Wow. This last season hey. It did not go well. The season never really got going after a seemingly good start (4-0-1) it went downhill from there but for a strong showing in December going into January. We had only three bad losing streaks. The one being a four match losing streak and the other two, three matches. So we did not have any really really bad runs. But there was so much inconsistency in the season. We would often sandwich a win with two losses mostly against sides below us. But the problems go a lot deeper than that. I think the best way to go into what happened is divide the season into three parts. On the Ice, Off the Ice (within the organisation) and Factors outside of the organisation.
Off the Ice within the Organisation
The public spat between Joe Thornton and GM Doug Wilson was a build up of many problems within personnel and the franchises hierarchy. With Todd McClellan’s 'mutual' departure from the Sharks the future hierarchy is anything but smooth. The first real issue that came to a head was when Doug Wilson called the Sharks a 'tomorrow team'. This created two problems. He did not follow through with that statement but rather chose a confusing middle ground. The problem he also created was with the players and within the dressing room. The players, especially the disgraced former captain Joe Thornton (who is not absolved of all blame) did not believe that we were a Tomorrow Team. “That’s Doug's Opinion” Joe said when asked about what he thought about this tomorrow team. Joe really believed that we are still a top team challenging for the Cup. And I tend to agree with him. With a few additions to the team and belief from the top we could have easily made the play-offs. (I sound like a broken record). This led to many problems down the road including the famous spat in March between Joe and Wilson. Even Todd Mclellan still believed in the team to be a Stanley Cup contender. Even the Head Coach did not agree with the man running things.
Then Doug Wilson stripped Joe of his captaincy and then said he wants to look at more youthful candidates to step into more leadership roles. He then preceded to name no replacement but instead gave A's to Pavs, Vlasic and kept Marleau and Thornton as Alternates also. And then says Thornton could regain his C in training camp?? What? Mixed messages from the man in charge. Instils confidence in the players and fans hey? What he should have done is name the obvious candidate captain, Pavelski and name Vlasic and Couture as Alternates. As much as I love Joe and Patty if Wilson had just chosen a stance there would have been more confidence coming from the top. This just left the team confused with no direction and the fact that they were all behind Thornton made Wilson the bad guy already.
It came at a ridiculously bad time for the organisation. I am sure I do not need to recall the spat but after it happened we were six points outside of the play-offs with less than a month left in the regular season. An almost impossible task as it is. Joe's claim that Wilson was lying about him was a huge red flag. Our chances went from about 5% to make the play-offs plummeted to at least 2% after that. But to be fair our dream of sneaking in to the play-offs was probably over by then. The unrest from the beginning of the season was more the root of the problem and the spat was just these problems coming to a head. If Wilson had signed some decent free agents this would have told the team that the organisation actually believes that they can make a splash this season. Signing John Scott and Tye McGinn (respect to both of them) was not a huge vote of confidence in the team. Maybe a little bit of belief would have gone a long way. It was no secret that Wilson wanted to move Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. He did not have belief in these veterans to win the cup. Marleau had the worst season he has had for a while. Maybe it was the constant worry about his future or the total non belief from the organisation. Or it could be his inevitable decline because of age. I guess its whatever you want to believe.
There was also problems with Head Coach Mclellan and his troops which only became apparent in the lead up to his departure. When asked about his future Todd said he had a lot to consider especially within his family. Thornton at the end of year locker room clear out, was his recently crass self. “Todd needs to think of this family” gesturing to the rest of the players. Another huge red flag. Unrest between a senior player and the coach being the problem. It could split the dressing room which already has been accused of not being close enough. So many problems off the ice. This team was doomed to fail.
Problems on the Ice
Where to Start? Maybe with the summer signings. I mean you obviously cannot blame Scott and McGinn for their performances. They were just never good enough. I do feel Scott added something to our team. We had many injuries last season because of on ice shenanigans. For Example Dustin Brown's 'accidental' knee on knee collision with the Calder Trophy shoe in Tomas Hertl. Dustin Brown or any other pest (I do not use that word lightly) would have been less inclined to start trouble when San Jose played. They would have had Scott to deal with and I would not want to fight that 6 foot 8 monster. He added some sort of grit to our team. However it was not a positive acquisition. It added nothing to our defence and offense which was definitely lacking this season. As I have said before more quality signings = play-offs.
