San Jose Sharks Stick with Boughner

San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner will get another season behind the bench for the Sharks as general manager Doug Wilson is happy to bring him back for 2020-21 (AP News photo)

By Mary Walsh

On Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks announced that Bob Boughner would be their ninth Head Coach. Boughner took over as Interim Head Coach for the Sharks half way through last season, replacing Peter DeBoer.

In Tuesday’s press release, the Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson assessed Boughner’s time as Interim Head Coach. “Bob did a tremendous job last season, getting our group back to playing with an identity and structure that we need in order to be successful,” said Wilson. “We saw a marked improvement in our play in several key areas during the second half of the season, before losing some key players to injury.”

After a long NHL playing career and several successful seasons coaching Junior Hockey, Boughner joined the Sharks in 2015 as an assistant coach. In 2017, he was named Head Coach of the Florida Panthers. Two seasons later, he was replaced by Joel Quenneville in Florida and returned to the Sharks as an assistant coach. As a Head Coach in the NHL, his record is 94-82-25.

In the partial season as Interim Head Coach for the Sharks, Boughner saw his team win just 14 of 37 games, continuing the abysmal trend they were on when Peter DeBoer was fired. To make an already terrible season worse, the team lost Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Erik Karlsson to injury shortly after Boughner took over.

After the announcement Tuesday, Boughner thanked the Sharks owner and General Manager for bringing him back:

I’m very excited about the opportunity to return to the San Jose Sharks organization as head coach. I want to thank Hasso Plattner and Doug Wilson for their trust in me. Last year was a difficult season for everyone but I think we learned a lot about ourselves as a group and we made some positive strides over the second half of the year.

The roster that Boughner will have when regular play resumes will be somewhat changed from last season. While the injured players will likely be back, some long-time Sharks were traded at the deadline, such as defenseman Justin Braun and forward Barclay Goodrow. After struggling as the team did through the abbreviated 2019-2020 season, the Sharks would likely benefit from change. Whether the new Head Coach is enough of a change remains to be seen.

The Sharks also added Rocky Thompson as associate coach and John Madden as assistant coach. Of Thompson and Madden, Wilson said: “We’re also very pleased to add Rocky and John to our staff. Both come with a wealth of experience, both in playing the game and as teachers and leaders. With a healthy and motivated group of players, we are confident that this staff will do a terrific job leading our group in the coming years.”

Bob Boughner looks forward to working with his new coaches. In the Sharks press release, he said:

Rocky and John will bring some fresh energy and excitement to our group. Both have been head coaches, worked on coaching staffs in the NHL and have lots of experience working with and developing young players. It was important that anyone we brought in from the outside come from a culture of winning, which is what we are used to in San Jose. Rocky and John have the credibility and work ethic to help us get our talented team back to that level.

The coaching staff is rounded out by Evgeni Nabokov as goaltending coach, Dan Darrow as assistant video coach and Charlie Townsend as analyst/assistant to the NHL coaching staff. All are returning from last season.

NHL Podcast with Daniel Dullum: A Peter DeBoer sighting in Las Vegas, Ovechkin moving up on goal scoring list, Sharks may stand pat at deadline, more photo: Vegas Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer behind the Knights bench

This week on the Sports Radio Service NHL Podcast with Daniel Dullum:

1 There’s been a Peter DeBoer sighting in Las Vegas

2 Ovechkin moves up on all-time goal scoring list

3 Stars activate Stephen Johns after 22-month absence

4 Report: Sharks GM Doug Wilson won’t disrupt team core at trade deadline

5 Canadian network to televise six games in Plains Cree language

Daniel Dullum does the NHL podcast every Sunday at

Joe Pavelski signs with Dallas Stars

Photo credit: @NBCSSharks

By Mary Walsh

As the 2019 NHL Free Agency season begins, the San Jose Sharks say goodbye to Joe Pavelski, who will play for the Dallas Stars next season. According to hockey insider Pierre LeBrun, the contract is for three years and $21 million.

After the news broke, Sharks GM Doug Wilson released the following statement:

From being a seventh-round draft pick in 2003 to serving as captain of our team for the last four seasons, Joe Pavelski’s place in Sharks history is firmly cemented and he will be sorely missed.

Joe led by example, not only as a player but as a person, and the impact he has had on this franchise and his teammates will be felt for years to come.

