Peter DeBoer

Breaking down Erik Karlsson’s playoffs with Sharks

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Heading into an eventual Game 3 win against the St. Louis Blues, Erik Karlsson was due.

OK, now he wasn’t due for something along the lines of scoring an overtime game-winner after fellow Sharks player Timo Meier got away with a hand pass, but Karlsson was due.

Through 16 games during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Karlsson had not been able to score a goal for the San Jose Sharks. Few would complain about his overall production, what with his 13 assists in those 16 games, but even acknowledging that defensemen take lower-percentage shots, you had to think that Karlsson was starting to get at least a little bit frustrated.

Karlsson ended up with two goals during the Sharks’ controversial 5-4 overtime win against St. Louis, and you wonder if the goals will really start to flow in now, starting with Friday’s Game 4 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream). If so, the Sharks stand a great chance to improve on their 2-1 lead in Round 3.

That goal-drought-breaking Game 3 serves as a nice excuse to take a look at Karlsson’s overall work during his first – and possibly only – playoff run with the Sharks.

Health questions

Karlsson literally limped into this postseason, so it was only natural to wonder how effective he could really be for the Sharks. After San Jose’s Game 1 win, Karlsson explained to Pierre McGuire that things definitely started rough for him, but that his health has improved as the postseason’s gone along.

Despite Karlsson’s assurances, there have been times when it’s been really difficult to shake the impression that the star defenseman isn’t at 100 percent. It’s something that Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos and others speculated about, and while some of that might merely be speculation, it’s tough not to read too much into any slow pivot, seemingly timid approach, and other bit of body language.

Not needing to be Superman

Remember Karlsson’s epic playoff run from 2016-17, when Karlsson nearly willed the Ottawa Senators to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, with help from friends like Mark Stone and Craig Anderson? Plenty of hockey fanatics already knew that Karlsson can be otherworldly at his peak, yet for those who stubbornly stood by as naysayers, it was eye-opening and mouth-shutting.

Interestingly, when you look at the simplest numbers of all, Karlsson’s not that far off from that run.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In 2016-17, Karlsson generated two goals and 16 assists for 18 points in 19 games. During this run, Karlsson has two goals and 13 assists for 15 points in 17 games.

But it’s clear that the Sharks aren’t asking him to shoulder the same burden as he did with Ottawa. Most obviously, Karlsson’s seen his ice time shrink from 28:08 per night during that Senators run (when he seemed to be dealing with a lower-body injury as well), to a still-impressive but less Ryan Suter-like 25:34 TOI average with San Jose.

Brent Burns is the big reason why Karlsson’s numbers are robust, but not outrageous … and the Sharks are really leaning on Burns, whose ice time average is at a startling 28:53 per night, up significantly even from his work during previous playoff runs.

When the Sharks landed Erik Karlsson in that trade, the tantalizing thought was that, as two right-handed defensemen, Peter DeBoer could have one of Burns or Karlsson on the ice during almost every shift of a game. That’s pretty close to coming to fruition during this deep run.

Ups and downs

Back during his Ottawa days, Karlsson looked impressive from a possession standpoint, and outright outrageous when you considered his stats relative to his teammates.

He often fit that bill during the regular season, yet Karlsson’s fancy stats have been a little less fancy during the playoffs. According to certain metrics at Natural Stat Trick, Karlsson’s actually been on the wrong end of chances more often than on the positive side.

That’s really not such a bad thing overall, though.

For one thing, Karlsson and Burns are facing tough competition, and by logging such large minutes, they’re keeping lesser players from getting swamped in ways that could really put the Sharks in a bind. So maybe Karlsson hasn’t always been off-the-wall amazing like he’s been in the past – quite plausible if he’s nursing an injury – but, to put things mildly, he’s worth the rare mishap.

***

Overall, Karlsson’s been a gem for the Sharks. Perhaps they might grumble at the occasional mistake, emotional flare up, or bit of detached-looking body language when Karlsson’s on the ice for an opponent’s goal, but they’re likely ecstatic with the ultimate results.

Now, if you’re a team pondering a long-term deal with Drew Doughty-type money? Then maybe you’re more concerned by every wince and slow turn.

That’s not the Sharks’ problem, and if Karlsson really heats up, he could create even bigger headaches for the Blues.

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.

Who should coach Sabres, Ducks, Oilers, Senators?

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When you look at the four conference finalists remaining in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you’ll notice a variety of coaching stories.

