enter the offseason with $24.7 million in cap space, but they have a bevy of both unrestricted and restricted free agents in need of new contracts:

Player Pos. Age Expiry status Previous cap hit
Joe Pavelski F 34 UFA $6M
Joe Thornton F 39 UFA $5M
Gustav Nyquist F 29 UFA $4.75M
Joonas Donskoi F 27 UFA $1.9M
Micheal Haley F 33 UFA $825K
Timo Meier F 22 RFA $894K
Kevin Labanc F 23 RFA $718K
Dylan Gambrell F 22 RFA $925K
Erik Karlsson D 28 UFA $6.5M
Tim Heed D 28 UFA $650K
Joakim Ryan D 25 RFA $650K

Nearly every player on this list - with the exception of Thornton and Micheal Haley - will be due for a raise this summer. It's possible Thornton, who's had multiple knee surgeries over the past few years, will retire. That would leave a hole down the middle of San Jose's lineup, and an even bigger void in the dressing room.

Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will be in line for the team's most significant salary increases. Both youngsters enjoyed breakout seasons, and it's possible they'll combine for an annual cap hit close to $10 million, putting a dent in San Jose's spending flexibility.

Then there's Karlsson, who was one of the NHL's best bargains at $6.5 million a year. After a nagging groin injury cost him a chunk of the regular season and ultimately ended his postseason prematurely, there are questions about his health moving forward. But on the open market, he could still command Drew Doughty-like money in the neighborhood of $11 million per season; there'd likely be more than one team willing to open the vault for the two-time Norris Trophy winner.

Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi are likely bets to be gone as cap casualties, and retaining both Karlsson and Joe Pavelski - who should be seeking a modest raise after a 38-goal campaign - seems improbable.

Never underestimate Doug Wilson, though. The Sharks general manager is as savvy and shrewd as they come, and he has a history of getting core players to stay in the Bay Area. But if he's able to retain both Karlsson and Pavelski while also locking up Meier and Labanc, it'll be some of his most impressive work yet.

Even if Thornton and Pavelski are both back in teal next season, it's hard to imagine they'll be as effective with another year of mileage on their bodies. Fellow members of the veteran nucleus - Logan Couture (30), Brent Burns (34), and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (32) - have yet to show signs of slowing down, but the clock is ticking.

Down but not out

Christian Petersen / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It's difficult to envision the Sharks being as deep and talented in 2019-20 as they were this season. That's just the nature of a salary-cap league. To completely dismiss San Jose, however, would be an erroneous oversight.

Cause for optimism stems from three of the team's brightest young forwards in Meier, Labanc, and 25-year-old Tomas Hertl, all of whom have been exposed to top-notch professionalism within the Sharks organization. If Thornton and Pavelski leave, players like Couture, Burns, and (possibly) Karlsson will take on greater leadership roles. Even the oft-maligned Evander Kane has shown signs of growth since joining the Sharks and could be looked to as a leader going forward. Eventually, the torch will be passed to Hertl, Meier, and Labanc.

Wilson and the rest of the Sharks' front office have established a winning culture, as San Jose has missed the playoffs just once in the 15 seasons since his hiring. If any GM is equipped to re-tool on the fly, it's Wilson.

There's a case to be made that the Western Conference Final is a completely different series with a healthy Karlsson. Regardless, though, this season will still be viewed as a squandered opportunity for a franchise seeking its first Stanley Cup. It's the toughest trophy to win for a reason.

But if we learned anything from the Washington Capitals' repeated playoff failures prior to their first Stanley Cup win, it's that writing off one of the NHL's most consistent organizations because of a missed opportunity is a big mistake. The Sharks will be back, they just may not have the same familiar bite.

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Canada’s Anthony Mantha suspended 1 game for head check

Anthony Mantha has been suspended for Canada's quarterfinal matchup with Switzerland for a check to the head of Colin White during Tuesday's game against the United States, the IIHF announced Wednesday.

Mantha is tied for the tournament lead with seven goals and paces Canada with 12 points.

Canada finished atop Group A, earning a quarterfinal matchup with Group B's No. 4 seed. However, Switzerland has often been a thorn in Canada's side on the international stage: The Swiss upset the defending gold medalists at the 2006 Winter Olympics, took Canada to a shootout at the 2010 Olympics, and most recently, gave the Canadians a run for their money at the 2019 world juniors before ultimately losing 3-2 in round-robin action.

Mantha scored a career-high 25 goals in 67 games for the Detroit Red Wings this past season.

