If 2021-22 season doesn’t inspire Sharks rebuild, what will?

If 2021-22 season doesn't inspire Sharks rebuild, what will?
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PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how surprising was that fall? Are there signs that things might go right next season? This series tackles those questions, and more. In the latest edition of “What Went Wrong?,” PHT breaks down the 2021-22 San Jose Sharks.

Read through enough of these “What Went Wrong?” features, and you may become fluent in failures. You may even identify “flavors.”

With teams like the Sabres and Red Wings, there’s the bitter of the present with a hope for a sweet future. There are the mystery flavors of the collapsing Canadiens and a Ducks team that started strong, then went sour.

Then there are the teams who make you wonder if they have tastebuds at all. The 2021-22 Flyers and Sharks send similar messages. Rather than embracing a rebuild, teams like the Sharks continue to swear by their current recipe.

That’s not an ideal formula when you’ve missed the playoffs three seasons in a row, and in each case, by a mile.

2021-22 Sharks: Not even close

No doubt, it would have been uncomfortable to trade a player as gifted as Tomas Hertl. Yet, by adding yet another long-term risk to what was already a heap of questionable contracts, it’s fair to wonder if the Sharks learned from 2021-22, and other recent failures.

Now, sure, the Sharks began the 2021-22 season on a higher note than anticipated. If anything, that really just highlights how far this franchise has fallen. Even in a weak Pacific Division, the Sharks weren’t even close to a playoff berth in 2021-22.

By April 6, the Sharks were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. That’s more than three weeks before their last regular season game (April 29 vs. the Kraken).

Are there scenarios where things could have worked out better? Sure, but you’d really be daydreaming if you gave them too much time. For the future, one of the scarier things about the 2021-22 Sharks is how much went right.

2021-22 Sharks can only blame so much on bad luck

These things went San Jose’s way, and may not work out quite so well again.

  • There’s a strong chance that one or both of the Golden Knights and Canucks will be sturdier next season. The 2021-22 season may have been the best window for the Sharks to swipe something like the third spot in the Pacific Division
  • The good news is that Brent Burns and especially Erik Karlsson rebounded to some extent. The bad news is that it’s unclear if they’ll maintain already-compromised level of play. Karlsson’s “an old 31,” being that he’s dealt with a slew of lower-body injuries. Somehow, Brent Burns is already 37.
  • Tomas Hertl’s been great … after a couple years where injuries dragged him down, from a mainstream perspective. As fantastic as he is, this season marks just his second 60+ point season … in fact, it’s also just his second 50+ point season. While Hertl is a prime example of points not being everything, it’s also plausible that the Sharks signed him at the peak of his value. Between injuries and regression, Hertl could slip a bit — he’s already 28.
  • Speaking of wildly underrated Sharks forwards breaking through, Timo Meier recorded his second-career 30+ goal season (33) and already easily set a career-high with 73 points. His second-best year was 66 points in 2018-19. Third-best: 49 points, otherwise a couple of 30+ point campaigns.

To be clear, this isn’t Hertl and Meier bashing; they’re really good.

[What went wrong for the Montreal Canadiens]

It’s just that the 2021-22 Sharks enjoyed the best years of their careers … and still missed the playoffs by a mile. Seems like a bad sign.

With career years from rising stars, rebounds from expensive veterans, and even good bang-for-your-buck in net, the 2021-22 Sharks still missed the playoffs by a wide margin, and endured a -45 goal differential.

Not sure there’s much here that screams “keep the gang together.”

(You’d need to project William Eklund as, say, Superman to think there’s much help coming.)

It may not be Boughner’s fault, but Sharks only have so many options if they won’t rebuild

For all that went right for the 2021-22 Sharks, let’s be honest: they still stunk. Check this Evolving Hockey Team RAPM chart, and you’ll note that they couldn’t even really capitalize on an unexpectedly effective penalty kill.

This brings us to a tough question: how much of this is on Sharks head coach Bob Boughner?

As with most teams, it’s not especially easy to separate team results from coaching impacts. This isn’t the NFL, where an obsessive coach can watch 100 hours of video a week, sleep in their office every night, and will a mediocre roster to the playoffs.

That said, we’ve seen some transformations around the NHL. Whatever’s in the secret sauce with coaches like Darryl Sutter and Bruce Boudreau, their teams took off once they took over.

Could a true difference-making coach turn the Sharks into a dominant 5-on-5 team? Look up and down that roster, and it’s difficult to imagine San Jose playing shutdown, Barry Trotz-style hockey. Yet, with salary cap limitations and what seems like a refusal to truly rebuild, the Sharks might need to throw a Hail Mary and hope some coach can make a feast with flawed ingredients.

Call it hockey’s answer to Chopped.

(On that note, maybe the real key is to simply make it entertaining?)

Sharks offseason preview: the rebuild may only happen for their front office

After Doug Wilson’s resignation, the Sharks need a new GM. If the Sharks wanted to sell some kind of more immediate change, a head coaching tweak may be in order. Obviously, these choices could create ripple effects throughout the roster and the front office.

There are rumblings that the Sharks aren’t in a rush to hire a new GM, and that the search could extend through the offseason.

To some extent, it’s wise to find the best candidate(s) possible. Yet, even if you ignore the possibly wise idea to change the Sharks’ head coach, this team should explore some tough questions during the offseason.

Timo Meier: Hertl situation repeat? Try to trade who you can? And other Sharks offseason questions

Even before the 2021-22 season and the Tomas Hertl extension, a Sharks rebuild looked difficult because of the already-imposing stack of long-term contracts.

With the Tomas Hertl extension, some might feel that the Sharks are kind of stuck. Cap Friendly estimates the Sharks’ cap space at about $9.68 million, with 18 roster spots covered. Most immediately, they’d need to make decisions, including possible contracts for RFAs Kaapo Kähkönen and Mario Ferraro.

Frankly, the bigger decision is one that could be put off. What should the Sharks do with Timo Meier?

Meier, 25, will see his $6M cap hit expire after the 2022-23 season. He’s a pending RFA, and who has arbitration rights.

In several ways, Meier parallels Tomas Hertl. A contending team could easily justify extending Meier, much like Hertl, risks and all.

But the Sharks? Despite backing themselves into a corner over and over again, the Sharks might be wise to trade Meier to help (cough) jump-start a rebuild.

[Meanwhile, the rival Anaheim Ducks look light years ahead of the Sharks]

Theoretically, a Meier trade could be just part of a rebuild-focused Sharks offseason. Consider a few options:

  • Again, it’s kind of hard to believe that Brent Burns is already 37, but he is. His $8M cap hit runs through 2024-25. There may never be a better time to trade Brent Burns.
  • Logan Couture’s another sneaky-old Sharks player at 33, and his $8M cap hit goes through 2026-27. Also like Burns, Couture’s contract features a list of just three teams he’d accept a trade to. That’s where a larger message of a Sharks rebuild could help. If Burns and Couture (understandably) wouldn’t want to be part of a rebuild, maybe they’d be more flexible with their trade lists? Comfortable or not, the Sharks need to be having these types of conversations.
  • Should the Sharks buy out Marc-Edouard Vlasic, even if it would only provide limited savings?

A possible Meier trade and that bulleted list could make your head spin, and that’s just a taste of what the Sharks are up against. (Again, they must also answer immediate questions, like what to do with  Kähkönen.)

Overall, the Sharks look like one of the biggest messes in the NHL, especially if a prospective GM had little room to rebuild. After the 2021-22 season, it would help if the Sharks at least acknowledged the mess for what it is.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”