Sharks’ Commitment to Toughness a Losing Formula

In the weeks since Doug Wilson used the magic “R” word – rebuild – the Sharks have been remarkably inactive. A lot of this has to do with nearly every aging core piece having a no-trade clause to their credit, but you can hardly blame the fan base for feeling underwhelmed at this point.

Instead of addressing the soon to be massive dive in secondary scoring, the Sharks opted to go after size, toughness and other not-so-important hockey skills in free agency. It started when Doug Wilson opted to re-sign possession anchor and 7-minute a night face-puncher Mike Brown to not one, but two-years at a cap-hit of $1.2 million. Not a single typo to speak of; Brown really got that deal.

Then the absolute coup de grace came with the addition of noted sasquatch and obscenely bad hockey player, John Scott, on a one-year deal worth $700,000. Apparently all the Sharks needed to get that final and fourth victory over the L.A. Kings was an extra face puncher.

Interspersed in these mind numbing decisions was the trade of Brad Stuart to the Colorado Avalanche – an absolute coup – and the re-signing of Alex Stalock to a two-year $3.2 million contract. It has also been reported that the Sharks have re-signed Scott Hannan, for reasons that escape me, to a one-year deal.

Wilson Missed the Memo

The Sharks lost to Los Angeles for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that the Kings iced a power-house of a roster, bound for their second Stanley Cup in three years; nobody pushed them closer to the brink than the San Jose Sharks. Beyond that though, the Sharks didn’t score enough, received bad goaltending and were hit hard by bad luck in the form of an injury to Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Hard to overcome any one of those when playing the Kings, but when dealing with all three it’s almost the perfect storm.

What the Sharks didn’t need were additional face-punchers. This series wasn’t lost because the Sharks weren’t fighting enough; but because they weren’t scoring enough. If only Doug Wilson were privy to this information… or Todd McLellan, for that matter.

And looking back on that series, it’s easy to see where the seeds of this offseason were sown. Now, McLellan is as good a coach as the Sharks have ever had in their history. Relatively speaking, he’s one of the more progressive minds in the league and that shows in his deployments and offensive strategies.

Good guys, tough minutes. Bad guys, easier minutes.

Good guys, tough minutes. Bad guys, easier minutes.

Like any coach, though, McLellan is prone to make decisions based on a style of hockey that died nearly 20-years ago. When the Sharks failed to accumulate enough secondary scoring to put that final nail in the Kings coffin, did McLellan react appropriately in the rosters he iced? No. Rather than playing oft-injured and disappointing forward Martin Havlat, McLellan turned to Mike Brown and his toughness. What did Brown’s toughness do for the Sharks? Well, while Brown was on the ice the Sharks controlled less than 40% of all shot-attempts at evens.

The stupidity didn’t end there. While Brad Stuart’s corpse and Scott Hannan were playing regular minutes, Matt Irwin was forced to watch from the pressbox; until Vlasic’s injury forced him into service, of course.

The Fix

The offseason is far from over yet and the Sharks still have a wealth of cap space at their disposal. They don’t necessarily have to spend to the ceiling, but some depth moves would certainly be encouraging. There are still young, productive players to be found at the bottom of the bargain bin of NHL’s free agency and I can’t see why the Sharks would pass on some of them

Peter Mueller is apparently healthy and ready to play again, so why not? The team has one natural right winger and Mueller can easily fill a top-six role if healthy. Maybe send him a one-year prove it deal. Andrei Loktionov wasn’t qualified by the Carolina Hurricanes and that makes him available for any team to sign. Loktionov has top-six upside, but at the very least can fill a productive role in the bottom-six. Again, why not?

That blueline sure could use some help, too. Maybe a puck-moving, reliable defenceman like Raphael Diaz is worth looking into. Another puck-moving defenceman that the Sharks could look at it Michael Del Zotto. Del Zotto will most likely never become that top-four defenceman that can anchor a team’s power play, but that doesn’t mean that in the right situation Del Zotto can’t succeed.

No amount of sandpaper was going to give the Sharks that one last victory against the Kings. A little secondary scoring? That might have done the trick.

7 Comments

  1. I agree with Bryce. The Sharks need toughness. They didn’t stand up for themselves and were pushed around. Maybe DW knew he had to go out an get toughness/ goons ’cause he didn’t have it in the locker room. Im tired of other teams running our players without repercussions. Maybe signing Scott and the others will impart a needed attitude change ! Signing Hannan was dumb though, I don’t see the reason especially if we are ” rebuilding”. I’d go with Irwin or Mueller or some other D-man.
    Hopefully DW isn’t finished adding pieces. There are still some decent players out there. The Sharks still need to make more moves. Get rid of Niemi, he hasn’t be consistent enough and was a liability down the stretch and in the playoffs. Maybe they can send him and Kennedy/ Burish to Toronto for Riemer. He’s a young goalie with upside and can compete with Stalock for net time. They still need some bottom six scoring. Maybe McGinn will help with that but hopefully they get more help in that area. I don’t think the Sharks are in as bad a shape as some of the pundits say they are. Time will tell how this season shakes out. DW’s job depends on it !

  2. I’m surprised other hockey writers haven’t caught on yet. There’s a reason sexy players like Peter Mueller with $5M worth of talent can’t find a contract with an NHL team for even $1M every offseason. It’s always these same guys fans want to see get signed cheap on their teams from the outside, and its always the same guys that the actual teams, with inside information, never want.

