Shark-Infested Blogger

October 29, 2010 7:51 PM

NHL: Joe Thornton Leads San Jose Over New Jersey for First Home Win

The San Jose Sharks and New Jersey Devils were both projected contenders before the season began. Yet both have struggled early in the season, with the Devils easily having the worst record in hockey (2-6-1) coming in and the Sharks just 3-3-1.

To make matters worse for the hosts, they were 0-2-1 as the home team and the Devils little success had come on the road (2-2-0). Their only two wins were shutouts by Martin Brodeur, and he was in net; with the Sharks struggling to score outside of the power play, and the Devils being about average on their penalty kill and near the bottom of the league in penalty minutes.

New Sharks captain Joe Thornton has said he wants to score more, and Wednesday did it three times

But new Sharks captain Joe Thornton struck early and often, with a goal less than half-way through the first. He assisted on another by Patrick Marleau fewer than two minutes later, and by the time the first period was over, had another goal to put the Sharks up 3-0.

A bad bounce gave the Devils a goal about three minutes into the second period, and they hung in the game until another bad bounce gave Thornton his fourth career hat trick (the teams first on the power play) with just over three minutes left in the period.

After the San Francisco Giants had won Game One of the World Series, I tuned to the NHL Network and caught the first of my San Jose Sharks action for the third period from my temporary Dallas residence. What I saw of the action included crisp passing and good defence.

Despite controlling the puck-in part from winning 35 of 54 faceoffs-they had only three more giveaways and the same number of takeaways and blocked shots. They also registered five more hits (23-18).

The Sharks top line registered another goal by Dany Heatley in the third period, giving all three forwards at least four points and a plus-four rating. They allowed a power play goal after an undisciplined string of penalties in the latter half of the third period. Anterro Niittymaki closed out a solid performance in net, stopping 27 of 29.

October 18, 2010 1:02 PM

San Jose Sharks-Atlanta Thrashers Recap

The San Jose Sharks had a long layoff from their long trip overseas. It looked like it was just what the doctor ordered when Dany Heatley and Ryane Clowe scored 21 seconds apart near the end of the first period to give the home team a 2-0 lead.

Dany Heatley scored the first goal of the new season at HP Pavilion

They out-shot the Atlanta Thrashers 30-13 through two periods. But they were unable to get any more shots past Chris Mason, and ran out of gas in the third period.

Atlanta held a 15-9 edge in shots on goal in the final stanza, thanks in part to a 2-1 penalty edge, and put home two of those shots to give them the game's margin of victory. Dustin Byfuglien once again killed the Sharks, putting the eventual game-winner past former teammate Annti Niemi on the power play with 6:20 to go.

Douglas Murray, Torrey Mitchell, and Clowe are the only Sharks in the plus after three games. San Jose has just two even strength goals, but remain 25 percent on the power play and almost 87 percent on the penalty kill. They have now out-shot their opponents in all three games, but have just one win to show for it.

The Sharks host the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday at 7:30 pm PDT at the HP Pavilion. New Sharks captain Joe Thornton will be a guest on NHL Live (broadcast on Sirius Satellite radio as well as televised on the NHL Network) Monday morning at 11am PDT.

October 11, 2010 12:25 PM

Sharks Get Three Points in Sweden

The San Jose Sharks' historic trip to Sweden to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in a home-and-home series resulted in three out of a four possible points in the standing. The Sharks took the first game, but lost the second in overtime.

While three out of four points is a pace for 123 on the regular season, easily good for the top record in the league, the Sharks are once again the favourites to win their division, while the Jackets will be lucky to finish at the .500 pace they set for the trip.