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Canada blanks the U.S. to win Group A at World Championship

Canada defeated the United States 3-0 on Tuesday on the final day of the preliminary round at the 2019 IIHF World Hockey Championship.

With the victory, Canada is the winner of Group A, while the Americans finish fourth. The top four teams from each group advance to the quarterfinals.

Group A Points
Canada 18
Finland 16
Germany 15
United States 14
Slovakia 11
Denmark 6
Great Britain 2
France 2

More to come.

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Sharks’ Karlsson, Hertl won’t play in Game 6

The San Jose Sharks will be shorthanded for Game 6 against the St. Louis Blues.

All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson and forward Tomas Hertl won't play in Tuesday's do-or-die clash, head coach Peter DeBoer told The Athletic's Kevin Kurz.

DeBoer added that Sharks captain Joe Pavelski will be a game-time decision.

Karlsson, Hertl, and Pavelski all left Game 5 with various ailments and did not return.

Karlsson's been dealing with a nagging groin injury that cost him 29 games during the regular season, but it appears the ailment has gotten worse.

The extent of Hertl's and Pavelski's injuries are unclear, but they both took hard hits in Game 5, which St. Louis won to take a 3-2 series lead.

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Hurricanes hope to re-sign both Mrazek, McElhinney

Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said the team hopes to re-sign pending unrestricted free-agent goaltenders Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, according to Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer.

Mrazek and McElhinney formed an unlikely, cost-efficient duo for the Canes this past season. Mrazek signed a one-year $1.5-million contract with the club last summer, and McElhinney was claimed off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs while riding out the last campaign of his two-year, $1.6-million pact.

Together, they gave Carolina much-needed reliable play between the pipes.

Stat Mrazek McElhinney
Rec. 23-14-3 20-11-2
GAA 2.39 2.58
SV% .914 .912
SO 4 2

Both netminders are likely in line for raises after their stellar seasons.

If both are retained, it could signal the end of fellow goalie Scott Darling's time in Carolina. After acquiring Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks in April 2017, the Hurricanes signed him to a four-year, $16.6-million contract. However, he struggled mightily in 2017-18 and spent the bulk of this past season in the AHL.

Waddell said no decision has been made on whether the club will buy out the remainder of Darling's contract, according to Alexander.

It could be a very busy offseason in Carolina. The Hurricanes have more than $28 million in expected cap space, according to Cap Friendly, but star forward Sebastian Aho's projected new deal will likely eat up a large chunk of that. Waddell said he'll talk to Aho's agent within the next few days, according to Alexander.

Waddell added that the club is looking to extend defenseman Justin Faulk, who will hit unrestricted free agency after next season.

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Bus driver sues Senators, former assistant GM Randy Lee

Former Ottawa Senators assistant general manager Randy Lee and the team are being sued for negligence by a hotel shuttle bus driver who says Lee harassed him last June in Buffalo, N.Y., according to The Associated Press.

The 19-year-old driver said Lee inappropriately touched himself while making lewd comments and rubbing his shoulders while still a member of the Senators.

The lawsuit states that the plaintiff "was injured externally, internally, and permanently in and about the head, body, limbs, and nervous system so that he became and will continue to be disabled and will continue to suffer pain, discomfort, disfigurement, distress, and psychological adjustment, distress, and trauma."

The suit says the Senators should be found liable because the club was aware of Lee's alleged history of lewd behavior and didn't take action to stop it. A bar and grill called 716 is also listed as a defendant, as the suit says the establishment's employees continued to serve drinks to Lee after he was visibly drunk.

An attorney for the Senators said the organization would "vigorously fight" what he called a "frivolous" civil complaint. Lee's lawyer declined to comment, while the owners of 716 didn't provide an immediate comment.

Lee resigned from his position with the organization in August and pleaded guilty in December for a criminal violation stemming from the incident.

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Karlsson labors his way to just over 6 minutes in 3rd period of Game 4

San Jose Sharks star defenseman Erik Karlsson missed 29 games this season with a groin injury, and it doesn't require Sherlock Holmes' work to detect that he's been battling a lower-body ailment throughout the postseason.

However, Karlsson's injury appeared to take a turn for the worst during the Sharks' 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 4 on Friday night.

With San Jose on the man advantage midway through the third period, there were two instances in which Karlsson was noticeably laboring as he attempted to be first to a loose puck.

