It’s July 1, which means we’re used to waking up and expecting a ton of players changing teams with the opening of free agency. Instead, we’re wondering if training camps will open up next week and if we’ll see a completion to the 2019-20 NHL season later this summer.
While the league and the NHLPA have agreed to an extension on all expiring player contracts, those players currently signed who are due July 1 signing bonuses will get their money. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, over $300 million is expected be paid out to players on Wednesday following an agreement between the league and union. Though, with holidays in Canada and the U.S. this week it may take a few days to actually hit their bank accounts.
When teams would pay out signing bonuses was one of many details the NHL and NHLPA have been working on since the return-to-play plan was announced. With the goal to open full training camps by mid-July, both sides are hoping to announce an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Once an agreement is in place, the next step will be a full vote by the union and among the league’s Board of Governors before moving forward.
Many of us believe that Bruce Boudreau should get another NHL head coaching job simply because he’s very good at his job. But there’s also another factor: Boudreau is a delight.
If you needed a reminder of Boudreau’s wonderful personality — and his enduring love for hockey — then read this story by The Athletic’s Michael Russo (sub required). Honestly? It’s a fabulous read if you merely want to smile. (It made me smile and laugh … a lot.)
Boudreau wants to coach in the NHL again, clearly still loves hockey (and his wife Crystal)
Boudreau told Russo that he hopes to coach in the NHL again, even with uncertainty in the air. In the meantime, Boudreau might also do some TV studio work during a return to play. Either way, it sounds like the last few months haven’t sapped his passion for the sport.
“I’m going to be watching either way, whether it’s from my couch or a TV studio, but behind the bench is where I’d want to be in the end,” Boudreau said. “I’ve been really fortunate in my life to never go two weeks without having another job. So this running on three, four months and it’s driving my wife a little crazier than me. But, I mean, you just want to know where it’s going. When you’ve done something your whole life and still believe you’re fully capable of doing the job, you never want to stop doing it. And when you love it as much as I do, you just want to continue to do it.
That quote summarizes Russo’s great piece in a nutshell. Even so, the best part really didn’t have much to do with hockey. Russo’s right in comparing the banter between Bruce and his wife Crystal as an “Abbott and Costello routine.” One can almost imagine a sitcom episode regarding the couple engaging in an air conditioning cold water. I can practically hear the laugh track:
“I secretly get up in the middle of the night and turn off the air conditioner,” Boudreau said. “But then she’ll wake up and punch me in the head when she realizes I turned the thing off and I go somewhere else.”
Observations on potential NHL playoff matchups, coaching under unique circumstances
It’s a delight to read Boudreau break down different teams and matchups. Russo even convinced Boudreau to discuss his former team, the Minnesota Wild. (Like us at PHT, Boudreau is fascinated to see how the Wild handle their goaltending situation.)
Some of the best insight revolves around how Boudreau imagines an empty arena setting working out.
He points out that microphones are more likely to catch coaches screaming at players, or using colorful language toward refs. (Naturally, Boudreau has some funny quips, including blaming assistants for profanities if coaches wear masks.) Even amid the humor, you get an idea of how Boudreau tries to manage “tough love” with not trying to insult or embarrass players.
Which opens the door to briefly discuss a logical landing spot or two for Boudreau …
Which NHL teams should give Boudreau a shot?
Again, we’re going briefly here. But consider a few spur-of-the-moment observations and suggestions:
A “rebuilding” team probably wouldn’t make sense.
Boudreau is 65. While Boudreau seems like a “hockey lifer,” and might have the right demeanor to work with younger players, his age shouldn’t be ignored. You probably want your team to at least be … partially built if you’re hiring Boudreau.
On the other hand, the San Jose Sharks make serious sense.
From a narrative standpoint, this almost feels like a “soul mate” situation. Both the Sharks and Boudreau have been mocked for falling short in the postseason, especially when expectations were highest. (Not always fairly, mind you.)
The team and coach also share an impatience. Boudreau’s found ways to succeed with a variety of franchises and rosters. If Erik Karlssonis correct that 2019-20 was a hiccup rather than the beginning of the end, then Boudreau could be the perfect person to get the Sharks swimming again.
Could Boudreau put a halo on the New Jersey Devils?
OK, the Devils qualify as a “rebuilding” team from a results perspective. That said, they might be getting a little impatient. (Perhaps they fired Ray Shero as GM in part because of this antsy feeling? Maybe?)
Reports indicate that the Devils are considering Lindy Ruff. Yet, if they value experience, why not go with a coach who’s had more recent success? Even after trading Taylor Hall, the Devils have some talent on their roster. Especially if they’re underachieving after suffering through some (possible) bad coaching.
