Fantasy Pool Look: Sharks, Blues off-season outlooks

Joe Thornton and PAtrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s the 12th annual off-season review of each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I’m doing something different and reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. Today, the Sharks and the Blues are on the docket.

San Jose Sharks
Gone – Martin Havlat, Brad Stuart, Dan Boyle

Incoming – Michael Haley, Tye McGinn, John Scott, Taylor Fedun

Ready for full time – Freddie Hamilton is ready to take on a third- or fourth-line checking role. He probably doesn’t have scoring-line upside in the NHL, but he may be able to carve out a career on the third line as a potential 40-point player. However, that won’t be this year and given the Sharks’ depth at center he may not be called up until mid-season.

Matt Tennyson was a big college free agent signing in 2012 and after two seasons in the minors he’s getting closer. His minus-25 rating with Worcester last season indicates that perhaps he could use at least another half season, but he projects as a second-pairing guy who could chip in on the second power play unit. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Vinny Lecavalier and Joe Thornton trade buzz

Vincent Lecavalier (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Earlier this summer there was speculation the Philadelphia Flyers were shopping center Vincent Lecavalier. If Lecavalier is troubled by the trade rumors, Flyers coach Craig Berube told NJ.com’s Randy Miller the veteran center should get over it and focus on the upcoming season.

Lecavalier struggled last season, with only 37 points in 69 games. Miller notes Flyers management allowed the center’s agent to speak with other clubs hoping to drum up trade interest. Rumored deals to Nashville and Florida reportedly fell through. There was also talk Lecavalier’s no-movement clause made finding trade partners difficult.

Berube believes Lecavalier simply needs to change his game a little bit to become more effective. The coach is hoping Lecavalier becomes more defensively responsible. Berube claims the 34-year-old Lecavalier trained hard this summer and will be competitive when training camp opens in September. Read more

The top 10 players to watch in the Champions League

Washington first-rounder Jakub Vrana has already started his season (Photo by Andreas Froberg/Linkoping HC/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

If you can’t wait for the NHL season to start, maybe turn your attention to Europe, where the Champions League is off and running. The super-sized tournament for club teams features squads from all over the continent and it’s more than just a place to find fun NHL names from the recent past (Chuck Kobasew! Mikael Samuelsson!). A lot of great young talent is on display, including some top NHL prospects and draft eligibles. Below you’ll find 10 players to watch for as the tournament goes on. Not included were skaters on rosters but yet to play in a game, including 2016 prospect Patrik Laine of Finland, 2015′s Michael Spacek of the Czech Republic and Pittsburgh first-rounder Kasperi Kapanen.

Read more

The San Jose Sharks are panicking, but their Stanley Cup window is still wide open

Rory Boylen
The San Jose Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings last season. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Image)

The San Jose Sharks and their GM Doug Wilson panicked this summer. They were going to rebuild, they weren’t going to rebuild. They were going to trade Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, they weren’t going to trade Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. They signed John Scott. Management didn’t act as San Jose Sharks management usually acts – calm and measured. They acted like a team that just blew a 3-0 series lead to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

Believe it or not, the window for the San Jose Sharks to win a Stanley Cup is still open. The team didn’t get melted down the way Wilson made it seem like it would when he talked about being a “tomorrow team” at the start of the summer. They still have their best player (Thornton) and their leading playoff scorer (Marleau). Had the team got a little better than the terrible goaltending they got at the end of that Kings series, or if Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn’t have to sit out due to injury, the Sharks may have won that series against Los Angeles. The way they were playing in Games 1-3, they may have won the Cup.

Unlike the potential movement of Thornton and Marleau this summer, the departures of Dan Boyle and Martin Havlat always seemed inevitable and obvious in the wake of that loss. Boyle was still an important player on the blueline who pulled in huge minutes, but he had lost a step and Vlasic had emerged as the No. 1 on the blueline. Havlat had lost two or three steps and though he still sees himself as a fleet-footed scorer, those days are gone. There was no room for him in this lineup anymore. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Flyers need help on the blueline, but don’t expect it to come soon

(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

The state of the Philadelphia Flyers defense core remains a troubling issue. They’ve lacked a true top-two defenseman since Chris Pronger’s career was ended by injury nearly three years ago. They attempted to address that issue in July of 2012 by signing Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber to an expensive offer sheet, but the Predators swiftly matched it.