Under a cap system, these extremely difficult separations are a reality and, unfortunately, we could not find common ground on dollars and term to keep Joe in San Jose. However, like many other players around the NHL, Joe has earned the right to become a free agent. We respect his decision and want to thank Joe, his wife Sarah and son, Nate, for 13 wonderful seasons. They will always be part of the San Jose Sharks family.

Starting in 2010, Pavelski was a reliable 60+ point player for San Jose, playing both at center and on the wing. He is one of the best in the league at tipping the puck into the net. He is also known for being responsible defensively, ending just one season with a minus rating.

The Sharks named him captain in 2015, replacing Joe Thornton. The 2018-19 season was the last in a five year, $30 million contract with the Sharks. Last season, Pavelski led the team in goals with 38 and 64 points in 75 games. In the playoffs, he had nine points in 13 games.

Pavelski joins a talented Dallas team, boasting the likes of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn. Corey Perry, bought out by the Anaheim Ducks, will also head to Dallas, adding yet another veteran forward to the Stars roster.

Pavelski talked about the move to the NHL Network today:

If we were going to be leaving San Jose, we wanted to go to a contender, a team that you really respected and thought were close to winning. And, you know what, looking at Dallas and some of the teams we looked at, they were one team that really checked off a lot of boxes for us. And, you know, in my time in San Jose, that organization, I’ve only played with great players and it was something that I don’t even think you understand. It’s a nice privilege to have, to play with Joe Thornton, Patty Marleau, and Logan Couture and these guys that like to compete and play hard, show up every day and really have a great environment around the rink.

So it’s, you know, going to Dallas, there’s a great goalie, their goal tandem, they’ve been really good. And then you look at their D-corps and they’ve got some great young defensemen, are offensive-minded and really compete back there and you’re playing with some high-end players up front. So, checks off a lot of boxes, like where the team’s at, like some of the additions they’ve made along the way too.

After the Sharks signed defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million contract, it became unlikely that they would have cap space to hold on to all of their top players. At 35 years old, fan favorite Pavelski is one of those cap casualties. Joonas Donskoi is also leaving the team. The 27 year old forward has signed a four-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche. Defenseman Joakim Ryan is leaving too, signing a one year contract with the Los Angeles Kings

Playoffs Over For Sharks, World Championships Underway

By Mary Walsh

The dust has settled around the Sharks’ 2014-15 season, Todd McLellan will be choosing another team to coach, Doug Wilson will continue as San Jose general manager. Brent Burns was named a finalist for the NHL Foundation Player Award, for his work with Defending the Blue Line. The Sharks are negotiating an extension with the City of San Jose, so rumors that the team plans to leave town should die down.

The Worcester Sharks played their final game on Friday against the Hershey Bears. The Sharks lost in fairly spectacular fashion, giving up ten goals to the Bears while scoring four. Barclay Goodrow, Nikolay Goldobin, Daniil Tarasov, Brian Lerg and Chris Tierney were all on the playoff roster for Worcester. In the series, Tierney had a goal and two assists, Tarasov had three assists, and Goodrow and Lerg each had one assist. Rookie goaltender Aaron Dell started three of the four games, while Troy Grosenick started one. It was a regrettable final appearance for the Worcester Sharks. Next season, they move to San Jose to play at SAP Center as the San Jose Barracuda.

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner published a statement of confidence in his GM, in which he addressed the fans directly. Plattner also expressed disappointment with the team’s recent failures. The letter came soon after Doug Wilson’s press conference, where he was asked if Plattner would be available to the media. Someone did suggest Plattner might address fans directly, maybe the letter was a response to that. In any case, Plattner continues to have little interest in discussing his decisions with the press.

Offseason changes that Sharks fans can expect will probably include a new starting goaltender. That Niemi was not resigned before the end of the season is strong evidence of that. Hardly any Sharks veteran gets this close to free agency and returns to the team.

In the choice of a new coach, Wilson has said that he will take the time he needs. It is odd that he did not even suggest he would like a new coach before the draft. He might not necessarily need his head coach’s input for drafting prospects. What one would expect the coach to participate in would be trade activity that happens around the draft. Perhaps Wilson has no intention of making any trades for players. Some might consider that an ill omen for next season.