There were a several disturbing things from the Sharks over the weekend:

Swedish Olympian Douglas Murray was treated like a rock star on this trip back home
  1. The original goalie San Jose acquired to be the main man in net has still not been impressive wearing the Sharks logo. allowing three goals on 25 shots (.880 save percentage). It may take swallowing his pride, but the right thing for Doug Wilson to do is waive Niittymaki and give Thomas Greiss a chance to be the team's second goalie for far less money, perhaps giving the team more cap room for other moves.
  2. San Jose struggled five-on-five, netting only one goal in two games. One cannot rely on opposition penalties to get scores.
  3. Because of the above, nine players (half the skaters) are in the negative in plus/minus rating, while no one is in the positive.
  4. Too many Sharks are making trips to the sin bin, with 14 penalties over the weekend (two fighting majors).
  5. The Sharks lost in all three stats related to hustle: hits, blocked shots, and faceoffs, although the former two are partially because they did spend more time on the attack (see below).

On the other hand, there were several positives, as well:

  1. Newly appointed captain Joe Thornton scored a goal in each game, and fans can hope the "C" on his sweater has something to do with less reluctance to shoot. While a better passer than shooter, he has a good shot that, when taken with more frequency, will keep defences and goalies honest and open up pass opportunities.
  2. The Sharks drew eight minor penalties in both games, and scored four goals. That is a very impressive job putting the opposition in the box and still a 25 percent success rate on the power play.
  3. San Jose only allowed one power play goal against, giving them a penalty kill percentage of 91.7.
  4. They controlled the puck well, getting over 30 shots in each game and allowing under 30.
  5. Annti Niemi played well, allowing two goals on 28 shots (.928 save percentage) and adding an assist.

Because of the strain of overseas travel, the Sharks do not play again until Saturday, October 16, when they host the revamped Atlanta Thrashers. Hopefully, the Bay Area will have the momentum of a baseball playoff victory over Atlanta to ride through that game.

October 6, 2010 11:38 PM

Sharks Roster Set for Sweden

The San Jose Sharks made their final roster moves, including cutting veteran defenceman Andreas Lilja to make room for young players at the position like Mike Moore. Rookie forwards Tommy Wingels and John McCarthy are also on the roster.

"With the Andreas Lilja situation, a couple of our younger players stepped up and played really well throughout training camp and they deserve to carry on," said coach Todd McLellan. "In fairness to (Lilja), if we kept him here longer he would lose out on some chances he has in the NHL or around the world. We did what was right for him and what was right for our team."

Unfortunately, this leaves the Sharks without much experience on the blueline, the one place where age still is often considered a good thing. Only Niclas Wallin (35), and Dan Boyle (34) are at least 24 years old and have more than three full years of experience in the league.

However, three other defencemen are hardly green: Kent Huskins (31) and Douglas Murray (30) have played parts of four seasons, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (23) has nearly four full years of experience (309 games). The bigger issue on this unit is the lack of a true leader on the second pair, and unless someone steps up, the lack of a number two player on the back end will hurt against teams deep at the forward position.

There is a real battle for who willl back up Annti Niemi in net for the Sharks

The Sharks will have to trim one more player from their roster once they return to the United States, and the odd-man out appears to be Thomas Greiss. While he has outplayed Antero Niittymaki (six goals on 33 shots) this preseason, he can be sent to the minors without clearing waivers.

Since the Sharks signed Niittymaki this offseason to be the projected starter before Annti Niemi became available, and they are not likely to give him up so easily. Of course, applying the same logic they used on the blueline, sending Greiss down will only reduce the development of netminding prospects Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri.