There’s quite a mix with a midseason replacement (Craig Berube for the Blues), a rookie breakthrough (Rod Brind’Amour for Carolina), someone who’s been effective with an established team (the Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy), and a veteran running a star-packed squad (Peter DeBoer with the Sharks). There are many ways to skin the cat, and that point becomes clearer when you zoom out to other success stories, such as Barry Trotz’s fantastic work with the New York Islanders.

With Joel Quenneville readying his sunscreen for Florida, Alain Vigneault leading a band of former head coaches in Philly, and Todd McLellan landing his second California gig with the Los Angeles Kings, you’d think that the game of musical chairs that is coaching hiring would be mostly done for the NHL, but that’s not really so. As of Tuesday, the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, and Ottawa Senators are still looking for new head coaches.

Let’s take a look at the decisions these four teams face, from a broader look at what type of coach they should look for, to a more concrete set of targets they should prioritize.

Anaheim Ducks should seek: An innovator

GM Bob Murray needs to face reality: “old-school” just isn’t working so well for the Ducks any longer.

This team ignored warning signs that Randy Carlyle’s work was behind the times, and those warts really sprouted up during a pretty disastrous 2018-19 season. If you look at the Ducks’ salary structure, you’ll see some troublingly aging core players like Ryan Getzlaf and the injured Ryan Kesler (both 34) and Corey Perry (33).

We’ve seen teams face a slump where they miss the playoffs before getting back on track, though, and there’s a chance the Ducks could join that group if thing swing back in their favor.

That’s especially true if John Gibson remains an all-world goaltender. Combine Gibson with a still-solid group of defensemen and decent forwards (Getzlaf’s getting old, but he can still move the needle), and maybe the Ducks’ outlook can go sunnier quickly.

Ducks targets:

  • Dallas Eakins – The breath of fresh air Anaheim needs could be right with the AHL’s affiliate, as Eakins seems forward-thinking when it comes to resting players and analytics. He’s also had success basically everywhere he’s been … except Edmonton. Even there, it’s not as if he had a lot of time to fix all the leaks for the Oilers.
  • Todd Nelson – Another briefly-former-Oilers coach who’s had success basically everywhere else he’s been. Nelson’s both reasonably young and well-traveled, making him a worthy consideration for multiple teams, really.
  • Sheldon KeefeIn Elliotte Friedman’s latest edition of “31 Thoughts“, he reported that Keefe wouldn’t leave the Toronto Marlies, unless it was for a better situation. Maybe the young coach wouldn’t view the Ducks as an upgrade, although you rarely see perfect teams making coaching searches, right?

The Ducks could also go for an older coach if they believe that bench boss would drive immediate results in a way that a fresher face wouldn’t … but personally, I’d lean toward youngsters.

Sabres should find: Structure

For years, there’s been an uncomfortable question lingering for Buffalo: is this team underachieving, or is the talent simply not there?

Either way, the optics haven’t been great, as the Sabres have often looked rudderless. They’ve really struggled to find stability since the lengthy Lindy Ruff era ended, and it sure feels like Buffalo needs to find this year’s version of Barry Trotz: an experienced coach who can install systems that won’t collapse under the pressure of competition.

Sabres’ best target:

  • Dave Tippett – At 57, Tippett has already coached two teams (the Stars and Coyotes) for a combined 1,114 regular-season games and 74 playoff contests. His squads have been structurally sound, and Tippett often found ways to get the most out of limited Coyotes rosters. He won a Jack Adams Award in 2009-10, and while he hasn’t had a head coaching job since 2016-17, Tippett remains focused on the game.

There are other options, with Friedman reporting that another former Oilers coach Ralph Krueger possibly being the frontrunner but … frankly, I just really like the fit for Buffalo. Maybe Tippett wouldn’t view the Sabres the same way, though.

(UPDATE: The Sabres have decided to hire Ralph Krueger.)

Oilers need: An exorcist

Just kidding. Plus, you could argue the same for the Senators, and to an extent, the Sabres.

My impression is that the Oilers could use optimism and positive, forward energy as much as anything else. It says a lot about their organizational dysfunction that you can almost forget that they have Connor McDavid, as well as some other key pieces.

Yes, the roster has issues, but maybe a more offensive-minded coach could get things going in a more modern direction, rather than trying to squeeze every drop of defensive potential out of this mix, as both Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan generally aimed to do? Considering how grim the atmosphere seemed to be, these players may benefit from a pat on the back after being barked at for some time.