Todd McLellan is currently in the Czech Republic coaching Team Canada at the world championships, with Brent Burns on his roster. For those wondering, Burns is listed as a defenseman for Canada. Canada has played two games so far, winning 6-1 against Latvia and 10-0 against Germany. Burns had an assist in the game against Latvia, and against Germany.

Tomas Hertl and Ben Smith are there too, playing for the Czech Republic and the USA respectively. The Czechs lost 6-5 to Sweden and defeated Latvia 4-2. Hertl had a goal in the game against Sweden.  The USA has won their two games, beating Finland 5-1 and Norway 2-1.

Sharks prospect Nikita Jevpalov was named to the roster for Latvia. Poor Latvia has not won yet, losing to the Czechs and the Canadians as listed above. Jevpalov has not played yet.

Sharks Need to Get Stories Straight

By Mary Walsh

The way the San Jose Sharks have proceeded this summer has been heavy on theory and light on specifics. Their plan has been revealed primarily through  inaction and subtraction. “Giving more responsibility to young players,” for example, sounds like a great idea, but removing the C and the A from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is the first specific step the team has taken in that direction. They also removed some veterans, letting Dan Boyle walk, and buying out Martin Havlat. Beyond that, Doug Wilson has left his plan wide open for interpretation. For those of us who like to think the team will take another run at the playoffs fueled mostly by the angry memory of recent failure, there is fodder enough to think that. But that same fodder, the minimal roster and staff changes, could be used to argue pretty much anything or nothing at all.

The Sharks’ captaincy is the more glitzy story, but the Raffi Torres knee surgery mess is at least as significant. In neither case are the specifics that momentous. Hockey players get hurt and sidelined all the time, and the knee should be a long way from a life-altering injury. The importance of who wears which letter is of debatable importance, but both stories red-flag communication problems with the Sharks.

One hint that information does not flow well in San Jose is the apparently catastrophic state of Raffi Torres’ knee. Why Torres had to have his knee repaired a second time due to an infection resulting from a procedure known to be highly susceptible to infections… well that is a saga that boggles the mind. Knee surgeries are supposed to be straight forward, more commonly complicated by things like advanced age. The Sharks have had too many problems with player knee surgeries to ignore the stink. It is enormously disappointing that there is no return date for Torres. In the few games he has played with the Sharks, he has been very much a difference maker, and not for the reasons his dubious reputation would suggest. When playing with discipline, he is exactly what the Sharks need right now: a middle-six winger with all the tools to score and create scoring chances. All of that is moot now, as he is out indefinitely.

The fiasco around who knew what when regarding the letters suggests that the Sharks will need more than new software to fix communication problems. Coach Todd McLellan accepted blame for not being clear in a meeting with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. That lack of clarity resulted in Thornton not being aware of the decision until asked by reporters. Sometimes being clear is only a matter of saying exactly what you mean. Euphemisms and metaphors are nice but people really do need to know what you are doing as well as why you are doing it.

It is easy to see why the phrase “clean slate” would not necessarily mean “we are stripping you of your letters to start training camp.”  In such an environment, McLellan should know that he has to spell things out, especially to his players. It is better to be accused of tedious repetition than of vagueness.

In an interview with TSN last week, Larry Robinson suggested that Joe Thornton might not have been as approachable as a captain needs to be. That came as a surprise to me, not because Thornton is such a jovial fellow with the media. The easy-going style the cameras are used to would not be very effective at motivating his team, so one could only hope Thornton shows a more assertive persona to his team-mates. Yet Robinson suggested the opposite, that Thornton maybe needed to have a softer touch to be a successful captain.

Obviously, leadership methods have evolved a lot since the Middle Ages, where a club served as well as courtesy, but even Machiavelli knew that subtle manipulation often worked better than mass terror. Certainly a hockey team captain should be available to listen to his teammates, but his teammates have to be willing to speak as well. Even if Thornton lacks the mastery to encourage a taciturn person to speak, I don’t buy that the Sharks are a particularly timid lot. I think it is misguided to put communication failures on any particular player.

Sharks media coverage misses Ryane Clowe, we will miss Dan Boyle. They were two of the more outspoken players in public. Were they also the most outspoken in team meetings? Few NHL players share as much as they did, few were as emotive in post game interviews. (Raffi Torres can be a good interview. Too bad his availability has been and will be so limited by injury.)