    Character issues. For as talented as they look some games on the ice, apparently some of these players just aren’t very committed, they miss team meetings, their teammates hate them, and so on. Teams want to avoid having happen to them what just happened to the Coyotes with Mike Ribeiro. The Sharks already got themselves bitten the last few years from acquiring a lazy, injury prone player with character issues in Martin Havlat. Now you expect them to sign Peter Mueller? I like Mueller too, same as every other NHL fan. From the outside. But apparently these teams with inside information know things about players like that that we don’t. I think it’s time writers started picking up on that because it happens every single year. “Why hasn’t anyone signed Mueller? Why hasn’t anyone signed Mueller? Even if he gets injured it won’t matter because you’re paying him less than Mike Brown! It’s the perfect low risk, high reward type of signing!”

    I always said that, too. But apparently it goes beyond just injury and production. Apparently some of these guys, just having them in your locker room at all causes problems. The team doesn’t get along. Maybe they introduce the young players to drugs, or at the very least poor workout habits. These are adults with millions of dollars to spend, with the world at their finger tips. We don’t know the full extent of what goes on. But these teams do, and that’s why, apparently signing these talented players who are still out there isn’t as simple as it looks from the outside.

    Because it if was, hey, how about Sergei Kostitsyn? I liked him a lot. Maybe try to get him back from the KHL? Or what about Radulov? Elite, two-way second line centers like that who push possession and are elite passers don’t grow on trees. He would have been the top center available in free agency this year, probably. Nashville had him, a team with no scoring, and they let him go after one postseason. Why? This is what I’m saying, it’s not that simple. More comes into play than just talent. They are people, too, not just players, and some people, especially ones with millions of dollars to play with, carry a lot of baggage with them, and can create a lot of problems.

    And that’s why just looking at stats is not going to tell you the whole picture, especially when it comes to a team like the Sharks that is known for its character and psychological issues.

  3. Bryce Treese says:

    IMO…here are the reasons the Sharks have faltered in the playoffs the past 10 years.

    1) Physical/Aggressive play. The playoffs are physical…and you need to be able to raise the physicality in order to avoid getting intimidated. Looking at the playoff series’ they have lost over the years, it is usually against teams who were able to dominate the physical game. Against LA this year, you can see how the style of play changed after games 1 & 2. Games 3-7 were much more physical San Jose backed down and played with their tails between their legs.

    2) Team Unity. When Vlasic went down due to a questionable hit, nobody came to his defense. Somebody needed to knock Stoll on his ass and have some pride and to show team unity. After that hit, LA had free reign of the ice and San Jose didn’t fight back. They need to show some heart, desire and passion. That is surely lacking.

    3) Game 6 & 7 results. Marleau and Thornton are not big game players. Never have been…never will be. They don’t deal with pressure well and when the team is depending on them…they fold. Look at their numbers in games 6 & 7….atrocious!!!

  4. Maybe it is time for Wilson to go. The signing of Hannan was a real head scratcher. But then I am prejudice. I saw him play in Juniors and didn’t like him then. And don’t tell me that you are willing to dump a year to draft a goaltender. Rookie goaltenders are not a good bet to backstop a Stanley Cup run. Like a quarterback in football, they take time in developing into stars capable of their hype. If you spent the money on Niemi, then you better be damn sure he is in for the longhaul. You have to have two good goalies in your stables and I am a proponent of platooning them, so they do not get overworked. But that takes a two goalies that will buy into winning a cup instead of accolades. And NHL goalies have been brainwashed into believing they have to play every minute of every game. Nonsense.

  5. Also, nobody in the NHL now trusts Wilson. Marleau and Thorton gave hometown discounts when they signed their new contracts in January and in return received no trade contracts. They both perform as they always have for the rest of the season and then Wilson threatens to trade them, takes their captaincies away and continues to bad mouth them. Marleau and Thorton take the high road and are class acts and Wilson is now seen by all playes as not being trusted. They signed at $6-7M and while they don’t deserve $10M+ that Toews and Kane got they do receive more. Sharks are in a tailspin in many ways.

  6. As I hope people realize that there is DEEP DEEP draft next year. It’s like 1997 all over again when we got Marleau in that draft 2nd pick over all and though trade Thornton. I hope the Sharks tank this coming season so we can get a great pick and pick up a future star players. Wilson will not tell his intention but it looking like all the stars are lining up for the sharks not to do well this year. Could this be intentional? we will never know.

    NHL Scouts are drooling over names such as , Connor McDavid or Jack EichelStrong and European class for 2015 Draft. The Sharks definitely need a goalie in this draft as their goalie in the farm are depleting rapidly. There are quite a few goalies on the radar of scouts at this stage, but two that stand out are Callum Booth (6-2, 196) of the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL and Mackenzie Blackwood (6-2, 205) of the Barrie Colts in the OHL.

    “There’s no clear No. 1 goalie yet and there could be some goalies that step to the forefront as the season goes along, but Booth and Blackwood look good,” Central Scouting’s Al Jensen said. “Booth is very controlled and has good quickness and athleticism. He reminds me a bit of the way Semyon Varlamov plays with the Colorado Avalanche.

    “Mackenzie was Barrie’s No. 1 goalie last year and has good size. He’s calm, poised and confident with an excellent butterfly style and is tough to beat down low.”

  7. A lot of Sharks fans are criticizing Wilson for the Brown and Scott signings, and while I understand the distaste for face-punchers with mediocre-at-best skills, I don’t see how Brown had anything to do with the loss to the Kings. The fourth line didn’t lose that series. Aside from the goaltending, the blame lies with a powerplay that finished on an 0-16 skid and top 6 players who were outplayed and outscored by their competition. And Havlat was deployed in Game 6 instead of Brown and didn’t do anything of note. There’s plenty of blame to go around for the historic collapse against the Kings, but trying to pin it on Brown is just a lazy attempt to jump on the anti-goon bandwagon. I think Wilson is thoroughly justified in calling out the older leaders of the team that didn’t come though… again… in spectacularly disastrous fashion.

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