Oilers’ options:

  • Sheldon Keefe – Would Keefe value having McDavid and Leon Draisaitl enough to risk leaving the Marlies for the Oilers? If so, what better way for Edmonton to show that its not some “old boys club” than to hire such a young head coach?
  • Todd Nelson– Ken Holland observed Nelson’s success with the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate for years, so maybe that would inspire Holland to allow Nelson to get another, more “real” shot with Edmonton this time around?
  • Scott Sandelin/Nate Leaman – I’d be surprised if the Oilers went bold with Keefe or either of these two NCAA coaches, but I also think they’re worth mentioning. Rather than going for a retread in the form of a former head coach (who’s had more legitimate chances than a Nelson or an Eakins), why not see if one of these coaches has a higher ceiling?

Tippett seems to be a rising choice for Edmonton, and the Oilers could certainly go in worse directions. It feels a bit more of the same, though, as bringing in Hitchcock. Maybe Nelson would be the best compromise between bringing in fresher ideas and appeasing … well, that old boys club?

Senators should look for: An optimist … and a stopgap

In the above cases, teams are hoping to finally take big steps forward, or in the case of the Ducks, to reverse a downward spiral.

Honestly, the Ottawa Senators are better off tanking in 2019-20, and probably for a year or two beyond that. They purged a ton of talent by trading away Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Mike Hoffman, and others in recent seasons, and it’s tough to imagine overachieving doing much for the team’s bigger picture outlook beyond messing up their draft lottery odds.

With how dark things have been for the Senators, they could use a positive presence, preferably a coach who’s patient enough to help develop the Brady Tkachuks of the world. Put some smiles on some faces … just don’t win too much.

Ottawa’s options:

  • Marc Crawford – Becoming something of a coaching journeyman’s likely given Crawford some perspective. He served as interim head coach, so he already has some knowledge of the players and franchise, which can’t be underrated when you consider how … polarizing owner Eugene Melnyk can be.
  • Troy Mann– Carries much of the appeal of Crawford, as he’s coached the Senators’ AHL affiliate. He’d probably be cheap as a first-time NHL head coach too, which is, erm, appealing to Melnyk.
  • Scott Sandelin/Nate Leaman – A more sensible scenario for an NCAA coach to take over. Expectations would be low, so Sandelin or Leaman would get some time to acclimate to the NHL. Theoretically, at least. Might be a tough sell for either one to leave successful programs to try to fix the Senators, though.
  • Lane Lambert – Plenty of experience (and potential?) as Barry Trotz’s assistant, and hey, if you’re going to be bad, at least distract yourself with his amusing hair. (Note: Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Ducks have also shown interest in Lambert.)

***

None of these situations feel like easy or obvious fixes, and the best options might not be listed above. Then again, things didn’t seem very optimistic for the Islanders when Trotz took over, or for Berube when the Blues were ranked last during this season, and those scenarios ended up being wild successes.

Who would you go after if you were running those teams?

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.

Will coaching experience matter in Western Conference Final?

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Experience.

Does it matter or is it overrated?

That’s the question many general managers ask themselves whenever they have a head coaching vacancy to fill. Some teams want a fresh face with a new approach, while some others are more than happy to get a savvy veteran that’s been there, done that. This year’s Western Conference Final features one of each.

Sharks bench boss Pete DeBoer is three years younger than Blues interim coach Craig Berube, but experience is clearly on his side. DeBoer, 50, has been a head coach in the NHL since 2008-09 and he’s been behind the bench for three three different organizations (Florida and New Jersey).

In his 11 NHL seasons, DeBoer has made it to the Stanley Cup Final twice. Unfortunately for him, he came up empty on both occasions, as the Devils lost to the Kings in 2012 while his Sharks team lost to the Penguins in 2016. There’s no denying that he has learned a lesson or two from those long postseason runs. There’s no substitute for learning on the biggest stage and under the brightest lights. You can’t simulate that. But how much does that really matter in a head-to-head matchup between two franchises that have been waiting a long time to win a Stanley Cup?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Before taking over for Mike Yeo earlier this season, Berube had two seasons of NHL head coaching experience, as he coached the Flyers in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The 53-year-old was bounced in the first round of the playoffs in his first year and he failed to make the postseason in year two. He only won his first series as a head coach when the Blues knocked the Winnipeg Jets out of the first round last month.

And looking back on that series, Berube’s limited experience didn’t even come close to what Jets head coach Paul Maurice had under his belt. In fact, if you look at the eight coaches who made it to the second round of the playoffs in 2019, you’ll notice that five of them been behind an NHL bench for three full seasons or fewer. Boston’s Bruce Cassidy, Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour, Dallas’ Jim Montgomery, Colorado’s Jared Bednar, and Berube all fit in to that category. Cassidy is the leader in the clubhouse with 301 games of experience, but many of those came in the early 2000s when he was with the Washington Capitals.