After the Blues cleared the zone, Karlsson had a gap on Ryan O'Reilly as he went back to retrieve the puck, but nearly lost the race and had to chop the disc out of harm's way. Later in the shift, Tyler Bozak received a scoring chance after chipping a puck past Brent Burns - a situation in which a healthy Karlsson almost certainly would've been able to cut him off.

Midway through the power play, the Sharks called a timeout. Karlsson left the ice and wouldn't return for over seven minutes until the final two minutes when San Jose's net was empty. Here's his ice-time breakdown, courtesy of ShiftChart:

Period Ice time
1 9:03
2 9:46
3 6:20

It's no secret that Karlsson's effectiveness is directly tied with the Sharks' Stanley Cup aspirations. He won't have long to recover before Game 5, however, as it takes place Sunday night in San Jose.

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Stanley Cup Final schedule unveiled

The Boston Bruins' opponent in the Stanley Cup Final has yet to be determined as the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks continue to battle for Western Conference supremacy, but the schedule for the final round of the NHL playoffs has been unveiled.

Game Date Time Home Away TV
1 May 27 8 p.m. Bruins Blues/Sharks NBC/SN/CBC/TVA
2 May 29 8 p.m. Bruins Blues/Sharks NBCSN/SN/CBC/TVA
3 June 1 8 p.m. Blues/Sharks Bruins NBCSN/SN/CBC/TVA
4 June 3 8 p.m. Blues/Sharks Bruins NBC/SN/CBC/TVA
5* June 6 8 p.m. Bruins Blues/Sharks NBC/SN/CBC/TVA
6* June 9 8 p.m. Blues/Sharks Bruins NBC/SN/CBC/TVA
7* June 12 8 p.m. Bruins Blues/Sharks NBC/SN/CBC/TVA

*if necessary

The Bruins will have 11 days between games leading into the Stanley Cup Final, which is the longest stretch in the salary-cap era, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

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Stanley Cup Final schedule unveiled

The Boston Bruins' opponent in the Stanley Cup Final has yet to be determined as the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks continue to battle for Western Conference supremacy, but the schedule for the final round of the NHL playoffs has been unveiled.

Game Date Time Home Away TV
1 May 27 8 p.m. Bruins Blues/Sharks NBC/SN/CBC/TVA
2 May 29 8 p.m. Bruins Blues/Sharks NBCSN/SN/CBC/TVA
3 June 1 8 p.m. Blues/Sharks Bruins NBCSN/SN/CBC/TVA
4 June 3 8 p.m. Blues/Sharks Bruins NBC/SN/CBC/TVA
5* June 6 8 p.m. Bruins Blues/Sharks NBC/SN/CBC/TVA
6* June 9 8 p.m. Blues/Sharks Bruins NBC/SN/CBC/TVA
7* June 12 8 p.m. Bruins Blues/Sharks NBC/SN/CBC/TVA

*if necessary

The Bruins will have 11 days between games leading into the Stanley Cup Final, which is the longest stretch in the salary-cap era, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

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Williams proud to have made Hurricanes ‘relevant’ again

For nearly a decade, the Hurricanes were a league-wide footnote, and postseason hockey in Carolina was nothing but a pipe dream and a reflection of yesteryear.

However, the 2018-19 season was a different story, as the Hurricanes captivated fans with exuberant post-win celebrations and embraced those who looked down on their fun shenanigans. But most importantly, they won, snapping the NHL's longest postseason drought and making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final.

Even though the season ended in bitter fashion - a sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Thursday night - captain Justin Williams was able to reflect on the impact this campaign had not only on Carolina fans but on the entire league.

"I'm proud of what we've done," the 37-year-old told reporters postgame, per NBC Sports. "I'm proud that we've gotten ourselves relevant again. I'm proud that we raised the bar in the organization, and I'm proud of every one of my teammates."

One of the primary reasons for the Hurricanes' miracle run was the leadership from head coach Rod Brind'Amour. But even though his squad exceeded all possible expectations, he didn't stray from his fiery yet compassionate persona when reflecting on Thursday's 4-0 loss.

"I want to thank the people and community for supporting us. I hate that we went out like that on that game," Brind'Amour told Michael Smith of the team's website. "That was a dud game for them to come watch. I apologize for that. Tremendous support for our team. ... It's a real community feel. It's something special."

The Bunch of Jerks' season may be over, but with a young, promising core and plenty of cap space, there's no reason to believe it'll be another nine-year wait for playoff hockey in Raleigh, N.C.

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