It’s not the perfect situation for Boudreau, but sometimes coaches have to make the best of things. Boudreau is no stranger to that.
Dare I wonder: a team like the Predators?
OK, this would mean an about-face with John Hynes. Here’s the thing, though. The Predators might believe that their window to compete is closing. If so, and you realize Hynes was the wrong hire — not a guarantee, but possible — why not pull off the Band-Aid sooner rather than later?
Such a scenario seems unlikely, but I couldn’t help but mention it. Consider it a sweeping statement for other teams sort of in limbo. Is Rick Tocchet really the best choice for a Coyotes team more aggressively pursuing contention? Would the Flames and/or Stars view Boudreau a better option that their interim choices?
It’s unclear if Boudreau will receive another coaching offer anytime soon — or ever again. I’d argue quite a few NHL teams would be wise to do so, at least once it’s safe for, you know, a 65-year-old coach to get back behind the bench.
For a long time, agents in the NHL and other sports were demonized, often to the advantage of ownership. As many fans have started to realize a little bit more about what goes on behind the scenes, such viewpoints have become more nuanced. It doesn’t hurt that agents can express their message — and their clients’ perspectives — more freely over social media.
NHL agent poll provides optimism about avoiding 2022 lockout
Puck Pedia polled 25 top NHL agents in late January to early February, so COVID-19 issues aren’t really touched upon. As they mentioned, it’s possible that the pandemic might push certain opinions a bit, but for the most part, I’d agree that these results are still worth mulling over.
Maybe the most important one is that 80 percent of NHL agents polled believe that there won’t be a 2022 lockout.
Reports indicate that the NHL and NHLPA underwent some CBA extension/new CBA talks amid the pause. So, to some extent, this shouldn’t be surprising.
Still, I think I speak for most hockey fans when I say that any positive lockout-avoidance talk remains good news. It probably always will be after 2004-05 was scuttled, and 2012-13 was shortened.
Other issues the poll covers
When it came to viewpoints on specific GMs, one former and one current Toronto Maple Leafs GM represented polar opposites.
Thirty three percent of NHL agents in the poll chose Lou Lamoriello as the most difficult GM to work with. Meanwhile, when asked about a GM you’d want to work with to get a great deal for a client, Kyle Dubas received 29 percent of votes. The closest GM behind Lamoriello was Bob Murray at 14 percent, while Dubas topped the other list by an even more dramatic margin (no other GM exceeded six percent).
As Puck Pedia notes, recency bias likely inflates Dubas. Recency bias surfaces in plenty of polls like these, including for players. (Though you won’t see players changing their minds about, say, Carey Price or Drew Doughty too quickly, either.)
But I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Maple Leafs fans will grit their teeth at this. After all, you can spin that in a pretty negative way.
On the negative side, it was surprising to see Erik Karlsson garner more votes than, say, Sergei Bobrovsky. From a recency bias perspective, maybe absence made hearts grow fonder about David Clarkson? (I’m guessing absence made at least an NHL agent or 20 straight-up forget about Clarkson.)
In speaking with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live,” Erik Karlsson stated the obvious, and then set the stage for some debate.
Maybe most importantly, Karlsson insists that he’s healthy. Karlsson being at full-strength would be pivotal to proving that the Sharks are better than what we saw in 2019-20.
Speaking of 2019-20, Karlsson confirmed what many believe. Playing out regular season games doesn’t really make much of a difference to his Sharks. If anything, it would be worse to pull players away from families, and increase risks.
The 2019-20 season remains a lost cause. But what about the future?
Karlsson isn’t thinking about a Sharks rebuild
Tirico mentioned the concept of a rebuild, but Karlsson didn’t really think about that. After all, Karlsson is 29, and will turn 30 on May 31. Why would he even entertain the idea of multiple years of rebuilding?
Frankly, the Sharks aren’t structured for one anyway. The pick the Sharks traded to Ottawa as part of the Karlsson trade takes any sweetness away from “tanking.” Karlsson is also not the only Sharks player hovering around, if not past, 30. San Jose doesn’t boast the best foundation for blowing things up. Heck, they aren’t even the aging team in the best position to do so in their state (hey, at least the Kings already have some interesting prospects).
So, can this just be a blip on the radar? That answer likely hinges on your expectations for the Sharks.
Can the Sharks rebound from 2019-20?
You likely know the basics of the bad news. The Sharks went 29-36-5 this season (63 points in 70 games), placing them dead last in the West, and third-worst in the NHL. They gave up the fifth-most goals per game (3.21), while their offense wasn’t potent enough to patch up leaks like it did in 2018-19.