Is there really such a large gap between what we see in front of the cameras and what goes on off camera? Are the Sharks too careful with their words to get the job done? Will deposing the captain make a difference? Do players defer to a letter or to reputation and status? If longtime Sharks defer to players like Thornton and Marleau out of habit, then new arrivals will be hard pressed to do anything else.

It will take more than putting letters up for grabs to get this team talking. It might sound silly, but maybe they need to get a talking stick and pass it around at every meeting. Nothing could be sillier than a group of grown men unwilling to air their thoughts, good or bad, with a team they are supposed to be part of. They certainly need to do something to get in the habit of saying whatever is on their minds, before it festers and scuttles another season.

NHL: “If They Can Take The Job…”

-By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks did not make any moves this week, they did not even turn up in the rumor mill. For better or worse, it does look like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau be in teal next season. As I have said before, I think that is for the best.

Listening to a radio interview with the Red Wings’ Mike Babcock, I was reminded of Doug Wilson’s comments about the role he expects younger players to take this coming season.

Back in May, Wilson described part of his plan for the team. He was talking about Al Stalock’s chances of taking the starter’s role:

Every one of our young players will be given the chance to take whatever role they want. That includes him. When you go through this you have guys who are aching and begging for that opportunity. If they can come in and do it they can take it.

In an interview with Detroit Sports 105.1 on July 17, Mike Babcock said something very similar:

We’re gonna play the best players. So just like we did last year- it’s always a hard thing when a veteran on a one way contract doesn’t make the lineup, but that’s life- we’re committed to the growth of this team. Most franchises to get back on top have to get bad for ten years. That’s not our plan. We’ve scrounged to get in the playoffs the last two years in a row. I think we did a real good job, had a real good run against Chicago. I didn’t like us in the playoffs last year against Boston, but we like what we have coming. And we like our kids, so the biggest thing is not to rush them. We could really use some puck-moving D. Well we just happen to have some puck-moving D in the minors, big guys who can skate. When are they ready? We’re sure not going to rush them but if they’re capable of taking jobs they’re gettin’ the jobs.

There are some differences there, the focus on giving players time is something that Wilson has put less emphasis on lately. The last part, about giving the young players a chance to take jobs if they are capable, this sends up some red flags for me. My confusion stems from how you get from the first sentence (“We’re gonna play the best players.”) to the last one (“We’re sure not going to rush them but if they’re capable of taking jobs they’re gettin’ the jobs.”).

If these guys are the best players you have, why in the world would they NOT, under any and all circumstances, get the job?

Maybe I am misreading the “taking jobs” part. Do they simply mean “if they are capable of doing the job, since we don’t have anyone better, we will let them play instead of going out and finding someone older”? Shouldn’t they also mean “if they are better than the older players we have, we will use them”? Shouldn’t they always mean that?

It certainly seems like the Sharks have not followed that last rule. Yes, Matt Irwin lacked experience, but all signs pointed to him being a better option in many games last season than Brad Stuart or Scott Hannan. Given the ice time to develop his game, won’t he be a quicker, higher return asset than those two were last season? If he doesn’t play he won’t develop, but that is true of any young player. The team followed the same pattern with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun and to a lesser extent Jason Demers: using older veterans again and again while the young players seemed ready and in need of ice time.

This notion that a younger player with more upside will be benched to let a veteran play is insane. Yes, the veteran might represent a lower short-term risk but if a younger player is capable of taking the job, doesn’t that mean he is not a higher risk long term? Doesn’t that mean he is capable of taking the job from the veteran? To say a younger player will get to play if he is capable of taking the job sounds like the team had previously given far to much consideration to veteran status. This is not just a matter of fairness and meritocracy, it is the difference between winning and losing.

On the other hand, it can be risky to put too much on a younger player. Eric Gilmore published a piece on suggesting that Mirco Mueller could crack the Sharks lineup this coming season. Doug Wilson has suggested as much in the past. Tomas Hertl cracked the lineup last season, in his first year in North America. Couldn’t Mueller make the big club early too? Other defensemen have done it but comparing Hertl’s role to Mueller’s is clearly comparing apples to oranges. A defenseman’s job is much more complicated, traditionally defensemen take longer to develop their professional game. To move any player up to the NHL too soon can have a negative impact on his game, and with defensemen that impact can be that much worse.

