Brent Burns

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

Oilers look for depth beyond McDavid, Draisaitl

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The Edmonton Oilers have an opportunity to secure home-ice advantage for part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, they need help from anyone not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

McDavid scored his 30th of the season to give the Oilers a two-goal first-period advantage. But the San Jose Sharks rallied with five straight goals and collected a 6-3 victory Thursday at Rogers Place.

Timo Meier scored twice, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton each had two assists in the Sharks’ second straight win. Aaron Dell added 28 saves in his 11th win of the season.

Edmonton’s dynamic duo have the chance to finish the season leading the NHL in scoring, which is an incredible feat. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos pulled it off in the shortened 2012-13 season.

The Oilers captain showed why he is the most dangerous player in the NHL early in the first period. He sped past Mario Ferraro after catching the Sharks defenseman slightly out of position in the neutral zone. McDavid’s ability not only to fly on the rink, but skate at lightning speed with possession of the puck is his best attribute.

While possessing blazing speed is an important characteristic for McDavid, he also has the hands to finish the play and convert a deke at a similar pace.

However, McDavid and Draisaitl’s success also calls out the need for more contributions from up and down the lineup.

General manager Ken Holland has limited salary cap space available at the trade deadline and cannot afford to add a player that does not have an expiring contract. Nevertheless, an opportunity has presented itself and the Oilers have the chance to play playoff hockey if the right reinforcements are brought in.

Holland’s hands are tied due to cap limitations, but great executives always find a way to add the right piece.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Sharks stick with GM Doug Wilson — for better or worse

Sharks Doug Wilson vote of confidence
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The San Jose Sharks are sticking with GM Doug Wilson despite a huge letdown of a season.

Majority owner Hasso Plattner gave Wilson a vote of confidence on Thursday. While it makes sense to comment on a disappointing season, it’s interesting to see it in an official release.

“While we are all very disappointed in the team’s performance thus far this season, Doug has a long history of leading our team to success,” Plattner said as part of the statement. “The last time we failed to meet our winning standards in the 2014-15 season, we were able to quickly rebound and re-establish a winning culture for the next several years. I am supportive of Doug’s plan to get our team back on track.”

Wilson has overseen a long run of Sharks success

Wilson deserves credit for a remarkably strong and consistent run since being named GM in May 2003. The oft-tanned executive must make other GMs feel like he’s a shark smelling blood at times. While the Joe Thornton trade is Wilson’s masterstroke, he often wins other trades — sometimes by a lot.

The Sharks have also won a lot since he took the reins.

The Sharks won four Pacific Division titles in a row from 2007-08 to 2010-11, grabbing the 2009 Presidents’ Trophy along the way. Those peak years ended with heartbreak, yet a run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final silenced a lot of the “choker” claims.

Each time the window appeared ready to close on the Sharks, Wilson would pull a rabbit out of a hat, drafting gems like Logan Couture or trading for key players such as Brent Burns.

Sharks seem stuck

Unfortunately, the 2019-20 season might represent Wilson running out of magic.

Strangely, the Sharks are so stuck that they might just be better off sticking with Wilson, though.

An incoming GM would only be able to do so much about an aging, expensive defense and other concerns. So, again, hoping Wilson has some tricks up his sleeves ranks as an understandable gamble.

Back on Jan. 13, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported (sub required) that the Sharks are looking more at a “reset” than a tear-down, trades-wise. LeBrun points to sensible pieces to auction, such as defenseman Brenden Dillon and defensive-leaning forward Melker Karlsson.

Maybe Wilson could pull off a sequel to getting a bucket of picks for marginal players, like he did with Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray in 2013? If anyone can pull that off again, it’s Wilson.

The Sharks see little incentive to tank since Ottawa owns their 2020 first-rounder anyway. Taking baby steps seems like the only reasonable option, really.

How Wilson must succeed where he once failed

For all of the smart (and/or “smart at the time”) moves Wilson made, goaltending continues to doom the Sharks. Navigating that problem with better results should be Wilson’s top priority, even if it’s a tricky challenge.

Martin Jones served as a nice answer for a while, but the Jones – Aaron Dell tandem has been a disaster for some time. The Sharks could no longer outscore such problems in 2019-20. Jones and/or Dell show up on the wrong end of far too many charts like this GSAA one from Charting Hockey:

Jones, 30, stands as one of the more cringe-inducing Wilson contracts. He’s been abysmal, has a no-trade clause, and the $5.75M AAV runs through 2023-24. (You just cringed, didn’t you?)

(Did I mention that a different GM would face a huge mess if they wanted to blow this up? Yeah, it’s a dicey situation.)

