My favorite moment from the San Jose Sharks’ off-season?
It wasn’t the Sharks ushering in a new era with trailblazing GM Mike Grier. It wasn’t San Jose giving embattled head coach David Quinn a second chance. It wasn’t trading for Luke Kunin, or signing Oskar Lindblom, Matt Benning, Nico Sturm, or Markus Nutivaara.
No, it was getting introduced to Nutivaara’s dog, four-year-old miniature Dachshund Iitu (pronounced “E-too”), over Zoom three weeks ago.
San Jose Hockey Now readers know all about my love for my nine-year-old Aussie shepherd mix Mushu.
Of course, Grier didn’t sign Nutivaara for his dog.
Not that long ago, the 28-year-old was an emerging blueliner for the Columbus Blue Jackets, signed to a four-year, $10.8 million dollar pact in Mar. 2018. The hope was that the young puck-mover would anchor the Blue Jackets’ middle pairing in the years to come.
“Markus is a smart, mobile defenseman who reads the ice very well and excels at moving the puck,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said after the extension.
Then-Columbus head coach John Tortorella echoed Kekalainen: “I want him in the lineup because his first pass is one of the better ones we have in getting us out of the end zone.”
Nutivaara, however, battled consistency and injury issues, and in Oct. 2020, he was sent to the Florida Panthers in a cap-clearing move for low-level prospect Cliff Pu.
Things didn’t look up for Nutivaara in the Sunshine State: In 2020-21, he played just 30 games because of COVID and injuries. Last season, he had just one appearance because of a hip injury.
“I had [hip] surgery before Christmas. I feel like I’m pretty close. I’m pretty sure I’ll be 100% when the training camp starts,” Nutivaara told San Jose media. “I’ve been hurting the last couple years.”
The San Jose Sharks, their blueline decimated by the departure of Brent Burns, are hoping hard that they’re getting a healthy Nutivaara, inking him to a one-year, $1.5 million dollar show-me contract.
The Sharks are gambling that Nutivaara and fellow no. 65 Erik Karlsson can stay healthy: Nutivaara has missed 152 games in the last three seasons, while Karlsson has missed 91 contests in the last four years.
They’re also the best veteran puck-movers on the San Jose Sharks blueline. If they’re out, San Jose is going to have a lot of trouble getting the puck out of the zone with possession.
Speaking of Karlsson, Nutivaara, naturally, will be deferring to the two-time Norris Trophy winner and his trademark No. 65.
“Right away, my friends called me, and they were like you gotta change your number, there’s no chance. No chance,” Nutivaara said, laughing. “With the national team, I was 77. So I think I’ll go with that number.”
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) July 24, 2022
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