Hockey Notes – 10/3

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Monday, October 3, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

San Jose Sharks sign winger Brad Winchester to a 1 year contract

- Update: The San Jose Sharks announced late this afternoon that they signed hulking, 6-foot-5, 230-pound winger Brad Winchester to a 1-year contract. Winchester is expected to anchor a grinding fourth line with fellow veteran Andrew Murray and young “Crazed Rat” Andrew Desjardins. “We feel that our training camp was as competitive as it ever has been and Brad came into it and earned a spot on our roster,” San Jose Sharks EVP/GM said via press release. “He brings a rugged, veteran presence to our lineup and he does whatever it takes to be a good teammate.” Winchester finished 2010-11 with 10 goals, 16 points, and 116 penalty minutes split between St. Louis and Anaheim. He scored a goal and an assist in the 2011-12 preseason, and lead the team with 18 PIMs.

According to’s Andy Strickland, the contract was for 1 year at $725,000.

San Jose Sharks left wing Ryane Clowe joined announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper in San Francisco Giants broadcast booth

- One of the highlights from last week took place off the ice as San Jose Sharks left wing Ryane Clowe joined San Francisco Giants announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper in the broadcast booth for a game against the Colorado Rockies. Clowe dished on the exuberant fans at HP Pavilion, the average shift length in hockey, baseball injuries vs hockey injuries, and how Pablo Sandoval would fare as a hockey player. The takeaway came when Clowe was asked about natural rivalries for the Sharks:

[Q] Every year, unless you have a natural rivalry, the Giants and the Dodgers have a natural rivalry, you guys and the Ducks have a little thing going on. Is there one team that you don’t like, that you just don’t like ‘em?

[RC] Right now, and probably a lot of the league agrees with me, Vancouver. They have really got a lot of players and other teams turned against them. I believe playoffs build rivalries. It certainly started with us last year with the Canucks. It will be interesting when we play them this year.

[Q] How many times do you play them this year.

[RC] We play them four times in our Conference, so two and two.

[Q] That should be a pretty spirited four games.

[RC] Absolutely.

Clowe answered the last question with an ominous grin and both Giants announcers offered wry laughs. His feelings may have been amplified by the fact that he played the entire Western Conference Final series against the Canucks with a seperated shoulder. A big part of his game is keeping opponents honest. Vancouver may have to pay up on that toll November 26th at HP Pavilion when both teams meet for the first time this season.

Clowe’s visit to the broadcast booth also is part of a push for the Giants to maintain their “sphere of influence” in the South Bay. Inviting Dany Heatley to throw out the first pitch at a Giants game, having Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval drop the puck at a Sharks home game, hosting fan rallies and ramping up cooperation with the San Jose Giants. All come as Major League Baseball as set to determine whether or not the Oakland Athletics can move to a downtown stadium in San Jose. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig could make that long, drawn-out decision as early as this summer.

- Also a guest last Thursday on the Comcast Sports Network was new San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns. Burns joined Greg Papa on Chronicle Live to discuss getting used to his new defensive partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic, his thoughts after being traded to San Jose, his style of offensive play which differs from the puck carrying, quarterbacking style of Dan Boyle. “I can bring a little bit of everything. I have a big body, I can skate, I like to chip in a little bit offensively but I don’t think I am a pure offensive guy, I don’t have that pure goal scoring touch that other guys do,” Burns told Papa. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Ontario native finished third in the league in goals by defenseman last year with a career-high 17, and finished tied for third in power play goals by a defenseman with 9.

Burns has a physical style around his own net and he has seen penalty kill duty during the preseason with defenseman Douglas Murray, but his cannon of a shot from the point and offensive instincts have some hockey experts salivating. While the Sharks try to tamp down expectations in order to ease him into the lineup, extended power play time with Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski and Boyle on the point could prove to be explosive. Burns may have even more of an impact on puck management out of the Sharks own zone. Using his long reach and size, Burns can dramatically impact the transition from defense to offense, as well as the speed of attack up ice. Combine that with Boyle and Jason Demers, and all three Sharks defensive units have a potent puck moving capacity. Burns on Joe Thornton: “He is so good with the puck, it is definitley more fun to be on his team and wear the same jersey than to play against him.”

