Bob Boughner

Sharks look for rebound following rough 2019-20 season

The San Jose Sharks had started planning for next season long before the news became official Tuesday that they would be one of the seven teams left home if the NHL resumes its season.

A slow start, a rough December and an injury-plagued final stretch of the season left last season’s Western Conference runners up at the bottom of the conference standings.

”We didn’t get off to a good start. We were chasing our tail,” general manager Doug Wilson said Tuesday. ”October we were awful, November we were one of the best teams in the league record wise anyhow and December we were awful. That’s where the frustration really got elevated. We are capable of playing some good hockey. Were we a great team? No, we probably weren’t a complete team. But we knew we were better than we were playing, and that frustration, that’s OK. It’s now how we channel that, what our focus is, what we do this offseason.”

This marks just the second time in the past 16 seasons that the Sharks failed to make the postseason. They responded the last time by making the only run to the Stanley Cup Final in franchise history in 2015-16 before losing to Pittsburgh in six games.

Wilson is hopeful for a repeat even though this season’s team struggled as top players like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns had down seasons, goalie Martin Jones struggled and young players like Kevin Labanc failed to develop as anticipated.

”We did not meet our expectations this year,” Wilson said. ”But I do know this, we’ve got some really good players that care a lot. That’s how I look at it. Every year is a different year, a different team. We do not take missing the playoffs lightly. We’re not a team that’s going to go into this long protracted rebuild.”

COACH THEM UP

The poor start led to the firing of coach Peter DeBoer in December. Assistant Bob Boughner took over on interim basis and the team showed signs of playing with better structure under his leadership. Wilson said he hasn’t made a decision on Boughner’s status but praised the work he did.

”It’s a process that’s ongoing,” Wilson said. ”Very difficult to come in and coach a team halfway through the year. You don’t necessarily have all the ingredients and your staff that you want around you.”

GETTING HEALTHY

The Sharks dealt with some bad injury look during the season with Karlsson, captain Logan Couture and star forward Tomas Hertl all missing significant time. Wilson said all three are healing well and should be able to be in top shape whenever next season starts. That will be especially helpful for Karlsson, who spent last summer recovering from a groin injury, contributing to the slow start this season.

”This is the one benefit that he’s going to have,” Wilson said. ”He’s going to have all the time now to get healthy and to get that elite level of fitness the great players have and that he’s been able to have in the past. This extra time for him will be very beneficial.”

JUMBO’S STATUS

One question for the Sharks before next season starts will be the status of Joe Thornton. The Sharks brought Thornton back this season on a one-year deal and he finished with seven goals and 24 assists in 70 games. His production increased as the season went on as he had 11 points in his final 17 games after just 20 in his first 53. Thornton has expressed interest in returning at age 41 for his 23rd year. Wilson said he is in frequent contact with Thornton and knows he cant wait to get back on the ice.

FREE AGENCY

The Sharks have most of their key players other than Thornton under contract for next season. Depth forwards Melker Karlsson and Stefan Noesen are eligible to be unrestricted free agents, along with defenseman Tim Heed and backup goalie Aaron Dell. But with significant money tied up in Karlsson, Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defense, as well as forwards Couture, Evander Kane and Timo Meier, the Sharks will have little flexibility unless they trade one of those high-priced stars.

DRAFT DOINGS

The Sharks won’t have the benefit of a high draft pick following a down season because they traded their first-round pick to Ottawa before the 2018-19 season for Karlsson. San Jose did acquire Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in a deadline deal for forward Barclay Goodrow and also has two second-rounders. Those picks could be used either for prospects or packaged in deals for veterans who can contribute even quicker.

San Jose Sharks: Biggest surprises, disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the San Jose Sharks.

Father Time, defense, and other disappointments for Sharks skaters

Upon hearing about Erik Karlsson‘s new contract with the Sharks last summer, many of us cringed at how an aging San Jose roster might look in the future.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, Father Time showed up uncomfortably early. The thing is, while Karlsson didn’t really look like an $11.5 million defenseman in 2019-20, he wasn’t the biggest problem. If I were running the Sharks, I’d be especially worried about Brent Burns and Marc Edouard-Vlasic.

