SAN JOSE, Calif. — After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.
Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.
Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.
“I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle,” Martin said. “Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don’t think many people would have guessed that we’d be here right now, but I think we believed.”
The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season’s success.
DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer’s first season in New Jersey.
“Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different,” DeBoer said. “The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group … they’re embarrassed by the year they just had, and they’re willing to do and buy into whatever you’re selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that.”
The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn’t seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.
But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.
In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.
“With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win,” Thornton said. “Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that’s really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part.”
That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.
Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick‘s backup in Los Angeles.
Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.
Martin’s steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.
Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team’s most physical players.
“Doug did a great job this summer, this season,” Couture said. “A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in.”
In a vacuum, it’s confounding to imagine the St. Louis Blues trading Kevin Shattenkirk.
He’s a highly productive defenseman in the meat of his prime at 27, and his cap hit is a super-bargain at $4.25 million.
Of course, as is the case with many of the NHL’s biggest steals, the Blues will eventually need to pay up. In Shattenkirk’s case, his bargain deal ends after the 2016-17 season.
That’s a tough enough conundrum on its own, but consider the deals on the Blues’ cap that also expire after next season.
- Both goalies: Brian Elliott ($2.5M) and Jake Allen ($2.35M).
- Selke-level forward Alexander Steen ($5.8M).
- Rising star defenseman Colton Parayko will become an RFA and should command a huge raise from his $859K cap hit …
Now, there are also some areas of relief; some will be happy to see the Blues part ways with Patrik Berglund‘s $3.7 million cap hit (unless he plays out of his mind, naturally).
There are also some other things to consider.
A) What if the salary cap rises more than one might expect for 2017-18?
B) Would expansion help the Blues cut a little fat by losing a less-than-ideal contract?
C) Who are the Blues bringing back from this off-season?
There have been rumors about Shattenkirk being shopped around in the past, yet the summer is a great time to make deals. Teams get salary cap leeway, owners may want reboots and new coaches could really value Shattenkirk’s in-demand skills.
For what it’s worth, Shattenkirk would prefer to stay:
There’s a strong chance that Blues GM Doug Armstrong may bide his time, whether he’s inclined to trade Shattenkirk during the season or re-sign him.
Still, the talented defenseman’s situation shows that the Blues have big decisions to make even regarding situations that do not technically demand immediate choices.
One thing seems certain: it won’t be any easy call.
David Backes wants to stay
So does Troy Brouwer
How much is Troy Brouwer‘s magical postseason run worth to the St. Louis Blues or some other team in free agency? How important is comfort and familiarity to Troy Brouwer?
Those seem to be the most important bigger-picture questions, although from the sound of Brouwer’s comments, nuts-and-bolts issues may decide his future in or outside of St. Louis.
Brouwer raved about his time with the Blues as the team spoke with the media to close out the 2015-16 season. The power forward seemed very happy about his living conditions and the way his style fits with this blue collar team.
Even so, Brouwer also admits that “it’s a business.”
That’s typical talk, yet it was more interesting when he went a little deeper, acknowledging that he understands that GM Doug Armstrong must ask questions about more than just the 2016-17 season.
His playoff production was fantastic, but a smart GM will realize that it probably wasn’t sustainable. Case in point, facts like these:
Even so, Brouwer brings considerable value if you keep expectations in check.
While he fell a little bit short this season with 18, he generally falls in the 20-goal range each year. He’s one of those players who can bring some grit to the table without totally taking away from your team in other ways.
Brouwer was one of the Blues’ top penalty-killing forwards to boot.
It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising for Brouwer to enjoy a healthy raise from his expired $3.67 million cap hit, yet you must wonder how much. Maybe most importantly, what kind of term is he looking for?
That last question might just be pivotal regarding a possible return to the Blues. Would he sacrifice some stability to try to make another run with St. Louis?
Even if he isn’t that old at 30, his rugged style might mean that this is one of his last opportunities for a big payday.
Both sides face a tough call, yet it sounds like a reunion is at least plausible.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are about as healthy as you can be at this stage of the game. Outside of Trevor Daley (ankle), who’s done for the playoffs, the Pens have their desired roster at their disposal. That doesn’t mean that certain veterans don’t need a little bit of time to recuperate from the grind of the first three rounds.
The 36-year-old Kunitz and 39-year-old Cullen have surely picked up some bumps and bruises throughout the postseason, while Bonino might still feel the effects of a shot block from Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Not to worry Penguins fans, Sullivan says that each player should be available for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.