- Sharks following GM’s orders perfectly – Eric Gilmore for

After 45 games last season, the Sharks were a disappointing 21-19-5. They had lost six straight games by a combined score of 19-8 and were sinking in the Western Conference playoff chase.

At that point the Sharks seemingly flipped the switch and won nine of their next 10 games. They went 23-6-3 over their final 32 games, won the Pacific Division and finished with 105 points, second only to Vancouver’s 117 in the West. It was an impressive run to the finish line, but Wilson said having to play in desperation mode for so long hurt the Sharks in the postseason because they were a tired, battered bunch by the time they faced Vancouver in the conference finals.

“It was talked about over the summer, and it was talked about early in camp, but it’s not something that’s stressed every day,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. “We go out to win every hockey game. The first two years I was here we had great starts. Last year we didn’t. It is what it is.

“We’re out to win every game every night. Sometimes what you do early can help you out. We are going to go on a stretch where we lose some games. That’s inevitable (but) that’s what a strong start does — it kind of balances it out. You always look to finish strong, too, but yeah, it (starting strong) has been talked about.”

- In addition to improving player safety regarding hits to the head and hits from behind, NHL SR VP of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan told CBC that the league would also look into fighting in hockey. “We’re definitely very serious in making advancements in studying blows to the head, we have to also look at fighting,” Shanahan told the CBC. “What the final decision is, I can’t tell you now, that’s something we’re obviously going to have to look at, but there’s no way we would ever deny that it’s not something we’re looking at closely.”

- The Sharks dropped their final game of the preseason with a 3-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. A prospect-heavy San Jose lineup saw Martin Hanzal, Lauri Korpikoski and Taylor Pyatt score in a near 10-minute span to start the second period. Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic ended the shutout attempt by Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith with a shot that deflected up off the defense and over his shoulder. With the big dollar, free agent departure of Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia, former Tampa Bay starter Smith and long-time backup Jason LaBarbera could get a number of opportunities to carry Phoenix this season. Thomas Greiss stopped 20 of 23 shots against, Harri Sateri stopped 7 of 7. AZ Central’s Jim Gintonio reported that Mike Smith will get the start for the regular season opener October 8th at HP Pavilion.

A few members of the Phoenix staff were surprised by the volume and turnout for the preseason in San Jose. Only 6,203 fans attended the Sharks preseason finale in Phoenix. The league owned Coyotes franchise has been raking local fans over the coals as threats to move and the failure of ownership group after ownership group proliferate.

- Via Mercury News reporter Mark Emmons’ twitter this morning, San Jose EVP/GM Doug Wilson noted that starting goaltender Antti Niemi is on track for his return from injury to start the season. “Everything I’m hearing is he’s right on track for opening night,” Wilson told Emmons. Niemi is returning from minor surgery to remove a cyst in his left leg and recently had his most rigrous practice of training camp. With last season’s backup Antero Niittymaki possibly out 3 months after undergoing a groin procedure, 2009-10 backup Thomas Greiss may see a larger than normal workload at the start of the season if Niemi is eased into duty. In 2005 both of San Jose’s goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala attempted returns from injury before they were ready, neccessitating an extended stretch by AHL netminder Nolan Schaefer (Dmitri Patzold served as his backup). With Niittymaki out, San Jose should be extra judicious with Niemi until he says he is the Finnish equivalent of 100%.

- NHL teams have to pare down to a maximum 23-player roster by Wednesday. Today the San Jose Sharks assigned Benn Ferriero, defenseman Justin Braun and John McCarthy to Worcester of the AHL according to David Pollak. All three saw NHL time last season and could be on the shortlist for a recall if needed. According to the Sharks media relations department, the current training camp roster sits at 27 with injured players James Sheppard and Antero Niittymaki still included. Harri Sateri (G), Mike Moore (D), Cam MacIntyre (F), Frazer McLaren (F), Jamie McGinn (F) or Tommy Wingels (F) could be on the bubble, health and contract situations of Antti Niemi and Brad Winchester permitting.

