The San Jose Sharks will have plenty of time to stew over the franchise’s worst season in 17 years.
With more than three-quarters of the league hoping to return for an expanded playoffs this summer following the shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic, the Sharks are one of seven teams left out until next season starts in late fall or early winter.
One year after making it to the Western Conference Final, the Sharks finished with the worst record in the conference and missed the playoffs for just the second time since general manager Doug Wilson took over in 2003.
“We’re not used to losing or having a losing season here so it wasn’t fun,” captain Logan Couture said Thursday. “As a group, we know that every single person needs to be better next year. I think with this long break it adds time for guys to get prepared. Motivation should be at an all-time high for everyone. When you have a year like this, you want to come back and prove to people that it was just a fluke.”
This is rare territory for the Sharks, who have been one of the most consistent franchises in the league. The last time they missed the playoffs was in 2014-15, then they bounced back the following season to earn the team’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to Pittsburgh in six games.
Couture believes a team that has a talented defensive group led by Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, as well as forwards like himself, Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane and Timo Meier has the ingredients in place to repeat that turnaround.
“I believe that summer a lot of people wrote us off, said the window’s closed, this team’s done, stick a fork in them,” Couture said. “I think that lit a fire in a lot of us. It’s going to be the same thing this year. There’s going to be people who are writing those same articles, there’s going to be fans saying the same things. The only way that that can change is we go out and make a change and show them that we’re still a good team. We still have the pieces in my mind to compete.”
Those pieces just didn’t click this past season as the Sharks got off to a rough start following last spring’s long playoff run. The team rebounded in November before falling apart again, leading to the firing of coach Peter DeBoer in December.
After a difficult beginning under interim coach Bob Boughner, the Sharks showed signs of coming into form in January before a series of injuries derailed the season.
“When one thing came crashing down, it all just fell apart,” Karlsson said. “Once you get in a big hole like that, no matter how good you are or how much experience you have, it’s hard in the short period of time to give yourself a spin in the way that it’s going which is not in the right direction. That kind of feels like what happened to us. We tried so many things to repair it. But at the same time I don’t think that there’s anything we could have done differently that would have changed the short-term results.”
Now the task for the Sharks is to play with better structure and cohesion from the start next season to avoid those holes.
One of the bigger questions the team will face before returning in the fall will be the status of Boughner. Wilson has praised Boughner’s performance even though the team was just 14-20-3 during his tenure.
But Wilson has not committed to bringing him back next season even though he has earned the respect of many key players.
“He did a great job with where he was at and where we were at,” Burns said. “He had the knowledge, he was detailed. He was extremely detailed actually in the different scenarios. He was able to make little in-game changes. If he needed to snap, he could. He was great.”
The Sharks also have a handful of free agents to make decisions on, most notably longtime leader Joe Thornton. Thornton had seven goals and 24 assists in 70 games as a 40-year-old and has expressed interest in returning for his 23rd year.
“Knowing Joe, he’s going to want to come back,” Couture said. “He’s still got game. I think he still will help any team that’ll take him. If he’s healthy and he’s ready to go, I don’t see why not.”