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San Jose Sharks 2019-20 Season Preview

San Jose Sharks

46-27-9, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the Western Conference Final by St. Louis

Additions: F Jonny Brodzinski, D Trevor Carrick (acquired from CAR), D Nicolas Meloche (acquired from COL), D Dalton Prout

Subtractions: F Joonas Donskoi (signed with COL), F Micheal Haley (signed to a PTO with NYR), F Jonathon Martin (signed with Tucson, AHL), F Gustav Nyquist (signed with CBJ), F Joe Pavelski (signed with DAL), F Francis Perron (traded to VAN), F Tom Pyatt (SHL), F Alex Schoenborn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Justin Braun (traded to PHI), D Michael Brodzinski (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Cody Donaghey (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Cavan Fitzgerald (signed with Charlotte, AHL), D Joakim Ryan (signed with LAK), D Kyle Wood (re-signed, then traded to CAR), G Antoine Bibeau (traded to COL)

Still Unsigned: F Rourke Chartier, F Tim Clifton

Re-signed: F Kevin Labanc, F Maxim Letunov, F Timo Meier, F Antti Suomela, F Joe Thornton, D Nick DeSimone, D Tim Heed

Offseason Analysis: After making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016, the San Jose Sharks were looking to capitalize on their momentum from their miraculous comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of their First Round matchup.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, sometimes injuries pile up and get in the way of forward progress.

Though they lost to the St. Louis Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final, the mere fact San Jose made it that far after nearly blowing it against Vegas is impressive– especially considering how close of a series their Second Round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche was, which also went seven games.

Whether they were exhausted from multiple overtimes, one long series after another, the Sharks found themselves with a longer than anticipated offseason to rest and recover.

In the meantime, General Manager, Doug Wilson, had his work cut out for him.

Wilson signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million extension worth $11.500 million per season, making Karlsson the highest paid defender in the league.

The Sharks GM also managed to re-sign 22-year-old star in the making, Timo Meier, to a four-year contract worth $6.000 million per season. By the end of the deal, Meier will still have one year of restricted free agency left, which really speaks to the fact that it’s a great– team friendly– extension at an affordable price with the future in mind.

Last season, Meier had 30-36–66 totals in 78 games. He had 21 goals and 15 assists (36 points) in his first full season (81 games played) in 2017-18.

But the cost of re-signing key pieces of San Jose’s core comes with a price– losing depth.

First, Joe Pavelski priced himself out of the Sharks, in part, thanks to his consistent scoring and 38 goals last season at 35-years-old, as well as San Jose’s cap crunch thanks to Karlsson’s pay raise.

Pavelski signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Stars worth $7.000 million per season, but it’s not about the money for San Jose (even though it was)– it’s about having to make up for a 38-goal deficit heading into this season.

Second, to get themselves squared away with the salary cap, Wilson had to move one of his durable top-four defenders via a trade, sending Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 18th for a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.

Trading Braun left Wilson with no choice but to sign Dalton Prout as a cheap replacement and to perform this season’s Micheal Haley duties. Haley, himself, signed a PTO with the New York Rangers in hopes of filling New York’s Cody McLeod/Tanner Glass role opening.

On the plus side, the Sharks will be able to replenish their pool of prospects with the transaction. On the other hand, Braun was a versatile component when others (like Karlsson) were injured.

Even with the additional $3.800 million addition in cap space, San Jose was not able to convince Joonas Donskoi to stay in town, regardless of whether or not Wilson had any plans for the top-nine forward.

Instead, Donskoi joined the Colorado Avalanche on a four-year deal worth $3.900 million per season– providing both job security and a chance to win the Cup, since the Avs are on the rise.

Sharks fans were hoping to see a reunion of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton back on the same team, but Wilson guaranteed Marleau wouldn’t be signed as long as Thornton was back for his 22nd season in the National Hockey League.

The good news? “Jumbo Joe” isn’t going anywhere– take that Father Time!

The bad news? Marleau isn’t going anywhere in free agency (yet) either.