- The latest Sharks player commercial came out last week featuring goaltender Antti Niemi.

- The San Jose Sharks third jersey schedule for 2011-12: Thursday, November 3 (PIT), Thursday, November 10 (MIN), Thursday, November 17 (DET),
Thursday, December 1 (MTL), Thursday, December 8 (DAL), Thursday, December 15 (COL), Friday, December 23 (LA), Thursday, January 5 (CBJ), Thursday, January 19 (OTT), Thursday, February 2 (DAL), Friday, February 10 (CHI), Thursday, March 1 (BUF), Thursday, March 15 (NSH), Thursday, March 22 (BOS), Saturday, April 7 (LA).

- Expert predictions for the 2011-12 season can be looked at as expectations for certain teams instead of finite barometers of where they will finish. The NHL’s Dan Rosen and E.J. Hradek (formerly of ESPN) split on predictions for the Western Conference. Rosen goes off the board to select Chicago, Hradek selects the San Jose Sharks. The Hockey News goes the more traditional route with Vancouver 1st, San Jose 2nd and Chicago 3rd. San Jose and Vancouver are deep enough to more than cover their respective departures up front and on the blueline during the offseason. Veteran NHL columnist Adam Proteau diverges from THN editorial board with Vancouver, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and San Jose filling out his top 5 from the West. ESPN’s Scott Burnside posted his power rankings for the start of the season: BOS, VAN, WAS, PIT, SJ round out his top 5.

- As part of USA Hockey’s ‘Girls Hockey Day‘, Sharks Ice in San Jose held 3 on-ice sessions this Sunday with free equipment and training. It was part of a national effort to get more women and girl’s involved in the sport. The Sharks are also involved in the NHL’s street hockey initiative, which is readymade for the Bay Area’s 60-70 degree winters. With the largest ice hockey (4-rink) and roller hockey (3-rink) facilities on the West Coast, adult recreational hockey has also seen a boom in Northern California. According to USA Hockey, the Sharks Ice Adult Hockey Leagues nearly doubled the size of the next largest adult hockey program in 2009-10 with 4,542 participants.

- Burrito Justice, possible one of the best blog names of all time, takes an alternate look at the search for the ECHL’s new San Francisco franchise identity.

- Sunday hockey notes from around the league: The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons believes the East will outpace the West this season (guffaw), notes that former Sharks and current Toronto Maple Leafs head coach is one of the few bench bosses to survive a 4-year playoff drought, that Gustavsson will not be the #1 Toronto (and SJ) hoped for, and that Jaromir Jagr’s first regular season point for the Philadelphia Flyers will be his 1600th. The NY Post’s Larry Brooks takes a look at how NFL and NBA lockouts could color the NHL and NHLPA’s outlook when the CBA expires at the end of this season. Brooks believes eliminating the salary cap floor could be a critical step taken to help struggling smaller market teams. If that is priority #1 for NHLPA head Donald Fehr, step #2 is taking a cue from the NHL during the last lockout. Engage in some form of dialogue with the fan base, any form. That did not happen last time. There are three parties involved, not two. Unfortunately Fehr’s track record in that regard is abysmal. He represents the player’s union and player’s can demand an open and transparent relationship with the fans if they so chose. Kevin Paul Dupont in the Boston Globe takes a look at the possibility of adding Ray Whitney, a third veteran scoring winger that could also be a very good fit for a club like San Jose, and notes the impressive play of rookie New Jersey Devils defenseman Adam Larsson (with comparisons to Anaheim’s Cam Fowler). Seeing how complete Cam Fowler’s game was in his rookie season, those are mighty big skates to fill.

- Excellent San Jose Sharks blog Fear the Fin posted a three part interview recently with San Jose Sharks EVP/GM Doug Wilson: part1, part2, part3. The discussion from the Youngstars Tournament in BC delved into a number of different topics, but it also touched on advanced metrics that have been utilized more by teams, media and fans to analyize the game as it evolves in the modern era. Wilson touched on some elements of their advanced metrics, but shyed away from discussing others. Like injury announcements, they will remain a closely guarded organizational secret moving forward.

