When a team that has been to the Stanley Cup playoffs 10 times in a row misses, there is plenty of blame to go around. That is why the San Jose Sharks again made headlines (on Fox Sports this time) for their coaching search Monday, May 25.
It seems general manager Doug Wilson is casting a wide net for coaches to replace San Jose’s franchise leader in nearly every statistic behind the bench. Dave Lowry is emerging as an “off-the-radar” choice…which of course creates a paradox by putting him on the radar.
While it seems there was a degree of consensus that Todd McLellan should go elsewhere, it seems he may have been pushed out the door. In addition to the most recent captain’s brother and agent seeming to suggest Team Canada made a terrible choice to coach its IIHF World Champions to Joe Thornton himself saying his coach should talk to his family in the dressing room about a decision on whether or not to leave, CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz reported May 19 that Wilson “may have been ready to move on” anyway.
The reality is a coach does have some of the blame for his team’s failures. McLellan relied too heavily on veteran players on a team that he then said was “clearly in a rebuild” and he failed to find the right combination of lines. When asked in the press conference announcing the parting of ways about the possibility of coaching the highly-talented Connor McDavid, he noted that talent was not everything.
The fact that McLellan is going to coach the Edmonton Oilers after all says a lot. First, he is clearly not afraid of a rebuild since the Sharks are not as far away from contention. Second, his comment about talent not being enough was not about McDavid.
Could it be he does not want to rebuild in San Jose because it was there to which he referred when saying talent is not enough? That is not to say there is not enough talent, but that the talent there does not know how to win.
With six players under the age of 25 years old coming into the 2014-15 NHL season with less than a full season of prior league experience playing at least 39 games in it, there would seem to be no shortage of young talent. That seems an indictment of the core, but it might have more to do with the Sharks being between two worlds.
With stars in decline tied to the team until 2017—when they will both be closer to their 38th birthdays than their 37th—McLellan may understand that the team he is leaving will be in perpetual rebuild until their departure. In Edmonton, he has young players that will develop without such ties to the past to hold back the new direction.
Most of San Jose’s core consists of four of the pictured forwards spending the most time on a scoring line. Most certainly did not perform as well as they could have, but the way this unit grades issued (based on contribution rather than expectation) reinforces that the biggest problems were on the back end—where McLellan will again have the same problem with his new team.
Joe Pavelski is the most versatile player the San Jose Sharks have. He can play in any situation and at any position but goalie, he is a leader and played the role of a captain no matter that the letter he wore was more appropriate for his grade than his role: A.
Pavelski led the team in goals (37) and points (70) on the offensive end, had San Jose’s most faceoff wins (642) and defensively was second in takeaways (57) while leading forwards in blocks (86). His ability to play the point on the power play and fill any needed role are why he was behind only Brent Burns in total ice time (1650:15).
Joe Thornton was San Jose’s best possession player with a team-leading 58 percent success rate in the faceoff circle and 60 takeaways. He kept up with Pavelski in scoring and overall performance until the seven-game pointless stretch while the team fell out of contention for a Stanley Cup-playoff berth: A-.
Five of Thornton’s 16 goals were into an empty net and he was second on the Sharks with 91 giveaways, and he does not block shots (26) or deliver hits (39). However, he is by far their best player in relative full-strength shot differential (9.6) and is the biggest reason the top power-play line is the best in the world, and he had 1437:05 total ice time over 78 games.
Logan Couture seems to have struggled yet was one of two Sharks (Pavelski) to score 20 goals (27) and behind only Burns and Thornton in assists to finish the 2014-15 NHL season second on the team in points (67). He also did it against some of the toughest assignments to earn a B+.
Couture’s defensive responsibilities show up in his statistics: 56 takeaways is San Jose: 56 takeaways was third and 71 blocks is second among forwards. His faceoff prowess needs work (48.2 percent) but his strength in all three zones is why he had 1563:56 ice time.
Patrick Marleau had his second-worst offensive season in at least the last 10, but he was still third in goals (19), fourth in assists (38) and fifth in scoring (57). His skating also made him a defensive asset, which got him some tough assignments mitigating to his fallen production, earning him a C+.
Ultimately, he was third in ice time (1606:26) and among forwards in shorthanded time per game. He finished with a respectable 85 hits and 44 takeaways, but 71 giveaways and just a 48 percent success rate in the circle.
While Melker Karlsson did far more than anyone could realistically have hoped, the reality is he only played 53 games and scored 23 points. He was defensively responsible and is always one of the smartest players on the ice, but he only played for a few games played off of Thornton’s line and was an average scoring forward during the 2014-15 NHL season: C.
Karlsson averaged just over the forward average of 15 minutes a night and had a solid 51 hits, 26 blocks and 21 takeaways with just 22 giveaways. However, that was easily good enough to be San Jose’s rookie of the year and there is no reason to think he will not continue to get better.
Tommy Wingels may have had the largest offensive dip in the second half of the 2014-15 NHL season while the Sharks fell from second in the Pacific Division out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with just six goals and seven assists in his last 43 games. He remained great defensively and brings the attitude you want everyone to have, but 15 goals and 21 assists is not very good for a scoring-line forward: C-.
The reality is he is better cast as the ace of a third line, finishing the 2014-15 NHL season with the team lead and behind only seven players in the league with 263 hits despite missing seven games. He also had 55 blocks and 33 takeaways with an acceptable 40 giveaways and winning 45.4 percent of faceoffs in 1235:19 total ice time.
Tomas Hertl took a great step backward in his sophomore 2014-15 NHL season, perhaps because he did not have a proper off-season routine returning from a knee injury. Eventually falling to San Jose’s third line, he finished with just 13 goals and 18 assists—too few for a scorer to get a good grade: D.
Hertl is still a mistake-prone second-year forward, with 64 giveaways and defensive holes—just 33 blocks and 29 takeaways—that prevented him from getting more than 1193:18 ice time. However, his effort is there with 106 hits and if he showed a little ability to play the middle if he can improve his 45.8-percent faceoff success.
Matt Nieto also dropped from the scoring lines at times because his offensive play was erratic: 10 goals and 17 assists in 72 games is awful for a scoring forward. However, his defensive play improved enough (an impressive 38 takeaways but only 38 blocks and 24 hits) that his great skating led to more shorthanded than power-play minutes in his 1098:23 total ice time and earns him a D even for a scoring-line role.
Nieto is one of the smallest Sharks and needs space to operate. Putting him and Marleau on a line gave it an abundance of speed, but he would benefit more from having a physical presence to balance out his line.