It’s a good move for the Sharks though, as their younger players did exactly what Wilson explained– they played better and worked their way up the lineup to where Marleau had been prior to his departure to join the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 2, 2017.

San Jose has something special in Meier, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow and even Dylan Gambrell, meanwhile Logan Couture was named captain in wake of Pavelski’s departure– fully cementing the Logan Couture Era legacy in Sharks history.

Head coach, Peter DeBoer, will have a lot of leadership in the dressing room to rely on with Couture as captain and Karlsson, Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns serving as alternate captains throughout the season.

Offseason Grade: C-

Considering Karlsson’s cap hit, it would’ve been a “D+” if it weren’t for the redeeming qualities of Meier’s contract. Other than that, the Sharks are destined to be a divisional berth in the Pacific Division as recent history has dictated, but they don’t seem to have what it takes on paper to be leapfrogging over the competition.

Oh, and there’s the near 3.00 goals against average of both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell to consider from last season. That’s terrible for a team with or without Karlsson and Burns on the defense.

What’s going on with the ECHL?

Last week a second ECHL team in less than a month announced that they would be ceasing operations at the end of the 2016-2017 season.

The Elmira Jackals are joining the Alaska Aces in the soon-to-be-defunct-teams category of sports trivia at your local bar that actually asks questions about ECHL teams. First of all, if such a bar exists, I am impressed. Secondly, real talk, stump trivia could really up their game by asking all sorts of questions relating to the ECHL, but I digress.

The more important question to be asking right about now is what is happening with the ECHL? Is there some sort of financial instability league wide that has yet to be exposed (similar to the concerns that have pained the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) since its birth) or is the loss of two organizations in one season simply a matter of growing pains for the growing in popularity– and importance– second-tier minor league?

As a fan of the forthcoming 29th team in the league– make that 27th team– the Worcester Railers, there is reason to be concerned about the ECHL, if not simply its franchises.

Worcester, Massachusetts as a professional hockey market has long been a staple to minor league hockey in its accessibility to a wide market of fans in the New England region, as well as its affordability compared to some of the major league NHL tenants in the area.

Not to discredit the Manchester Monarchs who appear to be killing it in attendance (by ECHL standards) since dropping down from the AHL as a result of the mass exodus of AHL organizations to California, but having Worcester is crucial to the viability of the ECHL.

From the first puck drop in Railers history, having a rival in the New England region is certainly something to work with for both the Monarchs and Worcester. However, my preference for the Worcester organization over Manchester, as a fan, is not simple.

It all harkens back to the days of growing up with the AHL’s Worcester IceCats, the betrayal that was felt when they left (despite no other options), the joy of seeing a return to the AHL in the form of the Worcester Sharks and the consequential loss of yet another AHL team to bigger and better prospects of league sustainability, as well as prospect development from an NHL standpoint– hello, San Jose Sharks.

Losing the Alaska Aces is a shock, despite their declining attendance figures. Losing the Elmira Jackals almost a month later is a blow below the belt for the ECHL.

It’s one thing to foresee the longterm success of a professional sports franchise in Alaska as well, not ideal, but somehow the Aces made it work for years despite all of the travel, especially in the modern ECHL.

Nobody said it couldn’t be done once the Aces made it happen, in terms of both on ice success– having won three Kelly Cups in their venture in the ECHL from 2003 to 2017– and off the ice, however the ultimate downfall of the team was brought forth by a sluggish Alaskan economy, mounting bills on travel and faltering attendance.

Minor league hockey has long been a staple in New York.

Just look at how many AHL teams there are in the state. Now multiply that number by 1,000 and you should have approximately the number of ECHL teams and AHL teams in the Empire State. I’m only kidding.

Acknowledging that hockey has grown to being more than just a Northern sport on all levels, we really should have seen this coming in terms of perhaps overexerting the market and maxing things out on a bunch of affordable, minor league options in one state that also boasts several NHL teams to boot (in state and within a short driving distance out of state).

The New York market contains the Albany Devils, Binghamton Senators, Rochester Americans, Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comets are all AHL teams in state (with the Toronto Marlies not that far from the up-state border in Canada). Albany, of course, is relocating to Binghamton to replace the Senators who are moving to Belleville, Ontario at season’s end.