Don’t get it twisted, there will always be room for experienced head coaches. The Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers both decided to hire veteran head coaches this year. Proven commodities will always have appeal in professional sports, but many teams are clearly willing to go with new blood.

So how much of an advantage does DeBoer have over Berube based on his experience? It’s hard to say. There’s no quantitative way to measure how many more goals the Sharks will score because of experience. Are the Sharks in the Western Conference Final because their coach is experienced? Probably not. But did experience help the Sharks remain calm when they were down by three goals in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights? Yeah, probably.

Let’s not sell the Blues’ young staff short, either. Berube and assistants Mike Van Ryn and Steve Ott don’t have as much coaching experience, but they also showed an ability to keep their team calm in a pressure situation. In Game 7 against Dallas, the Blues dominated the entire game. The limited Dallas to just one shot in the second period, but they still had to go two overtimes deep to beat them. But they remained composed and they kept pushing until Pat Maroon finally won them the game.

It’s possible that experience behind the bench will give the Sharks an edge in certain aspects of the game, but will it be the difference between them advancing and going home early? That seems very unlikely.

As usual, there’s a very good chance that the players on the ice will determine who wins and who loses. And that’s the way it should be!

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
PHT Conference Finals predictions
Conference Finals roundtable

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Evander Kane got ejected – and so did Sharks’ coach

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Things got ugly for the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, and the blemishes weren’t limited to a 6-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights alone.

With frustrations clearly boiling over, Evander Kane was ejected following a heated series of events:

  • Kane went low in hitting Tomas Nosek with a questionable hit. As it was, it would probably be the sort of infraction that the Department of Player Safety may take an extra look at.
  • The 27-year-old winger really lost it, eventually being ejected from the game for “abuse of officials” and abusive language. It seemed like Kane needed to be restrained during the exchange.
  • He finished the night with 26 penalty minutes. While there was a high-sticking fraction not long before that, it mainly came from that outburst.
  • Oh yeah, head coach Peter DeBoer didn’t last much longer in that game, as he was ejected for jawing at officials less than a minute later.

Take a look at that questionable hit, via NBC Sports California:

You can see some of Kane’s agitating exchange in this GIF.

Again, it wasn’t just Kane who ended up being ejected, as DeBoer also got thrown out. DeBoer’s side of the story was pretty amusing, as the Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports.

“I didn’t even swear, I just asked him, did that feel good kicking Evander out under these circumstances?” DeBoer said. “That was enough I guess. I guess he wanted another victim.”

Ah yes, just like everyone else, DeBoer had the wherewithal to use the word “circumstances” during a moment of rage and passion. Totally normal!

DeBoer’s night ended early, in a way that felt a lot like an MLB manager throwing a fit and getting ejected from a blowout loss, almost making you wonder if it was on purpose. DeBoer spent some extra time on the Sharks’ bench before the second period even began, so it was an unusual night for San Jose’s head coach.

Maybe this is just one of those weeks for the Sharks. As you likely remember, the Sharks aren’t that far removed from Antoine Roussel biting Marc-Edouard Vlasic, inspiring a $5K fine and countless jokes about eating pickles.

Could Kane and/or DeBoer face a suspension or fines? The Department of Player Safety will need to consider all … circumstances.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

DeBoer says Sharks will have a captain next season

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Lacking a player with a “C” on his sweater was far from the only sign of dysfunction in San Jose last season, but new head coach Peter DeBoer said the Sharks will get that captain question out of the way in 2015-16.

NHL.com transcribed his interesting thoughts on the subject, which he expressed during an appearance on San Jose’s 95.7 The Game on Wednesday.

“I feel very confident by the first game of the season, we’ll have a captain,” DeBoer said. “It’s not something we are going to drag around as a distraction this year. We’re going to move past that. I think the players are ready for that too; they just want to play some hockey and get this thing back on track.”

Even with a captain likely to be named, DeBoer believes that the Sharks will continue to “lead by committee,” much like other teams. He noted that you only see a Mark Messier-type leader every now and then (even with that annual award and all).

Quite a bit has changed in San Jose, but the go-to guys remain largely the same, include former captains Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

The 2014-15 campaign was something of a meltdown at times, and if nothing else, the hope is that DeBoer will provide stability to a team that still seems to boast playoff-level talent. Cutting down on drama seems like a worthy effort, really.