[Q] In terms of advanced metrics, there is information out there indicating the organization is very involved with certain Bay Area firms. This seems to be a related situation, where you’re looking at the ROI of a certain pick in the first round versus the second. For example, in a hypothetical situation, a 28th pick in a draft could bring a return similar to a 10th pick in the second in terms of the likelihood a player will play 200 plus games at the NHL level.

[DW] We explore and will research any type of analytical approach, and then add some things to it. Tim Burke, who runs our scouting, has done a truly amazing job when you go back and look at the number of players we’ve drafted that have either been used in deals or who have been mid to late round picks who have become very good hockey players. The drafting and developing is the foundation of what we do. Now I’m not about to go into all the details on what we do, and I’m not saying we’re smarter than anybody because other teams are pursuing similar things. But we work hard, and I’m proud of our group to always look at ways to get better and gather more information. When you’re drafting later than many teams, you max out what you’re doing. I’m very proud of our scouting staff, and when you rank them on what they’re doing, they rank very highly…

[Q] In a general sense, is that something that you look at when analyzing trades as well, not necessarily just at the Draft?

Everything that we do. Everything is connected. Certainly when you are trading that is part of the equation and you just don’t throw in “things.” Most of the teams we deal with work very hard at understanding what their needs are, what our needs are, and it’s a matchmaking process. Some people say making trades is difficult in this business, but we’ve been involved in fairly big trades. Those take more time and more work, but you can still make deals. You have to have a lot of your work done in advance. For example, our deals with Minnesota. People say “why did we do so many?” Well, it makes sense. They are a growing team, they’re trying to replenish and build, we’re trying to win today. In many ways, several of the deals were related anyhow and it just so happened how they came out in the timing. You learn by listening in this business. You need to understand what the other team is trying to do. Factors change if there’s injuries or performance of course, but you need to have all your work done so you can have an educated conversation and be open and respectful and operate in confidence. Those are the rules we operate by…

[Q] For example, things likes CORSI, Goals Versus Threshold, other TOI based metrics. For someone trying to analyze the game from outside an organization, is that a good way to go or is there other things you prefer –Situational metrics?

[DW] There’s a lot, and there’s a few additional approaches we take as well— A combination. I’ll give you a basic example. As you’re looking at how the game and rules were changing, and how the environment was changing [following the lockout], organizations are building their teams a little bit differently. Certain players can be effective under the new rules where they couldn’t have been in the past. For example, defensemen. A lot of defensemen had trouble in the transition under the new rules. And you’d say, “These big, physical guys can’t play under these new rules.” Not true. Big, physical guys who play a certain way can succeed. Douglas Murray, classic example. Other guys who weren’t physical, but were clutching and holding—you’d do research into the type of penalties certain players were taking and see that a big physical guy who closes quickly and has a high hockey IQ can still be very effective under these new rules. As we would explore how different players play, how they thought the game, we found there were opportunities for players who could compete in this League. That is just a basic example of how things change, to get ahead of the curve, where the analytics come into play.

- 21-year-old Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty’s contract holdout saga came to an end late last week, but there may be longer term repurcussions for the up and coming Pacific Division squad. Drew Doughty and his powerhouse agent Don Meehan agreed to an 8-year, $56-million deal for a $7-million a year average four days after AEG President Tim Leiweke said the Kings would not blink in their “salary stalemate”. Leiweke supported GM Dean Lombardi at that time, and said that their $6.8M/yr offer allowed them to allocate salary cap dollars while maintaining a strong nucleus.

Doughty became the youngest Norris Trophy Finalist in NHL history in 2010-11, but hints of his youthful exuberance came out in the first round WCQF playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. It was the second straight postseason appearance for Los Angeles after a 6-year drought and there was extra motivation to get past a bitter division rival. When second or third efforts were called for on a play, Doughty made them. Then he proceeded with fourth and fifth efforts that drew penalties. Experienced players can turn it on when a team is down or when it comes to critical moments in a game or series, but they can pick their spots to avoid putting their team in a more difficult position. Despite Doughty’s enormous talent, he is not quite there yet.