Whether it’s making life easier for Jones or finding a different answer in net, the Sharks need to fix this. Doing so quickly is crucial, too, with an aging core.

Honestly, many of us — probably Wilson included — figured that this team would hit a wall eventually. It’s just that the wall popped up faster than expected, and the Sharks went splat.

It’s up to Wilson to make sure that the Sharks leap over that hurdle next time around, kind of like a … well, a killer whale.

Otherwise it could be, you know, crushing.

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.

Dual-role players? Defensemen as wingers show it can be done

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Brendan Smith caught his breath for a few seconds on the bench before New York Rangers coach David Quinn called his name again.

Smith had just skated a shift as a defenseman and was needed at forward, too. The natural defenseman hopped over the boards and got back on the ice at a different position.

”The more I do it, I get more comfortable,” he said.

Smith is one of a couple of throwback-style players bouncing between forward and defense this season. He and Florida’s Mark Pysyk are the latest to follow the lead of Hall of Famers Red Kelly and Mark Howe and present-day Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien, and their experience could open the door for more multiposition players in a sport that usually defines being a center, wing or defenseman very specifically.

”It’s definitely different,” Pysyk said. ”I think guys at this level probably could make the switch given enough time to get comfortable with their new position because everybody skates well.”

Kordell Stewart earned the nickname ”Slash” by playing quarterback and wide receiver in the NFL and slugger/pitcher Shohei Otani can star for the Los Angeles Angels in multiple ways in baseball. But specialization in hockey starts early as it does in other sports – forwards, defensemen and goalies all tend to be identified as such at a young age.

Smith as recently as Thursday shifted from his regular wing position back to defense to fill amid injuries, and the same night, Pysyk – back for another stint at forward – scored his third goal of the season. For one game in November, (almost) lifelong defenseman Tyler Lewington played a few shifts up front for the salary-cap strapped Washington Capitals when they could only dress 11 forwards.

”There’s a lot more to a forward’s game than I thought before,” said Lewington, 25, who hadn’t played forward since he was 10. ”It’s something that’s not easy.”

This kind of thing was more common in the 1920s and ’30s, Kelly played his first 12-plus seasons in Detroit as a defenseman and next eight-plus in Toronto as a forward, winning the Stanley Cup eight times – four at each position. Howe played his first three World Hockey Association seasons as a left winger alongside dad Gordie and brother Marty before switching to defense full-time.

Before video was more prevalent, Howe used to watch game replays late at night to figure out how to hone his game on the blue line. He made the Hall of Fame primarily for his time as a defenseman. Before and after his transition, he noticed differences like fewer scoring chances in practice as a defenseman – and more idle time on the bench as a forward biding his time for the next shift.

Now pro scouting director with the Detroit Red Wings, Howe called Smith the perfect example of a player who can adjust to the variations of playing forward and defense.

”(As a defenseman) it’s more of a game of you go when you can, but you have to be responsible defensively. You have to learn to read and when to jump up in the play,” Howe said. ”As a forward, you’re learning at key points of the game: ‘When do you try to make a play? When is it a smart play to dump the puck in the corner? When you definitely not want to turn a puck over?’ And with both (positions), you take different chances.”

While Pysyk hadn’t played defense since he was 6 or 7 until earlier this season, Quinn knew from recruiting Smith to Boston University that this dual role was possible. Quinn asked Smith last season to try it, and it worked so well that it has stuck, with Smith also killing penalties as a defenseman.

”You’ve got a guy who obviously plays forward 5-on-5 but he’s been one of our better (penalty) killing defensemen,” Quinn said. ”It gives you a little bit of flexibility on your roster, which is always nice game in and game out.”

Three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville trusts Pysyk the same way. He won the Cup in 2010 with Chicago moving Byfuglien back and forth and using the combination of his big frame, hard shot and smooth skating as an advantage.

”That versatility was a great asset to have in playoff series,” Quenneville recalled. ”Sometimes you could put him on a forward line to create space, I’d like to say, on power play (as a) net-front presence, but then you’ve got a big shot at the point. You could multitask with him in the course of the games.”

The same was possible for Burns when he played forward and defense with Minnesota earlier in his career. He became a full-time defenseman before a 2011 trade to San Jose and won the Norris Trophy as the best player at that position in 2017.

Quenneville likes having a defenseman at forward at times because they tend think of the game more conservatively.

”They usually have that mindset of being above the puck, so they keep themselves in the play, and defensively they have that responsibility,” Quenneville said. ”You get to handle the puck a little bit more, but I think they’re always in that position where offensively they’re complementing the guys they’re playing with, being either the safety guy or the extra guy that’s always going to be in the right spots.”