Although every facet on the ice was to blame for our poor performance lets start with the back. Goaltending was a sham. Niemi is barely an apt starter any more and Stalock's performances were definitely not up to scratch. I do not always like to use stats (I mean they do tell a story) but I like to describe things I see rather. But for this instance save percentage and GAA for these two goal tenders tell a story. Troy Groesnick was actually the leader in both categories but he only played a handful of games so that does not really count. (Maybe for the future). Niemi had stats of a Save Percentage of .914 and a Goal Against Average of 2.59. Stalock who did finish the season strong still had a below average save percentage of .902 and a way above average Goal Against Average of 2.62. Below average numbers and only a few decent performances. But when they played bad they played really baaaaaaaad. For next season we have to change things. Drastically. To compare these numbers to some of the better goal tenders in the league (not Carey Price good) someone like Crawford who had a good season. .924% save percentage and 2.27 GAA are solid numbers which would be great to get from a tender season in and season out.
Now onto Defense. Now this is an area I would love to get your opinions on comments on! Burns in defence was it a success or failure. He got many points, set personal bests for points actually (more than he got as a forward). But he made many defensive mistakes which led to many goals. He did get better as the season went on. Burnzie (Or Caveman or Chewbacca whatever you want to call him) got 12 more points then he did last season and his an obvious offensive asset. He finished only second to offensive dynamo Erik Karlsson in the points among defenceman. However no one can deny that he was a defensive liability. What do you guys feel? I think if we can find another defenceman who can 'Quarterback' the power play (Someone like Cody Franson) we should move Burnzie back to forward on the Joe line. (Pavs and Thornton). Now enough on Burnzie lets look at the rest of our defence.
Here is the list of all the defenceman that played for us this season with games played (Plus Minus Order)
Marc Edoard Vlasic 70
Justin Braun 70
Matt Irwin 53
Scott Hannan 58
Taylor Fedun 7
Matt Tennyson 27
Karl Stollery 5 for San Jose 5 for Colorado
Jason Demers 20 with San Jose 61 with Dallas
Mirco Mueller 39
Brent Burns 82 (only one to play in every game)
Brendan Dillon 60 with San Jose and 20 with Dallas
That is 11 defenceman. Only three played more than 60 games. Turmoil is the best way to describe our defensive corps. Not because there is not depth but Mclellan, or Wilson or anyone for that matter knew out best six defenceman. Vlasic, Braun, Burns and Dillon are out top four defenceman. But assuming at least one of these players gets injured our defence corps looks extremely light. Defence has been our problem for a while. Vlasic is an elite defenceman no doubts about that. On a weak team to finish with a plus minus of 12 is extremely commendable and should not be taken lightly. He was not the problem. (See my next piece for a more in depth look at Vlasic) Pickles was not the problem. However he lacked an apt partner on the top pairing which hurt us a lot. His good mate Demers was traded and he was left without a partner. Burnzie and Braun played there most of the season but it just did not click. Braun and Dillon are solid defenceman but in no ways spectacular.
Just for comparison the last five winners of the Stanley Cup. The Kings had Doughty, Voynov, Martinez and Muzzin which is not a star studded defensive corps but an extremely solid one. (And Jonathan Quick behind them who is a huge playoff player). The Blackhawks in both their wins had Keith and Seabrook on their front line. Two elite defenceman in their own right. The Bruins well they had Chara who himself is the elite of the elite. He had a supporting crew of Seidenberg, Boychuk and McQuaid. Again better than the Sharks have had for a while. Detroit had Lidstom and Pittsburgh had Letang, Gonchar, Gill, Scuderi, Whitney, Goligoski and Orpik. Hell of a defence corps hey. With respect the first supporting act (Irwin and Hannan) they do not match up with that. And where does the sixth defenceman fit in. Mueller had that role for a while and frankly he looked completely out of his depth. To be fair to him he was not used very well. So that did not work. Then Tennyson got the job. He was not to awful but frankly again that is not good enough. There were 11 defenceman used with 3 of them not playing more than 10 games. Obviously you have to factor in injuries but the constant shuffle of the top six was sometimes frustrating and down right wrong. This is because of two factors. One the inability to stick with one blueprint and just the fact that the defence corps was just not good enough. This is a major problem and has to change next season. You know the drill next piece I will explore how to patch up this shoddy defence.