All of the teams above are in the AHL, which prides itself not only as being the top minor league in the world, as the greatest affiliate of the NHL, but as one of the most family-friendly sports and entertainment options in minor league sports in general.

Coincidentally, the ECHL is in the same market of family-friendly sports and entertainment options.

The Elmira Jackals are the only other ECHL team in New York besides the Adirondack Thunder– and Adirondack had long been a staple in the AHL, despite changing hands and franchises over the years. Similar to the AHL’s situation in New York, where the Marlies are just across the Canadian border, the Brampton Beast (the Montreal Canadiens ECHL affiliate) aren’t that far at all from the states in Brampton, Ontario.

It should be no surprise that the overcrowding of minor league hockey in New York is quickly disintegrating before our eyes, given the AHL’s Californian adventure prior to the 2015-2016 season and all, but at this point there’s no sense in repeating myself.

The ECHL needs to thrive on bigger smaller markets.

They’ve found niche successes with the Allen Americans (San Jose’s ECHL affiliate), Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh’s ECHL team), Orlando Solar Bears (Toronto’s ECHL farm team) and more, although sometimes their successful franchises in market draw has been helped by their NHL affiliates, recent ECHL championships or admittedly necessary constant ownership turnover.

But one thing is constant, the teams above have all done well in non-traditional hockey markets, where fans are sometimes exposed to the game for the first time at its most pure and otherwise violent level. Minor league hockey isn’t for the faint of heart, considering how many players are trying to live out a dream others might easily have given up on two rungs below on the NHL ladder.

Sure, the loss of the Aces and Jackals can probably be chalked up to the changing environment of NHL-AHL-ECHL affiliate systems and where parent clubs prefer their minor league teams physical locations over others, but the loss of two franchises in an otherwise up-and-coming brand of hockey that could rival baseball’s minor league system shouldn’t be handled lightly.

Despite the contraction, there is a possibility for light at the end of the tunnel. A return could be looming in or around the Las Vegas market with the incoming Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL, as well as a return to professional minor league hockey in Portland, Maine, as a group of former Portland Pirates executives slowly explore their options.

TRADE: Phaneuf sent to Sens in nine player deal

By: Nick Lanciani

With the trade deadline approaching on February 29th, I figured it’d be a good idea to recap the deals that are made before then and give you my two cents. So to start, thank you to the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs for giving me the first major trade before the deadline to write about while I’m in between classes.

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On Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs sent captain Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators in a large nine-player trade. Toronto also sent forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey and Ryan Rupert, as well as defenseman Cody Donaghey to the Senators in exchange for defenseman Jared Cowen and forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Tobias Lindberg. The division rival Sens also included their 2nd round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft as part of the deal.

This trade seemed inevitable, but comes as a bit of a surprise in its quick occurrence. The Senators have been known to have inquired about Phaneuf’s availability in the past, however given how the Phaneuf trade rumor mill had been relatively quiet in the public eye this season, it’s not surprising to be surprised.

That all might sound like a bunch of nonsense, and in a way it was supposed to not make sense, but listen folks, the Maple Leafs don’t have much hope for the rest of this season. They’ve got room to wheel and deal and have plenty of pieces to offer this season approaching the trade deadline.

While Toronto shipped Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the offseason, many were left wondering when the next domino to fall would come in a potential Phaneuf trade, given how Kessel and Phaneuf were high priority assets to move.

Now the time has come.

Dion Phaneuf joins the 25-23-6 overall (56 points) Ottawa Senators who are currently sixth in the Atlantic Division, trailing the New York Islanders by four points in the race for the second wild card position for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Phaneuf is expected to be paired alongside Cody Ceci on Wednesday night as the Senators take on the Detroit Red Wings.

Phaneuf, 30, has a lengthy term left on his contract at $7 million AAV through the 2020-2021 season. He’s had 3-21-24 totals so far in 51 games with Toronto this season. Given the youth movement in Ottawa over the last few seasons, he should start picking up more assists and see plenty of time on ice, easing the pressure on the Senators largely young presence on the blue line.