Former GM Paul Holmgren attempted to bolster the overall blueline depth, acquiring Luke Schenn, Mark Streit and Andrew MacDonald via trade and free agency. None of them, however, can fill Pronger’s skates.

The Flyers underwent a front-office shakeup this spring when Ron Hextall took over as GM. Despite Hextall’s stated preference for building from within, rumor-mongers believe the Flyers still seek a stud defenseman, linking them to Winnipeg Jets blueliner Zach Bogosian. Read more

Will Joe Thornton continue to captain the San Jose Sharks in 2014-15?

Rory Boylen
Joe Thornton

Has any team had a more anti-climactic off-season than the San Jose Sharks? We expected fantasy league-type trades. We expected more.

And we expected more because GM Doug Wilson established the bar to judge the Sharks’ off-season by with his suggestion in June that they would undertake a rebuild.

From Kevin Kurz at CSNBayArea.com:

“The rebuild is committed to. The players that fit for now and the future, their growth is going to be the primary thing. … Remember where we’re trying to get to. It’s not about here, it’s about there.”

“I’ve had a lot of calls, a lot of people at the GM meetings (last week in new York), they know where we’re going. We now become a tomorrow team. When you spell that out, it does create a response.”

“You have to do it. It’s not easy, but it’s one of those things. I think it’s made easier by some of the key young players we have in key positions. But, make no mistake about it, it’s going to be challenging. You go into it with your eyes open, and you go into it committed.”

This set off a firestorm of reactions that the Sharks would be busy with trades this summer. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton were at the center of these rumors, which never made sense to me since the two had just signed three-year extensions that included no-trade clauses that same season. But the rumors didn’t end with them. Brent Burns and Antti Niemi were also included and it was assured neither Dan Boyle nor Martin Havlat would be back. What we knew was that Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski (who is destined to regress next season, by the way) would be the new leaders of this team.

As Wilson said at the draft: “We’ve got key young players in key positions. If we didn’t have that, then you’re talking about a much longer type of rebuild. It’s not that you’re far off and it’s not that it can’t be fixed quickly.”

OK, so maybe it was supposed to be less a rebuild and more a re-tool, built around a younger core. But we still expected at least one or two big moves. Read more

Leafs, Penguins among the NHL’s five most pressure-packed markets in 2014-15

Randy Carlyle (Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

The NHL has always been a pressure-packed league, but from year-to-year, some teams face more pressure than others. Which franchises are going to be dealing with an especially hot seat once the 2014-15 season begins? These five:

5. Washington Capitals. When the Caps missed the playoffs last year and owner Ted Leonsis cleaned house on the management side, some observers expected them to go the same route with their underachieving roster. They did no such thing, and instead doubled down with two high-priced free agent acquisitions (defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen). Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee they’ll even make the playoffs in the mediocre Metropolitan division. And if they fall on their faces again and miss the post-season for the second straight year – the first time that will have happened since 2005-07 – what will ownership’s response be then?

4. San Jose Sharks. Sports has a long tradition of identifying underdogs – i.e., teams not expected to do well because they’re lacking in depth or talent – but the Sharks are now officially overdogs: a team not expected to do well despite having all kinds of depth and talent. San Jose GM Doug Wilson’s criticism of his group of players after last spring’s playoff collapse against the Kings should have everyone walking on eggshells as soon as training camp begins, but any kind of serious stumble during the season could lead to major changes. Read more

Five reasons to be excited about another outdoor NHL game in California

Adam Proteau
Dodger Stadium (Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)

The NHL announced Wednesday it will stage another California outdoor game – this one Feb. 21, 2015 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara between the host Sharks and the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings. Here are five reasons to be excited about the event:

5. Outdoor games will be more of a novelty this year. Last year the NHL staged six outdoor games – in Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, Vancouver, and two in New York City – but NHL brass has said there will be fewer outdoor games this season. So there will be a fresher feel to this one.

4. It’s California outdoor hockey – who knows what can happen? Everything went off without a hitch when the Kings hosted the first NHL California outdoor game in history last season and L.A. lost to the Anaheim Ducks 3-0. But Mother Nature can always be a challenge – and despite the savvy of NHL ice guru Dan Craig, the elements could be an issue. The league has had great luck with weather thus far in its outdoor games, but sooner or later… Read more