Our Forward core was definitely on the weak side. We had no depth and some skaters who were expected to perform never really showed up. We lost Burnzie to defence, Havlat to free agency, Torres and Brown to injury (never really liked Brown) and Burish. We added John Scott and Tye McGinn to make up for the losses which were never enough. Scott has no offensive upside and McGinn was not much better. Wilson's intention was to fill those roster spots with youngsters. Guys like Melker Karlsson, Danil Tarasov, Eriah Hayes, Freddie Hamilton, Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow. Wilson and Mclellan intended to give bigger roles to Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto. Aside from Karlsson and Tierney there was disappointment. Karlsson was the shining star for this season. Possibly the only one. And he only got 24 points. Hertl and Nieto were expected to really kick on from their Rookie Seasons but both endured sophmore slumps. Hertl (31) and Nieto (27) were expected to at least get 40+ points. Especially the Teenage Mutant Ninja Hertl. (Marty Biron is still having nightmares I bet). But to be fair to them no one really performed except maybe for Joe Pavelski. And again in Hertl's defence he did not play the minutes or on the line he played last season. He was not used right. He should have played on the top two lines. Those two were the most disappointing of the rookies. There should have been one or two vets added via trade or free agency to help the load on the bottom six,
To be completely honest no one really performed to the level they did last year maybe besides Joe Pavelski. Everyone had an off season in points. No one produced as they are used to. We were just an all rounded dysfunctional team and our forwards were not much better. Patrick Marleau who is normally at a point per game pace only got 38 and that was down to a late season surge. Wingels who had a really good breakthrough season last year also only got 21 points which is down from 38 . Very disappointing. Joe Thornton was not much down in point production but he was not at his best. However he definitely can still produce for us and I hope we keep him. I do not really believe there is a point going much further into the forward core. Their main job is to produce points and they just did not do that. End of story.
Our special teams were very disappointing. Our power play was pretty good but that is because of Pavelski's obscene amount of powerplay goals. Our penalty kill was one of the worst in the league. Any team are likely to take stupid penalties alone so the penalty kill has to be up to scratch. It was nothing short of terrible. 78%. That is way below the average San Jose normally achieve. Last year our penalty kill was 84% a major drop. Its even below the league average. Successful Hockey Teams, in my opinion, is built on solid goaltending and the special teams, Both were lacking this season. Penalty killers are players that are very hard to come by and besides for Andrew Desjardins (who left for Chicago at the trade deadline) no one in the team is a specialist killer. Maybe its time to invest in one or two. I am not saying guys like Jumbo, Patty, and even to some extent Hertl are bad penalty killers. But they are not in the side to specially kill penalties. A guy like Chris Kelly could become available this year. If we could get him on the cheap it would not be a bad move. The Penalty Kill is so important and is in major need of a overhaul.
Factors Outside of the Sharks
What I mean by this is the factors that surround San Jose that we had no control over. This means league rules, fixtures and decisions and also the teams around us. The outdoor game in February was more of a problem this season than a positive. Yes it was great to have and host and the Sharks must have made a lot of money from it but because of it we endured long away stands that did not allow us to get any momentum going. Our Fixture list definitely played a part in some of the failures. More home stands could have led to more momentum equalling more points. Maybe I am looking for problems even though they are not there but I feel this definitely contribute.
Teams around us definitely improved this season. The Pacific Division was a lot more competitive this season. Last year the Flames and Canucks were irrelevant but this season they were right up there. Both making the playoffs at the Sharks and Kings (Yes!) expense. Even teams in the Central Division improved. The Wild and Preds the most notable teams that improved. Chicago and St Louis was just as competitive and Dallas also had their day. The Pacific Division deserves more of an analysis I feel. Last year there were three clear teams that were going to make it on the behalf of the Pacific Division. The Ducks, Sharks and Kings in that order made the playoffs quite easily in the end. Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Phoenix as they were known then were never ever in the hunt. The two wild cards came from the Central (Dallas and Wild). The teams in the Pacific are the teams that San Jose play the most. SO the fact that it was almost a five horse race for those three Pacific Division places it made San Jose's job to make the playoffs that much harder. The Sharks also dropped points to many teams lower than them which you could take on the mass improvement in the league. The competitiveness. That you will have to decide yourself.
There was lot that went wrong with the Sharks this season. We must not dwell on it to much but use what went wrong and move forward. Someone must decide on the direction of the Sharks and stick with it. In the next piece the future will be discussed. Looking forward to writing it and you reading
Thanks for Reading!
PS. Chicago are looking good aren't they
Shame about Calgary though.