It’s not that the Senators are inexperienced on the back end of the game, with captain Erik Karlsson leading the charge as the Sens best defenseman (even if he is an offensive defenseman). Plus Ottawa has strength in Ceci, Marc Methot, and Patrick Wiercioch (notice, I didn’t say skill, I just said strength- as in these guys can push around the opposing team, but might not be superstars on their own or when they’re caught on a rush).

Ottawa has a developing presence on the blue line that’s seen some impressive performance at times from Mark Borowiecki, Chris Wideman, Erik Claesson and company and Phaneuf is only going to bring in more experience to help mold the youth movement into a force to be reckon with.

Phaneuf was a finalist for the Norris Trophy in the 2007-2008 season, a member of the NHL All-Star Rookie Team in 2006, an NHL First All-Star Team member in 2008, and has been part of three All-Star Game appearances in 2007, 2008 and 2012. He was a ninth overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames where he scored a career high 20 goals as a rookie in the 2005-2006 season.

On January 31, 2010, Phaneuf was traded to Toronto in a seven-player trade. He had 120 goals and 424 points in 801 regular season games in his career split between Toronto and Calgary.

Frattin is a 28-year old forward who has spent the entire 2015-2016 regular season with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League, scoring nine goals, 13 assists and 22 points in 47 games. He had 22-26-48 totals in 59 AHL games last season. In 135 career NHL games, Frattin has 17-18-35 totals split between the Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets.

If a change of scenery can help him now, then what went wrong before?

Bailey is a 24-year old forward who has 4-14-18 totals in 38 games for the Marlies this season. He has one career NHL goal in six games with the Maple Leafs last season.

Rupert is a 21-year old forward who has split the year between the Marlies and the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL, combing for 9-8-17 totals in 36 games.

Donaghey is a 19-year old defenseman who has spent the year with the Halifax Mooseheads and the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He has 5-17-22 totals in 36 games this season in the Q.

Perhaps the more surprising elements of the deal were what the Senators gave up in Cowen, Michalek and Greening. Cowen is yet to enter his prime as a defenseman, however had a chance to become the leader of the younger blue liners in Canada’s capital. Cohen’s 6’5″, 238 pound build could prove to be a crucial part to Toronto’s defense if they can find a way to better utilize his size than the Senators did.

He’s 25-years old and has just four assists in 37 games this season, but could see time with Morgan Rielly or other younger defenseman and turn out to be a puck moving, shut-down, pair. It seems as though the Senators tried to rush his development too quickly before fully understanding what they had before them.

With Mike Babcock as Toronto’s head coach and his plethora of knowledge from the way he ran Detroit’s brick wall defense over the years, Cowen might finally get his chance to come into his own and shine.

Cowen was the ninth pick overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft for Ottawa and had 15-31-46 totals in 249 career games with the Senators.

Michalek is a 31-year old forward who can contribute both directly on the scoresheet and indirectly with his presence and puck movement on the ice. His 6-4-10 totals in 32 games this season mirror those of a typical glue guy on any NHL roster.

Michalek had a career high 35 goals for Ottawa in the 2011-2012 season and was a 20+ goal scorer in four consecutive seasons for the San Jose Sharks and Senators from 2006-2010. He was the sixth overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and had 206-232-438 totals in 729 regular season games for San Jose and Ottawa.

Greening, 29, is another glue guy that had been buried in the AHL this season, having scored seven goals and 13 points in 41 games for the Binghamton Senators. He had 38-49-87 totals in 256 games for Ottawa over appearances in the last six seasons.

Lindberg is a 20-year old forward who has 5-17-22 totals in 34 games for the baby Senators his first professional season in the AHL. He was the 102nd overall pick of the Ottawa Senators in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He had 32-46-78 totals in 67 games last season for the Oshawa Generals in the Ontario Hockey League.

Again, the Senators face the Red Wings on Wednesday in what will be Phaneuf’s debut with his new team. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs play the Flames on Tuesday night.