The Sharks came into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs wounded and struggling to find their game. Doug Wilson’s prize acquisition, Erik Karlsson, had not played since the beginning of February, and Martin Jones had the worst statistical season of his career. They seemed like easy picking for the Vegas Golden Knights in the 1st round. Down 3-1 in the series, San Jose rallied to force a Game 7 on home ice after a 2OT Shorthanded winner from Tomas Hertl. The men in teal struggled in the first two periods of Game 7. They were down 3-0 in Game 7 with 10 minutes left in the 3rd period, until one call changed that game. Cody Eakin and Joe Pavelski set up for a face-off to Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. When the puck was dropped, Eakin forced his way into a shot blocking position, knocking Joe Pavelski off balance. Pavelski then collided hard with Vegas Center Paul Stastny, knocking the Sharks captain face first into the ice. Pavelski left the ice in a bloody mess. None of the officials saw the contact but proceeded to assess Cody Eakin a 5-minute major for cross-checking. This questionable call turned around the game, as the Sharks scored 4 power play goals on the 5-minute major to take a 4-3 lead. After Vegas tied the game inside a minute remaining at 4-4, San Jose forward Barclay Goodrow took a feed from Erik Karlsson and scored past Fleury to eliminate Vegas. The hockey world saw this officiating mistake as lucky, but credit to the Sharks, they took advantage.
In the 2nd round, the Colorado Avalanche met the Sharks in a very entertaining series, but once again the Sharks caught a lucky break in Game 7. As Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon intercepted a rink-wide pass, Avs captain, Gabriel Landeskog, was standing at the bench for a line change. MacKinnon brought the puck back into the offensive zone and fed a pass to Colin Wilson. Wilson scored glove side to tie Game 7 2-2 in the second period. The Sharks decided to challenge that Landeskog was offside during the line change. After the review, the referees determined the Avs captain was offside. This review triggered a tirade only Don Cherry could do. Landeskog was the 6th skater on the ice, sparking the question, should he be considered part of the play even if his replacement has already jumped into the play. The Sharks caught yet another break in an elimination game. The deflated the Avalanche 3-2 in Game 7.
In Game 3 in the Western Conference Finals, the Sharks caught yet another break, as Timo Meier hand-passed the puck towards Erik Karlsson. Karlsson scored the OT winner to much controversy. I have already covered that play in my previous article “Is the NHL developing a Replay Problem?”, so I won’t go in depth on that game. The Sharks injuries from the regular season and playoffs finally caught up with them. They were defeated in 3 straight games, 2-1, 5-0, and 5-1, to be eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The San Jose Sharks’ luck finally ran out against the Blues in the Western Conference Finals
With only 1 appearance in the Cup Finals in their existence, the San Jose Sharks are going to have a busy offseason. Doug Wilson has an estimated $25 Million in cap space to resign 15 Restricted Free Agents (Notables: Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, and Joakim Ryan) and 8 Unrestricted Free Agents (Notables: Joonas Donskoi, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist, and Erik Karlsson). If the Sharks were to resigned Karlsson, he would most likely take up half of the remaining cap space. Meier and Labanc are both going to get a nice payday after breakout seasons, leaving a decision between Pavelski, Thornton, Nyquist, and Donskoi. The Sharks are going to have to choose one of them as they most likely with not be able to replace them by drafting this season. San Jose’s 1st Round selection this year is the property of the Anaheim Ducks, their 2nd Round pick belongs to Detroit, and their 4th Round pick belongs to Buffalo. San Jose is also missing their 1st Rounder for next season (part of the Erik Karlsson trade).
The Sharks prospect pipeline isn’t exactly flowing with talent either. Their top prospect, Ryan Merkley (D, Peterborough – OHL: Guelph – OHL) has a few question marks about the character and commitment to the game. At times, he can be a liability defensively, but in the offensive zone, Merkley is a special talent. Maybe some time in the AHL can help smooth out Merkley’s all-around game. San Jose’s 2nd best prospect, Jonathan Dahlén, is a smooth-skating center/wing from Sweden, this past season in the AHL he recorded 29 points in 50 games for Utica (Vancouver’s AHL affiliate) before being traded in late February to San Jose. Dahlén could fill a potential void left by Thornton, Donskoi, or Pavelski. The Sharks also have a decent prospect in Dylan Gambrell. Gambrell’s career highlight thus far has been scoring the Sharks only goal in the Game 6 blowout loss against St. Louis. The 60th overall selection in 2016 displayed great skating ability, shot, and tenacity. Gambrell is poised to fill in the 2-way winger role that Joonas Donskoi has.
I have a hard time believing that Doug Wilson would let Joe Pavelski walk in free agency. He’s a fantastic two-way center and a big-time playoff performer, notching 100 points in 134 career playoff games. Joe Thornton will most likely retire or sign with any cup contender for a cheap contract. “Jumbo Joe” is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, deserving of the proper send-off. Gustav Nyquist was a rental piece and Joonas Donskoi had a mediocre season, so both of them resigning in the Bay Area is unlikely. And finally, Erik Karlsson is due for a MASSIVE pay raise. Doug Wilson gave up a fairly decent haul of picks, roster players, and prospects for Karlsson. Karlsson may not resign before July 1, just in case, someone offers him stupid money in free agency. Wilson is going to have to make some tough decisions for the future of the franchise
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