24-year old center Anze Kopitar is. One member of the Kings described him as the best offensive and defensive player on the team, and noted his absence from the playoff lineup last year would be difficult to overcome. In negotiating with Doughty, GM Dean Lombardi put a team salary cap on Kopitar’s $6.8M a year average salary. Agreeing to a longer-term 8 year deal for a negligible $200,000 more in salary was puzzling, and on the surface does not seem to be worth the abundant negative reaction it drew from a large number of Kings fans. There had to be more, but as one agent noted to Yahoo this summer, if you are not in the room then you are only guessing at the particulars. The particulars in this case are many. According to Helene Elliott, Kopitar used to be represented by Meehan but left for agent Pat Brisson of CAA Sports. Elliot speculated that one-upping the Kings on salary demands could be a marketing coup for Meehan with future clients. It could also be a shot taken at Brisson for losing Kopitar. Term also was a major factor.

There is more to that angle. When he was GM of the San Jose Sharks, Dean Lombardi had to deal with extended holdouts by Evegni Nabokov (a Meehan client), Brad Stuart and Mike Rathje in the span of 2 years. The holdouts handcuffed the Sharks, and on the tail end of a forgettable season Lombardi was let go. Last year after a 10-year stint in San Jose, Meehan completely dropped the ball with his client Evgeni Nabokov, a player coming off three straight 40-win seasons. The Sharks picked up Antero Niittymaki on the first day of free agency, and later scooped up starter Antti Niemi when Chicago failed to meet arbitration. San Jose took the unusual step of publicly thanking Nabokov for his service on their own website, and signaling that they wanted to move in a different direction. They gave Nabokov and his agent enough time to fully prepare for the July 1st start of free agency and in the process let their fans in the Bay Area know what was going on. Meehan remained silent. Nabokov’s negotiating rights were traded to Philly but he went unsigned on July 1st. After several days Naboov signed a large contract with SKA of the KHL. Playing behind an incredibly porous KHL defense, Nabokov left the KHL in what was announced as a mutual decision. In an attempt to return to the NHL, Detroit expressed interest in Nabokov as an injury replacement but he was claimed off waivers by the Islanders and failed to report to the team. At each step along the way there was a veritable blackout on what was taking place.

Part of an agent’s job is not only to get the best deal for his client, but also to represent that client to the public. To keep an ongoing dialogue with media and fans, and in certain cases to put into context reasons for making controversial decisions. In back-to-back years, Meehan has appeared almost tone deaf to hockey fans in California. San Jose went to great lengths to explain their decision on Nabokov. Lombardi offered a detailed hierarchy to the Los Angeles Times on the reasons behind his offer to Doughty: rank among peers, rank on team, team salary structure. Meehan remained silent. Things may be business as usual and operate normally on the surface, but Doughty’s holdout could have long-term implications for the Los Angeles Kings franchise. While in San Jose, players go out of there way to fit into a championship caliber mould. In Los Angeles, a similar scenario Lombardi tried to create fell flat almost before it started. As the stretch run and playoffs showed, there is no getting out of the Western Conference or the Pacific Division without a strong, talented supporting cast. The Doughty holdout may have made that process more difficult short and long term. The possibility that his contract may have been used as a tool to one-up Lombardi or fellow agent Brisson, or used as a marketing tool to garner future clients, should be galling to hockey fans. One thing is certain — if it comes out different factors were involved in this holdout, they will almost assuredly come from Lombardi’s open door policy with media and fans.

- Will Kings fans forgive Drew Doughty for holding out? – Harrison Mooney for Yahoo Puck Daddy.

[Update] Rumor Roundup: Ray Whitney Boston-bound? – Lyle Richardson for The Hockey News.

[Update2] After Giving His All, (Petr) Sykora Waits for Answer From Devils – NY Times Slapshots blog.

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