Here are my choices for line and defence pairings:

  1. Marleau-Pavelski-Clowe, Boyle and Murray. Marleau has been playing better than Thornton, and this line has a balance of size and speed as well as being responsible on both ends of the ice. However, it is more likely that Thornton will start between Clowe and Setoguchi, which does give the team a big body (two actually, but Joe plays a finesse game) and a scorer to go with a playmaker.
  2. Heatley-Thornton-Setoguchi, Vlasic and Wallin. This would provide Thornton two targets to pass to and make it hard for teams to cover both. Vlasic and Wallin provide a skater and a banger to provide solid defensive presence. However, Pavelski is likely to center the second line between Marleau and Setoguchi, giving this line a lack of physicality.
  3. Couture-Mitchell-Mayers, Huskins and Demers. Couture is a scoring threat and capable in front of the net, Mitchell provides speed, and Mayers a physical presence. Huskins and Demers not only provide the offence/defence combination you want on a third pair, they worked well together last spring in the playoffs.
  4. McGinn-Nichol-McLaren, with Niemi and Greiss in net, although my guess is Niittymaki will get the backup role. This gives little Scotty two big bodies and provides the Sharks a hard-checking energy line. Nichol and McGinn do all the little things, and McLaren provides immense size (6'5″, 250 lbs.) to wear down opponents.

In other news, former Sharks Richard winner Jonathan Cheechoo has signed a tryout to play in Worcester, the Sharks minor-league affiliate. This gives the team the chance to bring in someone who has chemistry and experience with this team for a playoff push, and who might contribute on both ends of the ice.

The Sharks also have not officially settled on a captain. Expect Dan Boyle, a veteran who showed more leadership than most others, to be wearing the "C" this season, with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski as alternates.

September 21, 2010 1:09 PM

Sharks Hope Andreas Lilja Boosts Blueline

Last week, the San Jose Sharks signed a Sweedish Stanley Cup champion veteran to their blueline. Earlier in the year, they went hard after Niklas Hjalmarsson, and the only good thing about not getting him is that those writing on the team are less likely to get carpal tunnel because his long name will be typed less frequently.

Instead, they had to settle for the much easier to type but also easier to face Andreas Lilja. At 35, Lilja's best days are behind him and he will not have the immediate impact nor future growth of Hjalmarsson.4897943585_c13325a455_z.jpg

However, on defense he brings a presence and poise that is so important to a defence and could be an effective penalty killer who might allow the Sharks to provide a break for Dan Boyle when someone is in the box. His role will probably be limited to the third pair, as he will not provide any offense, having just 74 points in 478 games--an average of about 12 points in an 82-game season--in an offensive system.

Nevertheless, he does know the system and head coach Todd McLellan knows him as a player from his days as an assistant coach in Detroit. If he plays well enough in the tryout, he could provide the Sharks some cap flexibility to move Niclas Wallin's $2.5 million contract to injured reserve if he is not ready at the start of the season, or if he is to assign him to the minors if he clears waivers.

However, Wallin has begun to practice again and the team most likely made that commitment in the offseason to Wallin because they believe he will play an important role this season. Thus, expect them to give him every chance to validate that is my projected blueline:
  1. Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle
  2. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Wallin
  3. Lilja and Jason Demers
That leaves Kent Huskins scratched or playing as a seventh defenceman, and Jay Leach and Derek Joslin assigned to the minors.

This would give the Sharks a deep unit with only one player who might be a liability at times (Demers), but also only one stud (Boyle) and just two other offensive threats (Demers and Vlasic). But an above average blueline combined with good goaltending and still one of the best group of forwards in the world makes the Sharks as good or better than anyone outside of Vancouver in the West.

September 2, 2010 11:10 AM

Sharks Sign Antti Niemi

Stanley Cup winning goalie Antti Niemi has agreed to a one-year contract with the San Jose Sharks. In keeping with team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed, but all reports have the contract valued at $2 million.4550106690_4884ae5fc2_z.jpg

This puts the team in an awkward position, as they signed fellow Finn Antero Niittymaki presumably as the new starter in July for the same amount. Niittymaki is three years older and more proven (Niemi has fewer than 70 career games including the playoffs), but much of what he has proven is not good.

Including the three games he played before the lockout, Niittymaki has an 83-79-28 record with a .903 save percentage and 2.98 goals against average. Last season was his first as an even adequate starter, being the first time he played in more than 32 games with a save percentage of .900 (.909) and a goals against lower than 2.97 (2.85).