Karlsson sits atop the Sharks’ xGAR chart at Evolving Hockey, along with expected standouts like Timo Meier. It’s not all pretty for the Sharks, though, particularly among expensive defensemen:

Sharks XGAR disappointments
via Evolving Hockey

The possession stats looked shaky, and so did the counting numbers.

After leading the Sharks (by nine points) with 83 points in 2018-19, Burns managed 45 points in 70 games this season. Rolling with Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts, you wonder how much Burns and Vlasic counted as “net positives” this season:

Burns Vlasic RAPM Sharks disappointments
via Evolving Hockey

When it comes to Burns, it’s OK to take some bad with the good. The key is just to make sure he can generate more offense. The Sharks must hope that this isn’t just the sign of a star on the decline at age 35. No, Burns might not be able to be a beast like in 2016-17, but this season presents at least some argument for a “mulligan.”

One way or another, the Sharks need to find a better balance, even if that means accepting mistakes in hopes of creating bunches of chances. Even amid injuries and the COVID-19 pause, it’s tough to stomach no one reaching 50 points (Timo Meier topped all Sharks with 49).

Disappointments meant a lot of pucks in the wrong net for the Sharks

Look, we can argue about the Sharks’ goals against disappointments until we’re blue in the face. Some will defend Peter DeBoer’s system, thus accusing Martin Jones and Aaron Dell of being humanoid Swiss Cheese. Others may point to issues on defense that doomed their goalies. Such arguments may or may not revolve around the flaws of Karlsson and Burns as aggressive scorers from the backend.

Whatever your hypothesis might be, the bottom line is that the Sharks couldn’t patch up those holes.

San Jose declined in goals allowed per game, going from 11th-worst in the NHL in 2018-19 (3.15) to fifth-worst in 2019-20 (3.21). The biggest difference was that they scored almost a goal fewer per game (2.57) than they did in 2018-19 (3.52).

It’s limiting to score a lot of goals while allowing almost as many, but you can win — ugly — that way. If the Sharks tried to play more conservatively this season, that backfired with worse goals allowed and drastically worse goals-for numbers.

There are a lot of questions that swirl around these issues. One of the most painful is: did Doug Wilson do enough to address these issues? Perhaps there were a lack of options, yet with a bunch of seasoned coaches and impressive goalies likely available, will Wilson make the right moves next time around?

An unexpected surprise for the Sharks

For whatever reason, the otherwise-dreadful Sharks sported one of the season’s best penalty kill units.

The Sharks killed 85.7 percent of their penalties in 2019-20, the best mark in the NHL. Interestingly, being penalized frequently (seventh-most times shorthanded at 224) only soured things a tiny bit when you look at volume. Despite the increased workload, the Sharks allowed only 32 power-play goals (Columbus and Edmonton tied for least allowed at 31).

San Jose even scored seven shorthanded goals, so penalty kills were merely a “net” negative of 25 goals this season.

Unfortunately, an unexpectedly modest power play negated many of those strengths.

It zeroes in on a larger point: the Sharks ultimately failed at even-strength this season, and they ultimately don’t even get to enjoy the lottery pick stemming from their massive disappointments.

Hey, at least that PK was killer, though. *awkward laugh*

MORE ON THE SHARKS:

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks.

2019-20 San Jose Sharks

Record: 29-36-5 (63 points in 70 games), last place in West, third-worst in the NHL.
Leading Scorer: Timo Meier – 49 points (22 goals and 27 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview:

Despite losing Joe Pavelski to free agency, the Sharks entered 2019-20 with Stanley Cup aspirations. Instead, well … woof.

The season began on a rough note, with the Sharks starting off 0-4-0 and 4-10-1. Simply put, they never really found their footing this season. In hindsight, just about every flash of brilliance turned into a mirage.

Now, there were some warning signs from 2018-19.

During that season, the Sharks spackled over serious defensive and goaltending issues by scoring tons of goals and generally outscoring their problems. When the Sharks signed Erik Karlsson to a new deal, many expected the bill to come for San Jose at some point. Few anticipated that things would go sideways so fast, though.

