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Midweek Mailbag: Joe Thornton, playoff hopes, off-season activity, and pushing the panic button

Your fearless leader is here to answer your Sharks questions!

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 16: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks skates on the ice before the start of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 16, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What is even going on with this Sharks team?

I get asked this question pretty often from people who don’t watch the Sharks night in and night out and I can’t say that I’m always able to answer it in a satisfying way. This season has been a roller coaster and somehow, this team has clung to that second place spot in the Pacific Division.

With playoffs just around the corner, here are some of the questions that y’all are asking about this team’s chances, free agency, and the absence of Joe Thornton:

I’ve been saying this exact thing for awhile now. For a brief time, when Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski were finally healthy and the defense included a spry Tim Heed, I allowed myself a small window of feeling good about this team’s playoff chances. Then down went Jumbo and, well. Here we are.

Three keys? The biggest is a healthy Jumbo and it’s the most unattainable. Second is getting the defense back to the level of success they saw in November and December. Third would be giving Aaron Dell more starts through the end of the season to keep Martin Jones ready and healthy for playoffs.

Two out of three wouldn’t be bad, right?

One of my worries with the acquisition of Evander Kane is that it will pull the Sharks out of the John Tavares market.

I feel there’s a couple options with Kane. Either 1) the Sharks are a first round exit and they let Kane walk or 2) the Sharks make it to the Western Conference Final and they re-sign Kane. The other option is that they implode at the end of the season and miss playoffs and whether or not they keep Kane becomes anyone’s guess. For the sake of this, let’s assume they don’t re-sign him, because they likely wouldn’t be able to afford both Kane and Tavares.

I didn’t know if they would bring Jumbo back last year. This year, I’m even less sure. Between age and injury, it’s hard to believe he’d get a fair deal anywhere else and it’s clear that both he and the organization want him to stay.

Realistically? It’s likely they’ll let Joel Ward, Jannik Hansen, and Eric Fehr walk. That leaves Dylan DeMelo, Chris Tierney, and Tomas Hertl needing extensions this summer. I’d say DeMelo is in the $1 million range, Tierney in the $1.5 to $2 million range, and Hertl between $4.5 to $5 million.

The salary cap will be somewhere between $78 and $82 million. Splitting the difference at $80 million, the Sharks may be looking at $10 to $15 million for Joe Thornton and John Tavares, depending on RFA contracts and who walks among the UFAs. The Sharks would have to then make moves at the draft for cap room, where Mikkel Boedker and Paul Martin have the contracts most beneficial for the Sharks to dump.

But then what? That’s a lot of forward space to fill and Rudolphs Balcers is the only prospect who may be ready to step in. Josh Norris will probaby take another year at the University of Michigan. There’s a few prospects who are replacement-level with the Barracuda. But there will be holes.

Are the Sharks out of the Tavares market? Of course not. But it will take a lot of movement and the team will look drastically different to make it happen.

Erik Fowle has absolutely sold me on this Jesperi Kotkaniemi kid. It’s really doubtful he’d fall to the Sharks, but Ryan McLeod is another prospect that really intrigues me as a fit in the Sharks’ system.

Making playoffs every year makes the Sharks’ pick pretty much a wash. Mostly, I’m just hoping they ease up on the NCAA guys this year and also that they don’t draft Jack DeBoer. Sorry, Pete.

Jumbo hasn’t skated yet and this is a guy who skated through playoffs last year with a floating kneecap. Maybe we see him in a the final few games before playoffs to see where he’s at, but I doubt it. I hate to be the one to say it, but I think Jumbo’s season is toast.

Whether I would’ve gotten this up before last night when Couture passed Joe with eight power play goals, my answer would remain the same: Logan Couture will do everything in his power (play) to usurp Joe Thornton’s throne. He’s second in points (52) and first in goals (28) on the Sharks and tied with Joe Thornton for power play points (18).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Couture will drag this team kicking and screaming into playoffs. I’d argue he’s the most crucial piece of this team’s offense, producing on the power play, at even strength, even shorthanded, where he’s tied with Chris Tierney for first on the team with two shorties on the season. We’ve seen him produce points in elimination games at a crazy rate.

Brenden Dillon had some words about Couture last night, and frankly? I agree. The dude is a beast. Holy smokes, indeed.