So, as eager as fans might be to see Mueller make the jump, it seems unlikely that such a move would be a good thing for the Sharks or Mueller.

It might just be noise. Hannan is returning, Thornton and Marleau very probably are too. The team will have no shortage of veterans to fall back on. If their humiliation as group at the end of last season stung them as much as they claim, less roster turnover is better than more.

Sharks Keep Demers and Doherty in the Fold

By Mary Walsh

Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks announced the resigning of defensemen Jason Demers and Taylor Doherty. The team gave Demers a two year contract and Doherty one year. The moves solidified the team’s current blue line and add some depth for the future. It might not be enough to improve their offseason PuckDaddy grade from an F, but it is a start.

Last season was a bounce-back season for Demers, who performed below expectations the two seasons prior. Those seasons were marred by injury but also found him often benched as a healthy scratch. His improvement this past season could be attributed to better health and the changes on the coaching staff that occurred before the last lockout season. All of the team’s young defensemen have shown improvement since Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson joined the team.

Demers’ career path could be considered a cautionary tale about why you do not want to rush players, especially defensemen, into the NHL. He started playing in San Jose when he was just 21 years old, one season after being drafted. He got off to a great start with the team, posting 21 and 24 points his first two seasons, then bottomed out with 13 in his third season and just three in the fourth. Perhaps his sophomore slump came late, and he took a lot of heat in those two poor seasons for not repeating earlier success. Nevertheless, the Sharks’ coaches have shown slowly increasing faith in him and his performance has improved accordingly. His 34 points last season were a reminder of why expectations were so high for him.

Demers’ role as an offensively-minded defenseman will always make him prone to risk-taking. Much as fans would like to see all the players, forwards and defensemen alike, play a diligent defensive game, playing well at both ends of the ice is harder than it sounds. Well, obviously it sounds pretty hard, barring teleportation powers. Additionally, fans don’t actually enjoy perfect defensive games– those tend to be low-scoring and uneventful. So that’s the cake- eat it or leave it. If Jason Demers is supposed to keep an eye out for scoring chances and even create some, his defensive game might on occasion leave something to be desired.

His contract is eminently reasonable. Looking at the defensemen around Demers in the standings, his salary is lower than most players of equivalent value to their teams. Whether measuring by points or time on ice or age, his $3.4 million per year is a good deal for San Jose. It is such a good deal that one wonders if it isn’t a setup for a trade. The last Shark to file for arbitration (TJ Galiardi) only got one year out of the team, but he was not signed and traded either. For the sake of San Jose, we can hope the Demers contract is not just a set up to move him out.

Taylor Doherty was drafted by the Sharks in the second round in 2009. This year, he will enter his third full season with the AHL’s Worcester Sharks. Last season saw him miss a number of games due to injury, and he has yet to play in the NHL. There was a little more buzz around his name a season ago, but the Sharks obviously think he is worth another look.  Just 23 years old, 6’7″, he has not been heating up the score sheet but last season showed some improvement over the season before. With a little down tick in the +/- column (from +2 to -2), he improved his points total from 6 to 10, playing 23 fewer games. He has a strong shot that he could probably use more often.

Doherty, like Demers… and Braun, and Burns, is a right-handed shot. That is worth noting as such defensemen seem to be in short supply elsewhere.

The Sharks’ offseason is looking like a long slow one, but that is what Doug Wilson promised at the end of last season. If Wilson is serious about not wanting to bring any veteran player in who may supplant younger players, that remaining cap space ($6.145 million, per will continue to sit there and taunt those who had hoped for any exciting new additions.

NHL Free Agency Day 2: What Are The Sharks Doing?

By Mary Walsh

What are the Sharks doing? This is a question that came up over and over on Twitter today, from near and far. Today the team made three announcements. The first announcement was that the Sharks are holding auditions for women to join their co-ed ice crew, and they will wear short tops and tights. Men’s auditions tba. Second, the Sharks signed 31 year old left wing John Scott. Third, they traded a 2015 3rd round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for 23 year old left wing Tye McGinn.

The team’s activity at the draft and on the first day of free agency seemed consistent with General Manager Doug Wilson’s promise that he was not going to make any big moves that would cost picks, prospects, or young players. He used his picks, trading them only for more picks.