There’s some good news, though.
While I’m not sure I’m buying Karlsson’s note about injuries — plenty of NHL teams were hit worse, and many found ways to compete anyway — there was some bad luck for San Jose.
Now, they were still expected to allow more goals than they scored at even-strength according to Hockey Reference, yet poor puck luck exaggerated some issues. Despite generating 52.2 percent of the high-danger chances in their favor, the Sharks allowed more goals from such chances (38) than they produced (31).
(I’d say special teams is a wash, as expected power play gains might be negated by how unlikely it is that the Sharks will have the league’s best PK again.)
Most obviously, their goaltending was abysmal. Still, their shooting luck wasn’t so great, either.
With a little more luck, the Sharks could be more viable, particularly in what’s been a weak Pacific Division.
Now, hoping to return to a team on the cusp of a title? That might be a little bit lofty of a goal compared to returning to playoff contention.
Then again, GM Doug Wilson often has a trick or two up his sleeve. While the Sharks already deal with a shaky salary structure, could they just go for it with, say, Taylor Hall or Braden Holtby?
I’m not sure either of those ideas would actually be … you know, prudent, but the point is that the Sharks might have wiggle room.
A quick look at what Karlsson brings to the Sharks
By most measures, Karlsson still gives the Sharks a valuable defenseman, even if debates about his actual defensive value continue.
Granted, those metrics also don’t scream “$11.5M defenseman.” The Sharks are going to want more, even for a player who managed a fairly impressive 40 points in 56 games.
One could also grimace at the continued pattern of goalies having bad save percentages when Karlsson’s on the ice. My guess is that Karlsson’s career-low 85 percent on-ice save percentage is a little bit extreme. Even so, this marks the third year where Karlsson’s on-ice save percentage was below 90 percent. (It also dipped below 90 in four of his last five seasons.)
Overall, I still lean toward Karlsson being very, very good, even if he’ll struggle to justify his current price tag. (After, fittingly, being sorely underpaid with Ottawa.)
But even Peak Karlsson needs more help. Whether that comes from better goaltending, a system that plays to his and Brent Burns‘ strengths even more, or adding someone new, the Sharks probably need to do more than just hope that last season was an isolated nightmare.
The San Jose Sharks had a strong core for years that helped lead to consistent playoff appearances over the last decade. But general manager Doug Wilson is looking for the next crop of players to usher in a new era of hockey in San Jose. Joe Thornton and Brent Burns are still around but the organization is relying on Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson and others to lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.
The Sharks stumbled this season through the first 70 games and currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. San Jose will not even be rewarded with a top draft pick due to the trade with the Ottawa Senators for Karlsson in September of 2018.
Thornton entertained the idea of waiving his no-movement clause at the NHL Trade Deadline if a true contender wanted to acquire the savvy centerman. There was a lack of interest but if Thornton is interested in chasing the Stanley Cup next season, there is a strong chance he will not be back in the Bay Area.
Despite the horrific season in San Jose, there is still plenty of talent on the roster. Timo Meier led the team in points with 49, Evander Kane was closing in on a 30-goal season and Karlsson still had 34 assists in only 56 games. In addition, Couture and Hertl missed time with injuries and should provide further offensive firepower.
The most glaring weakness for the Sharks has been their play between the pipes. Martin Jones had a sub .900 save percentage and a 3.00 goals against average. The 30-year-old goaltender still has four additional years remaining on his contract and will be a difficult asset to move via trade.
San Jose also has significant cap space tied up in several long-term contracts and has to solve problems from within. Between Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Karlsson, the Sharks have more than $26 million committed through 2024-25.
Looking at the forward group, Couture, Kane, Meier, Hertl all have lengthy contracts and Kevin Labanc will need a new deal after taking an extraordinarily team-friendly agreement last summer. Similar to every NHL team, Wilson and his staff need to find the right pieces at a bargain price to fill out the roster.
The Sharks have taken great pride in building a culture that allows players to thrive. Thornton was a key figure in building the foundation, but he has passed on the characteristics of a strong locker room to his teammates.
Trade acquisitions are able to seamlessly fit in both on and off the ice while young players looking to earn their stripes at the professional level feel comfortable right from the beginning.
While Thornton could switch uniforms in the upcoming offseason, it will be up to Couture, Burns and others to make sure that culture isn’t lost.
The Sharks struggled mightily with the departure of Joe Pavelski this past summer but are too skilled to have a second straight dreadful season. If their play in net can improve, and key players can remain healthy, the Sharks could bounce back next season.