Niittymaki might not want to be a backup, but he could easily be convinced to buy time until Niemi either fails or proves himself for a second straight season and prices himself too high; in either case, the Sharks would probably not re-sign him. But the bigger problem is what to do with Thomas Greiss.

Sending him down to the minors will not only stunt his development but also that of minor league prospect Alex Stalock who would have to give up many starts to Greiss. It would also make the Sharks a less attractive team for Greiss to sign with in the near future when he might be needed. Finally, it would cost the Sharks more in the short-term on the salary cap for very little upgrade at the position that would be offered by Niittymaki being the backup over Greiss.

However, there are a few good options for the team; click here to read my suggestions.

August 29, 2010 3:09 AM

NHLPA Looks to Hire Donald Fehr

The NHL Player's Union took quite a beating in the last lockout that saw the 2004-2005 season canceled. The resulting collective bargaining agreement gave power to the owners and has resulted in a better product on the ice.

It appears the union wants to make sure they do not lose again. No player's union has more power than that of Major League Baseball, and Donald Fehr is a major reason why. Nevermind that because of his strong-arm tactics, the game does not have the competitive balance of other sports and became a league of steroid-induced behemoths whose privacy to cheat was protected over the rest of the players' rights to compete fairly.2619221981_871c1c1afe_z.jpg

If Fehr could take advantage of the worst commissioner baseball has ever seen (and he owned my childhood team, so I began with a pro-Bud Selig bias), what might he do to the worst commissioner sports has ever seen? Gary Bettman is in trouble, and the future of the sport is out of focus.

Despite all that he has done miserably, he did score a victory for the sport against the players. That will change when he faces Fehr.

I am a typical progressive San Franciscan, and am more on the side of players in the NFL squabble than I am owners. But it seems strange to me that baseball has the greatest gap between the rich and poor teams and it is the league that has the most player power; football has the least in both.

Hockey is a troubled sport with almost as much of a have/have-not issue as baseball, and the more power that goes to the players, the worse that will be. Donald Fehr's appointment may mean the end of teams like Nashville and Phoenix (perhaps forcing Bettman to let them move to where they are going to be more followed and better-funded, however) and a return to dominance from the Red Wings and Rangers of the hockey world...well, maybe not the Rangers--money is not a guarantee of success, but lack of it will guarantee failure in the Bettman-Fehr world.

August 8, 2010 8:07 PM

Sharks Sign Jamal Mayers, Two RFA's

By the end of last week, the Sharks made three moves that helped them solidify their roster. They added Jamal Mayers and re-signed Derek Joslin and Steven Zalewski, avoiding arbitration with the latter two.2265874131_c66b56e5df_z.jpg

By re-signing Zalewski, they assured themselves of having a centre with NHL experience, however limited, who could step onto the fourth linein the event of injury. Zalewski, 23, has played in just three games with the Sharks and went minus-two with no points. But for the Sharks minor league affiliate in Worcester, MA, he led all forwards with 62 points (22 goals) in 78 games, and added six points (one goal) in 11 playoff games.

Joslin, also 23, has played in part of two seasons on the blueline, including 24 games last season in which he accumulated all three of his career points while going plus-one (minus-two for his career). In Worcester last season, he had 32 points (five goals) in 55 games, and added five (four goals) in 11 playoff games.

He will likely compete with veteran journeyman Jay Leach for a roster space, but the franchise would be best served if he played so he could develop rather than sitting in the press box as a scratch. In contrast to Niclas Wallin, who signed to a $2.5 million contract this summer, Joslin's contract would allow the team to go after an upgrade in net such as Annti Niemi because of his lower cap number. He also offers a contrast to Wallin's stay-at-home skill-set as a potential puck-moving defenceman.

Meanwhile, the signing of Jamal Mayers, 35, is a major upgrade on the third line, but also for team enforcers. For most of the decade, the Sharks enforcers have been liabilities on the ice.