He signed Taylor Fedun, a 26-year old free agent defenseman from the Oilers system on the first day of free agency. He signed him to a low-risk two-way, one year contract at a modest salary. Fedun spent last season with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, scoring 38 points in 65 games.  Fedun has played 4 NHL games. He played four seasons with Princeton University, finishing with 68 points in 127 games, and receiving collegiate honors.

All seemed to be going as promised. On the second day of free agency, the gloves came off.

The ice crew is not exactly an addition, though broadcasting public tryouts for it is new. Additionally, while the ice cleaners of the past all wore simple pants and shirt, the female crew members will now wear a sort of midriff-baring modified jersey and tights, while the men will wear a style-coordinated version of what they have always worn: top and pants. The team is not calling these female crew members ice girls, but few teams do. While that news was sinking in, the Scott signing was announced.

The last GM to acquire Scott is now out of a job, after he put together a team that broke records with its awfulness. On a team that performed as badly as last season’s Sabres, Scott averaged 6:45 of ice time and managed to rack up 125 penalty minutes (25 minors, 5 majors, 4 misconducts) in 56 games. He had one goal, his first since 2009. Scoring is not what Doug Wilson expects Scott to do.

“John brings a physical, no-nonsense element to our lineup,” said Wilson. “As we integrate more younger players to our team, John’s presence alone can act as a deterrent and help keep teams and opposing players honest.”

Wilson has brought other players to the team over the last two seasons, advertising their toughness, grit, energy, or combination of those. Raffi Torres, Adam Burish and Mike Brown all got introductions of that sort. Unlike those players, the 6’8″, 259 pound Scott has not demonstrated a lot of versatility in his game. He is unlikely to surprise the team with a multi-point game just back from injury, or a timely goal, or bursts of speed at just the right moment. It is hard to say how his fighting ability will help the team, since few players will engage him. In any case, he is now a Shark. It may be safe to say that this dwarfs recent roster moves in shock value.

Tye McGinn is an interesting acquisition. Younger brother of former Shark Jamie McGinn, Tye has spent his professional career with the Flyers organization. Early last season, while the Flyers were flatlining in the starting gate, while captain Claude Giroux couldn’t score a goal to save his life, McGinn was given a chance with the big club. He scored three goals in his first two games of the season, all in losing efforts to Vancouver and Detroit. Like his brother Jamie, he seems to have a knack for performing well when everyone else is reeling. After that, he went pointless for four games before being sent back to the AHL for most of the season. The Flyers’ rationale for this is unclear, in view of the players who were put in the lineup in his place. Zac Rinaldo, penalty-taker of some repute, was probably the most productive of them. What a struggling team does might not be a model anyone should follow.

Of McGinn, the Sharks’ news release said:

“Tye is a hardworking player who plays an honest game,” said Wilson. “We’re excited to add him to our group of young forwards.”

McGinn could be a very good addition to the Sharks, if they can instill the confidence and structure he needs. He has speed and grit and has shown flashes of skill. Despite playing only 18 games a season in the NHL, his shooting percentage went up significantly from season one to season two. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he had 33 shots and 3 goals. Last season, he took 19 shots and scored four goals. He also cut down on his penalty minutes by a large margin, going from 19 to 4. The addition of John Scott makes me wonder if the Sharks care about minimizing penalties, but fans might. McGinn is a bit of a dark horse, but he is still young enough to grow into a bright spot.

These moves still do not answer the question “what are the Sharks doing?” They do, however, open up a host of possibilities. The team appears to be determined to change its image, every which way it can. Who knows, they may move after all, to Seattle or parts unknown. Maybe it’s time for the NHL to go south of the border.

How to Tell if You Have Mad Shark Disease

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks are engaging in some very strange behavior. They seem hell bent on alienating a fan base that they spent decades building up. They are firing favorites and making deranged threats about a losing season and possible relocations. Someone put something funny in the San Jose water.

The relocation noise seems to be connected to complaints about a painfully horrible 14 year tv contract that the Sharks have with CSN Bay Area. In theory, if the Sharks moved to Seattle, where they have no new arena, they would no longer be in the Bay Area and CSN could not hold them to the punitively bad agreement. The other relocation theory is that the Sharks would move only as far as Santa Clara, to be near the fancy new Levis stadium. Like Seattle, Santa Clara also does not have a new rink waiting for an NHL team to move in.