Blame it on leaky defense or shabby goaltending from Martin Jones and Aaron Dell (or most likely, both), but the Sharks continued to allow too many goals in 2019-20. Unfortunately, their offense couldn’t make up the difference any longer.

This failed season cost Peter DeBoer his job, landing him with rival Vegas. It’s unclear what happens next with Boughner or another coach. (For all the Sharks indicated about keeping Boughner, it’s not as though he solved all/many of their problems.)

Ultimately, the Sharks must hope that this season was an aberration. If not, they’ll be haunted by recent decisions, starting with when they try to look away from the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery.

Highlight of the season

You could try to lean on the Sharks receiving a pretty nice bucket of assets for Goodrow, Marleau, and Dillon. Yet, even then, it remains perplexing that they couldn’t find a destination for Joe Thornton. After all, Thornton made it clear he wanted another shot at a Stanley Cup.

(It’s possible the Sharks didn’t cost him a shot in the scenario where the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs don’t happen … but they could have gotten something for Thornton if they made a trade, anyway.)

So let’s think of a time when the Sharks’ script read a bit more storybook than disaster movie.

Patrick Marleau made a triumphant return to the Sharks, scoring two goals. He helped San Jose get its first win of the season in a feel-great story:

All things considered, Marleau performed pretty well in his return. That moment didn’t end up turning the Sharks’ season around, though, and it’s telling that they didn’t provide many other highlights to choose from.

MORE ON THE SHARKS
Examining the Sharks long-term outlook
• Sharks biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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.

Sharks GM gives Boughner ‘upper hand’ to take over as coach

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San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson isn’t ready to remove the interim head coach tag from Bob Boughner’s title yet.

Noting the Sharks’ season is not officially over with the NHL on hiatus due to the coronavirus, Wilson voiced his support by saying Boughner has the edge in taking over the job on a permanent basis.

“Does Bob know our group and have the upper hand in this process? Absolutely,” Wilson said during a conference call Thursday.

“But I think you have to be thorough in this process because we have the time and the opportunity,” he added. “And when you have time like this you need to utilize it.”

Wilson was pleased with the improved style of play and structure he saw in the Sharks in 37 games under Boughner, who took over after on Dec. 11.

Wilson, however, stressed there is plenty he wants to evaluate regarding a team that will likely miss the playoffs for only the second time in 16 seasons, and was last in the Western Conference when play stopped on March 12.

It’s unclear when play will resume, and whether the NHL will complete the final month of the regular season or go directly into the playoffs. The Sharks (29-36-5) went 14-20-3 under Boughner. The record was mostly a reflection of a rash of injuries sidelining San Jose’s top stars.

Wilson was more definitive in providing injury updates, saying and defenseman Erik Karlsson are on track to return next season.

Wilson said Hertl is ahead of schedule and can fully extend his left knee some two months after having surgery to repair two torn ligaments. He said Karlsson is nearly fully recovered after in February.

Wilson added forward Logan Couture is feeling no after affects after missing San Jose’s final game with a concussion caused when he was struck in the head by a puck.

Boughner spent his portion of the 40-minute session looking ahead to next season.

“Who knows what’s happening with the rest of the season here, but if we’re talking about training camp, that’s what excites me the most,” Boughner said.

“We’re going to treat training camp as crucial,” he added.

This is Boughner’s second stint with the Sharks. He spent two seasons as an assistant in San Jose before being hired to coach the Florida Panthers.

Fired last April after two seasons in Florida, Boughner was hired as an assistant to DeBoer’s staff.

“I think Boughy and his staff did a lot of good things and they were certainly hamstrung with a lot of our players out,” Wilson said.

Wilson also addressed the status of Joe Thornton, who is playing on a one-year contract and completing his 22nd NHL season, and 15th in San Jose.

“Everybody knows how we feel about Joe,” Wilson said, adding he has regular discussions with 40-year-old forward.

Wilson was non-committal when asked if there’s a place in next year’s lineup for Thornton, saying only: “He’s a special man.”