Pysyk, who’d prefer to play defense but can do both, is still getting used to the idea that he is not always the last guy back.

”It’s weird seeing a pass go past you and then chasing it from the other end,” he said.

Smith, who is in his 10th NHL season, is more comfortable on defense but thinks he could be a ”slash” player if need be.

”The biggest adjustment would be to change your mindset of defensive to offensive and knowing where to be at the right time because there’s so many moving parts,” Smith said. ”The hardest part is making sure that you can mentally prepare yourself for it.”

Vegas Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith sees his brother playing two different positions and knows he – and many others – wouldn’t be able to handle it.

”I can’t skate backward, can’t stop anyone,” Reilly Smith said. ”It takes a lot of versatility to be able to do that.”

How Pavelski signing has impacted Sharks, Stars

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It’s going to be a big night in San Jose on Saturday as former captain Joe Pavelski will make his first return to the Shark Tank as a visiting player.

Pavelski and the Stars are rolling in on a six-game winning streak and have been one of the league’s best teams since a 1-7-1 start had them buried in the Western Conference standings.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have never really been able to get on track this season and are now in desperation mode as they look to salvage what has quickly become a lost and wasted season. They are going to need to do a complete 180 in the second half just to have even a fighting chance of making the playoffs.

With Pavelski set to make his return, let’s take a quick look how his departure from San Jose has impacted both teams so far this season.

The Sharks never replaced Pavelski’s production

Very little has gone right for the Sharks this season. The goaltending has been bad again, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have rapidly aged, a lot of forwards have taken a step back, and now Logan Couture is sidelined for weeks with an ankle injury.

They also had 38 goals from last year’s team walk out the door when Pavelski signed his three-year contract with the Stars. Even if you assumed (correctly, as it turns out) that Pavelski was going to regress from that number, that goal production from a year ago was still a significant part of the Sharks’ success. He was the leading goal-scorer on the second-highest scoring team in the league, and all of that production just suddenly disappeared. Add in the free agency departure of another underrated forward, Joonas Donskoi, and the Sharks lost nearly 20 percent of their goal total from last year’s team. The only meaningful addition they brought in from outside the organization was a reunion with 40-year-old Patrick Marleau four games into the season. That was never going to be enough. And it hasn’t been.

The Sharks were hoping that at least some of that production could be replaced from within with bigger roles for some of their young players, but it just hasn’t happened. At the halfway point of the season Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, Marcus Sorensen, and even All-Star Tomas Hertl are all on pace for less production this season. The result is a team that is currently the sixth-lowest scoring team in the league (2.65 goals per game).

Maybe the Sharks were right to not match (or exceed) Pavelski’s offer from Dallas. Maybe it would have turned out to be another big contract for an aging, declining player on a team that now seems to have a few of them.

But those goals last year still happened and still need replaced. The Sharks not only lost them, they never found a way to replace them.

Pavelski’s impact with the Stars

Pavelski’s addition in Dallas was significant because he filled their biggest need — scoring depth.

The 2018-19 Stars were one of the most top-heavy teams in the league offensively (and the most top-heavy playoff team), relying almost entirely on Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov to carry the offense. They were so top-heavy that no other forward on the team scored more than 30 points over the full season. Finding someone that could provide a real secondary scoring threat was a must.

That is where Pavelski came in.

While no one should have expected a 35-year-old Pavelski to make a run at the 40-goal mark again, he at least provided some depth that did not previously exist. Whether or not he has provided that depends on how you want to look at it. From a raw numbers perspective, his production is probably viewed as a disappointment. He enters Saturday’s game with only eight goals and 18 total points in 44 games.

As down as those numbers are, it is important to keep in mind that is STILL better than what the Stars were getting a year ago from their depth players. Keep in mind, only four Stars forwards scored more than eight goals during the entire 2018-19 season. Pavelski’s numbers also include a brutal 13-game stretch to start the season where he was virtually invisible offensively. He has been been better since.

Once he started chipping in more offense, the wins followed.

Any intangible impact?

Pavelski has always been held in high regard as a leader, and both teams will probably have a reason to argue on behalf of that. San Jose could easily argue his departure has left a hole in their room. The Stars could argue they needed his sort of veteran presence. Sharks beat writer Kevin Kurz touched on this a little bit in his lead-up for Saturday’s game for The Athletic.

There very well could be something to that. But in the end it’s probably a lot more black-and-white than that.

The Stars were a good team last season without Pavelski and are a good team again this season with him. They are winning with a nearly identical recipe — good defense, great goaltending, offense when and where they can get it.

The Sharks were a good team with Pavelski that also had a huge flaw. They never fixed that flaw, then added to it by losing 52 goals from their lineup with almost none coming back in.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.