So either destination requires a lot of waiting and building. After the waiting and the building, there’s more waiting while people figure out that there is an NHL team in town (Seattle) or where their NHL team went (Santa Clara). Neither option will save the Sharks, directly or indirectly, from the gushing monetary losses they are (theoretically) suffering at the hands of CSN Bay Area.

The second symptom of mad Shark disease was the firing of Drew Remenda.

@MercPurdy: Just my opinion: Drew sometimes too honest on air for team’s taste. Also, were issues involving him not living here.  “@indgiuli1. Remenda?”

That is just one journalist’s opinion but it is ironic that he used the word “honest,” since that is Doug Wilson’s new catch phrase. The Sharks don’t have a problem with honesty. Their issue is with openness. There are obvious reasons to keep business dealings confidential but the degree of secrecy displayed by this team baffles the mind and I suppose reflects poorly on the reporters who are expected to dig things up. Nonetheless, it isn’t that the Sharks lie to the public, they just withhold so much that it borders on the absurd.

And that, I would argue, is where the team might have been at odds with Remenda. He shared his opinions… but if that isn’t an analyst’s job, what is?

Maybe it was because of Twitter. Remenda would not join Twitter and clearly everyone must join Twitter.

Whatever reasoning behind that decision, it was petty. It also revealed a complete disregard for the fan base, and for what worked for the Sharks. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Yet another symptom of Shark madness is all this rebuild talk. Granted, Doug Wilson may be planning to take a different tack this Summer but to be throwing the R word around is confusing. The notion that the Sharks need to move their remaining vets out and prepare to lose a season or more has most people crying cuckoo.

Does he say “rebuild” to convince his vets to move on? Will that word send Thornton or Marleau running for the Eastern hills? Really? If they want to win so badly as that, do the Sharks want them to leave? And if it took outsiders a matter of minutes or hours to figure this ruse out, what are the chances it would work on hockey players or their agents?

Wilson doesn’t describe this rebuild process as anything like the many seasons the Kings and the Blackhawks spent missing the playoffs. In his interview with NHL Live, he talked about one or two poor seasons. If he can bolster a team so significantly in just one or two seasons, he’s redefining “rebuild.”

What I think it means is simply that Wilson has no plans to add major pieces to the team. He is not going to follow a “win now” plan. He will use his draft picks, he will give his younger players time to mature. He won’t tinker. Or I hope that’s what he means, because my second choice explanation is that Wilson has cracked up.

How Will the Sharks Be Composed?

Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan, Jonathan Quick, Logan Couture

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks are not the only team to lose a Game Seven in 2014, or even in the first round. Because they began with a three game lead, the loss was considered an upset, a collapse. Other teams who lost in Game Seven when they were expected to win include the Boston Bruins, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.The Bruins were grumpy in the handshake line, the Penguins fired their GM.

The Anaheim Ducks were the regular season Conference champions. They held a lead at one point in the series against the Los Angeles Kings, but they were not strong favorites, especially after the Kings’ first round comeback against the Sharks.

Does a little distance change how we should view what happened to the Sharks in the series against the Kings? Doesn’t it appear that they did not have to make many mistakes to lose to the Kings? Perhaps, but some of the mistakes were ones we have seen before that should have been avoidable.

When the Sharks flagged after the questionable goal that involved pushing Alex Stalock into the net, it was not unlike the 2011 Conference Finals against the Canucks. There, a bad call in the last 13 seconds of the third period left the team flat-footed. The Canucks tied the game and won the series in overtime.

What is this, and how do you fix it? Would making a lot of roster changes do it?

Sharks GM Doug Wilson said the team needs more than a band aid. The problem is that any major surgery takes time.

The first moves announced were actually non-moves. The coaching staff would be retained, Dan Boyle would not be resigned, and Marty Havlat would not be with the Sharks next season. The odds are very slim that this last means anything other than “Havlat will be bought out.” If Wilson were trying to trade him, he probably wouldn’t be announcing it to the media. This would be a first, a difficult first for a GM who has always been careful to not get into a contract he cannot live with.

The other announcement is the oddest of the three: the Sharks will use Brent Burns as a defenseman next season. Yes, he was acquired for that purpose, his contract was negotiated on that basis, he has more NHL experience as a defenseman than as a forward but… he really was a standout forward. He was maddeningly inconsistent as a defenseman.