Should Sharks stick with Boughner, who’s ‘planning on being back’ as head coach?

Should Sharks keep Bob Boughner as head coach?
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The “pause” to the 2019-20 NHL season leaves a destroyed sweater’s worth of loose threads, and one of them involves whether the Sharks will keep Bob Boughner around as head coach.

One of the few obvious answers is that … yes, Boughner is hoping he can keep the gig. He told The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz as much in a piece that’s absolutely worth your time (sub required).

“I feel good about it,” Boughner said. “I think that given a fair chance, that I’m the guy for this team. And I think Doug believes that, from what I know. I don’t want to speak for him, but I’m planning on being back, I’m planning on putting a plan in place for next year, and trying to look forward.”

Grading Boughner as interim head coach

If you look at pure standings results, the impact has been negligible.

The Sharks languished with a 15-16-2 record over 33 games when they fired Peter DeBoer in December. In 37 games under Boughner, the Sharks remain mediocre (14-20-3), and actually saw their points percentage drop (.485 to .419).

Naturally, this is where it’s fair to repeat Boughner’s phrase of a “fair chance.”

For one thing, the Sharks had to feel bummed out that they played poorly enough to get DeBoer fired. Some might have believed that this season was over, which already stacks the deck a bit against an interim head coach.

Boughner also suffered through some personnel challenges. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl both suffered significant injuries in January, while the Sharks had to pull the plug on Erik Karlsson‘s season in February. Subtract more players from the mix during the trade deadline, and you could argue Boughner never had a “full deck.”

If you look at Natural Stat Trick, you can see improvements in advanced stats under Boughner. The Sharks look more formidable from expected goals standpoints, for example. Boughner mentioned that during his interview with Kurz, actually.

“We did a really good job of bringing the high-end scoring chances down, not giving up as much and creating more at the other end,” Boughner said. “I’m not saying that’s related to more goals scored or anything like that, but the chances that we were producing, our possession time, we were better defending off the rush. Things like that. So, analytically, I thought there were a lot of improvements made. Those are really your foundations of your system and what’s working and what’s not. There were some good things happening behind the scenes.”

Context counts

Still, not every sign was positive.

It’s understandable that Boughner would lean more on Brent Burns. After all, he was a) coaching for a job and b) dealing with injuries to the team’s defense.

Even so, it’s tough to stomach the Sharks handing a heavier burden to a 33-year-old who they were better off keeping fresh. That’s what happened with Burns, who averaged 24:31 TOI under DeBoer, and then 26:12 per night with Boughner.

My general takeaway is that Boughner getting another “fair” crack at an NHL head coaching job is understandable. The Sharks just don’t seem like that right opportunity, because their window is closing — and that’s assuming 2019-20 was a bump in the road, not the window already being shut.

If this is your last real shot, does Boughner have the steadiest aim? Maybe in a shallower pond than the Sharks will be swimming in.

Sharks have rich group of coaches to choose from

For all we know, Boughner is the best option for the Sharks. That said, the job market presents Wilson with a wealth of unusually strong alternatives.

  • Bruce Boudreau strikes me as the best choice of all.

To start, it would just be thematic fun. Boudreau is the “coach who couldn’t win the big one” who would take on a team that’s been a regular contender but couldn’t get over the hump. C’mon, that’s already pretty fun.

He’s also versatile. Boudreau went from the high-flying Capitals to adjusting on the fly in Anaheim to clamping down to helping the Wild suffocate opponents on defense. The Sharks’ roster presents a challenge between risk and reserve in a defense-focused league, but if anyone can find the balance, it’s Boudreau.

  • Gerard Gallant would obviously be fun, too.

How surreal and yet hockey would it be if the two coaches in that wild Game 7 ended up swapping teams? Peter DeBoer is already on the Golden Knights’ bench, so what about Gallant in San Jose?

  • Peter Laviolette might be a decent fit.
  • Wilson is bold enough to hire Mike Babcock, too.

The more you look at that list, the more you wonder if Boughner … well, has a “fair chance” to keep his gig as Sharks head coach.

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.