Scott Parker was one of the toughest guys in the league, but was deficient defensively and absolutely unnecessary to even defend against on the attack. Jody Shelley was an upgrade on both ends of the ice, but not enough to be a stout defender or an offensive asset in any way; meanwhile, he lost almost as many fights as he won.

Mayers, by contrast, can play on both ends of the ice, and is a leader on the bench. With Manny Malhotra leaving, he may well find time on the penalty kill.

He is a pretty good skater and a physical presence on both ends who wins most fights. He even can score, picking up 188 points in 737 games, although that ratio of about one point per four games fell off a bit last year (14 in 71, with only three goals).
August 4, 2010 9:12 AM

Sharks Re-Sign Devin Setoguchi

3245500687_25e1581e50_z.jpgThe San Jose Sharks avoided arbitration with Devin Setoguchi by reportedly signing him to a one-year, $1.8 million contract for next season. Considering Blake Wheeler (similar numbers, but has one more year putting them up) recently was awarded $2.5 million in arbitration, this figure seems about right.

Setoguchi's numbers understandably dropped last season when he was moved from the first to the second line. After posting 31 goals and 34 assists, he fell to 20 goals and 16 assists in 70 games. However, he recorded a career-high four game-winners, and had five goals and four assists in 15 playoff games despite it being later revealed he was in need of off-season surgery.

More than anything, what has improved is Seto's defence. He still misses assignments, but began throwing his body around and back-checking well by the end of the season. He provides the speed and hard shot the second line needs for success.

In other news around the league, two defencemen previously listed as alternatives in the wake of Chicago re-signing Niklas Hjalmarsson were signed to other teams Monday: Andy Sutton went to Anaheim and Shaone Morrison to Buffalo. The Sharks have more than enough depth on the blueline, but lack a true number two defender.

Aside from unrestricted free agent alternatives listed at the link, Marc Staal remains a possibility to go after as an restricted free agent: San Jose could likely land a solid two-way defenceman who would add skill to the blueline. He would rate just behind Marc-Edouard Vlasic as the team's third-best defenceman and cost under $2 million and a second-round pick.
July 14, 2010 8:41 PM

Sharks Lose Hjalmarsson, Look to Alternatives

The San Jose Sharks lost on the Niklas Hjalmarsson sweepstakes, but are not out of options. Aside from potential trades, there are are a couple of good unrestricted free agents who could be the answer. Unfortunately, most will likely make more than what the Sharks offered Hjalmarsson, provide fewer assets, or both.

Here are those options in order of value:

  1. Willie Mitchell, if he can prove he is healthy after concussion symptoms kept him out for Vancouver's stretch run and playoffs last season, has only once scored more than 14 points in a season but is a fantastic, physical stay-at-home defender. It is possible his injury could make him available at a bargain, in which case the team would be wise to pursue him.
  2. Kim Johnsson also missed Chicago's run with a concussion and could be available at a discount. Johnsson is a solid, veteran contributor on both ends of the ice who can be counted on for a point every two to three games.4108147632_34756b085f.jpg
  3. Shaone Morrison is a former first-round pick but was the odd-man out in Washington. However, this does not mean he is not valuable; he is the model of consistency: In each of the last five seasons in the nation's capital, he has played in 68-80 games, scored 10-14 points, and finished plus-three to plus-eight. At 27, he also could be a solid fourth defenceman for years to come.
  4. Mike Mattou has missed only 11 games in the last three years for New Jersey and scored 15-18 points all three times. He is plus-10 for his career and might well be cost-effective enough because the 32-year old is not flashy, but would likely battle Jason Demers for the fourth defenceman status in San Jose.
  5. Andy Sutton may be willing to come back to San Jose for a price lower than his worth. While he offers almost nothing offensively, he uses his big body well for shot-blocking and checking, and likely would still be better than either Niclas Wallin or Kent Huskins.

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