The choice is not so shocking, but the announcement itself was strange. Was it a way of saying (unbidden) that the Sharks will not pursue a free agent defensemen this summer? Or that they will pursue a top six forward? Did that announcement have any place on the list of “questions people want answered?”

Dan Boyle, in discussing his time with the Sharks, said that the last two seasons were the Sharks’ best. Reminded that they had made the Conference Finals twice before, he admitted that perhaps recent seasons were just more vivid in his memory.

I think he was right the first time. The Pacific Division has become more formidable than it was when the Sharks went to the Conference Finals. The Sharks have been better in the last two seasons, but so has their competition. That means that success is even more about bounces than it ever was.

Bounces cannot be controlled, but the way a team handles them can be. A team’s psychological resilience can be improved by changing the players, but there are not very many players who can step in and hold a team together through a crisis. There may not be any who could do it for all teams.

Would trading Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau really improve matters? Joe Pavelski? Who? And who do you get to replace them? Keeping in mind some no movement clauses would have to be worked around, who could Wilson get back? Unfortunately, those other players might come with much heavier salary burdens, assuming they could produce as well as any of the Sharks’ leaders, and also fix what ails the team.

That is a lot to expect from some player on some team a Sharks player would agree to be traded to… it is a lot to expect from even two or three players.

Wilson may have the flexibility he wants, but he has not built the team out of an NHL Leggo set. Few successful teams are built like that. You don’t replace pieces, you replace ingredients. Each player has an effect beyond the players to either side of him on the bench. The wrong big move could doom the next few seasons.

Should they move goaltender Antti Niemi? Was he really the weakest link? A better puck-mover would be nice, but every goaltender has his weaknesses. Those with few are rarely available. How much could Wilson get in trade?

Again, would that fix what ails the Sharks? What does ail them?

Composure. This is something the Kings are being praised for. They have rebounded in two playoff series now. Their goalie has recovered from some poor outings to play at his best. Give them credit, they keep their heads.

But do they keep them so much better than the Sharks? If the Kings are such a better team than the Sharks or the Ducks, why did it take them seven games to win those series? Why did they lose so badly to start the playoffs? Perhaps their playing style has to be paced. Playing a very physical game, the sort of game that produces a high injury rate, takes its toll on both teams. Perhaps it takes the Kings a while to work up to it.

Is that what the Sharks need to do, whichever Sharks remain next season? Does that style of play guarantee a win? It has gotten the Kings farther than the Sharks have gone several seasons in a row now. So why don’t more teams emulate the Kings?

Again, why did it take them seven games, twice, if they are so much better?

Maybe the Kings are not a perfect model, they are just one that works for those players with that coach right now.

Those players. Mike Richards spent a good amount of time on the fourth line. He might be a buyout candidate this summer if he cannot return to a top six role. No team is going to willingly give a fourth liner six or seven years at $5.75 million. In the mean time, he posed an enormous threat to opposition, and not because he is so tough or gritty. What distinguished him from most fourth liners is skill.

The Sharks had Mike Brown on their fourth line. They also had Raffi Torres there, with a still very troublesome knee. Had he not been injured, would he have been on the fourth line at all?

The Sharks would do well to look for more skill to go with the grit they have relied on there. They have players who could make up an over-qualified fourth line, if they added one or two top nine forwards…

Yet the coaching staff thought it would be better to try to get Marty Havlat to play there occasionally, instead of moving someone who could do that job (like Tommy Wingels) and keeping Havlat in the roll he was acquired for– a skilled top nine forward. Unless they re-evaluate how they use their assets, it doesn’t matter who the Sharks trade or acquire.

If their roster is so flawed, then significant changes have to be made. That is unlikely to produce quick results. Whether they replace a lot of players or drastically change their style of play, both will take time to adjust to. They probably won’t get off to a quick start, they might be pushing to reach the playoffs at the end of the season. Then, if they stumble again, it can be explained away by too many changes to adjust to in one season.

Not making big changes hasn’t satisfied anyone. It will be difficult now to not make them. It does seem like a shame to waste the one useful thing the team got out of that loss to Los Angeles: a painful shared memory of what they don’t want to experience again.