With the Stanley Cup Playoffs closing in on an epic climax, we revisit a team that has been on vacation for quite some time now. The San Jose Sharks season was a whole host of adjectives: dysfunctional, embarrassing, disappointing. However, the reason a fifth place finish this season is all of these words is because the Sharks had such a strong campaign the year before.
By the Numbers
Prepare to wince, the direct comparison of the seasons listed side-by-side can sting a little.
A few things of note, the Sharks earned 22 less points, their goal differential dropped by 53, and the penalty kill unit was over 6% worse. The overall feeling of the season matches the numbers. By late February, fans were already calling it quits. With no shortage of material to dig through, however, a few moments stand out as explaining the difference between being one game from eliminating the Cup champs to picking ninth in the draft.
Loud For All the Wrong Reasons Offseason
This will hardly be the last time the Sharks 2014 offseason is mentioned. They gave away Drew Remenda, they re-signed Mike Brown, picked up John Scott, threatened to trade their two veterans, and then made a big stink about their captaincy. The focus on the team was higher than ever, yet the focus inside the locker room was severely lacking. A news story came out about a retreat where the players were “bonding.” It didn’t exactly inspire confidence in a team.
There was talk of a new television deal to replace an ancient agreement that gave the organization virtually nothing. That never panned out. Ice girls were introduced for the first time in franchise history. Fans weren’t happy.
All in all, it was an offseason that produced a lot of news, but none of it good. The Sharks had an existential crisis and floundered in response.
Aging stars Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton survived the trade rumors of the offseason but weren’t necessarily the same afterwards. While Thornton enjoyed a relatively successful season feeding Joe Pavelski, Marleau struggled all year long. Marleau only managed 19 goals, the first time he didn’t hit 20 in a full season since 2007. His -17 was also a team worst. Thornton meanwhile even suffered a 24 point drop in differential.
On the other end of the age spectrum, Tomas Hertl failed to take his step forward after a promising rookie campaign. Whether it was the constant shuffling of lines, the removal of Thornton as is his center, or just a return to Earth Hertl was not the same player. Hertl only managed 31 points after he was on pace for 52 in his first season.
The Sharks defense has never been their calling card. In his tenure as coach, Todd McLellan made sure that his team was fluid and powerful up front. This isn’t to say the defense was horrible, but it was never what San Jose hung their hat on. In 2013, the Sharks allowed 193 goals. That number increased by 33, a 17% rise! An explanation? The Sharks penalty kill also nosedived this past season. With the PK dropping 6.4 points, Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock didn’t enjoy very many leisurely nights between the pipes.
However, they are not exempt from any blame for the season. Niemi had arguably his worst season in teal, his GAA jumped .20 points to 2.59 (highest of his career) and suffered the most losses in a single season since joining the Sharks. Stalock didn’t make a big push to win the starting job either. The backup regressed mightily with a save percentage that dropped thirty points (.902). Neither goalie inspired much in terms of confidence.
A GM That Was a Bit Too Active
I don’t need to say much here. Every news outlet in the Bay Area has documented Doug Wilson’s involvement for the past year. Wilson first burst onto the scene soon after the Kings saw the Sharks off the ice last Summer. From the captaincy debacle to the fight with the former captain, Wilson was a constant presence. Here’s a timeline of the GM’s interloping.
- The Sharks get eliminated in historic fashion
- Doug Wilson attempts to claim rebuild is on the way
- Announcement that Drew Remenda will not be returning as color commentator
- John Scott is signed along with a 2 year deal for Mike Brown
- Joe Thornton is stripped of the captaincy
- Thornton and Marleau are “shopped” around the league
- Wilson thinks the “pressure” was getting to Joe
- Thornton tells Wilson to shut his mouth
- Fans and teammates side with Thornton, not Wilson
- Todd McLellan “parts ways” with the Sharks
Your biggest star of the season should be a player. The person that needs to be making the news headlines is supposed to be strapping on the skates every night. Not wearing a suit, sitting in the rafters looking down on the ice with a grimace on your face.
Despite what most players in any sport will tell you, distractions are real. It can be hard to focus on a gameplan when you’re muttering to yourself about how stupid your boss is before the game. The Sharks under-performed in many areas this season. But the largest reason for the drop off in the on-ice product was the circus act off the ice.
Take the teams in Stanley Cup Final right now. Chicago and Tampa Bay have had little controversy off the ice with the men in suits. Most noteworthy? The Lightning aren’t allowing Blackhawks jerseys in their stadium? Ouch. Wilson had such a strong need to control every little thing that he restricted his own players. In order for the Sharks to return to playoff hockey, the GM needs to let the leash out a little bit.