San Jose Sharks on the Brink

After a win to open their playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights, the San Jose Sharks have lost three straight and are now a game away from ending a season which once held Stanley Cup expectations. 

There was no mystery when it came to what the Sharks needed to do. We even developed a checklist to follow and the team hasn’t. 

On top of it, the playoffs often come down to health and the Sharks simply don’t have that either. Several top players are playing banged up, with one in particular, playing far below his ability when healthy.

If the end of the Sharks season feels inevitable, well, it probably is.  

Sharks’ Controversies Ready to Explode

When a team has Stanley Cup expectations and the result is getting bounced in the first round, expect controversy to follow.

The upcoming offseason will be one to remember, but it will not be easy. Even before the series and season ends, the finger pointing has started. 

The GM: Doug Wilson

Some will point a finger at general manager Doug Wilson. It is looking more and more like the Erik Karlsson trade, widely lauded at the time (including by me), is headed for bust status. Karlsson spent the first quarter of the season adjusting to his new team, the next quarter as perhaps the best player in the league. Then he got injured, and in the few games he’s played since, he hasn’t been good. In four playoff games, Karlsson has been on the ice for 13 Vegas goals.

Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks
Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks general manager

The Sharks gave up plenty of assets for Karlsson, and the Sharks’ future will not include any of those assets, nor does it seem, will it include Karlsson.

Wilson also stuck with his netminding duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell, making no goaltending moves around the trade deadline. This didn’t work out, either.

Wilson did add Gustav Nyquist at the trade deadline, but he has not moved the needle. Neither did his other addition, pugilist Micheal Haley.

The Coach: Peter DeBoer

Head coach Peter DeBoer will get considerable scrutiny. While Wilson stuck with his goaltending duo, it was up to the Sharks coaches to properly manage Jones and Dell. There is no sign they did anything helpful. 

Peter DeBoer - Sharks
Head coach Peter DeBoer, assistant coach Steve Spott and Sharks players Melker Karlsson, Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

DeBoer struggled to find a fit for Nyquist while his line of uber-talents Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier underachieved. 

The team often failed to follow the systems DeBoer employs, resulting in a team which did less than they might and raising the question if the team has tuned out the coach.

For the second time in four seasons under DeBoer, the Sharks took a massive dive in March and the team was unable to pull out of the skid in the playoffs. DeBoer made several questionable lineup decisions in the playoffs, stacking the odds against his own team.

The Players: Martin Jones, Erik Karlsson and the List Goes On

Various players will shoulder blame. Erik Karlsson is front and center. Health issues are the major factor. Coaches, medical staff and the player all have accountability here. His unwillingness to re-sign at this point adds to an already sour taste. 

Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Second-tier players are not immune. Criticism has followed Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson and Justin Braun, among others.

But it is the Sharks’ bigger names where fingers will point. Meier has been quiet against the Golden Knights. Evander Kane has been noticeable, but too often, not in the right ways.

Jones is getting a lot of criticism. Even good goalies have bad seasons, but given the price and length of Jones’ new contract, there won’t be much forgiving at the moment. Especially with the magnitude of Jones’ meltdown.

Injuries to Pavelski and Couture mitigate the finger pointing in their directions, but they haven’t been good, either. Marc-Edouard Vlasic had a down season, but was solid in the four periods he played against Vegas. Alas, he too, went out injured. Even Joe Thornton is not immune, taking a foolish penalty in Game 3 and earning a suspension for Game 4

Joe Thornton, Colin Miller
San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The Inevitable End?

At this point, the Sharks’ departure from the playoffs seems inevitable. It also appears it will be sooner rather than later. We all know the series isn’t over until a fourth game has been won. Just as we all know from movie history it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor. So there is hope. I guess.

When I put together the Sharks’ checklist, I indicated if they were not able to execute on the list, they might get swept. Not quite, but they have lost three in a row. They may salvage another game, but it isn’t likely. Taking three games is even less likely.

The Sharks needed to get out quickly to start the series and get a healthy lead before Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury found his game. Fleury found his game and the Sharks’ health declined. The Sharks’ formula is broken.

What is apparent, this team is going to need an honest assessment of where it is and what it needs to do next. What can be excused and what can’t. 

A season with the best roster in team history – Stanley Cup expectations –appears ready to end with just a single playoff game win; fifteen wins short of what is needed. Injuries can change the complexion of a team and clearly this is a big part of the mix. Parsing out what is working and what isn’t will be Wilson’s job. It is looking like a very a big job. Starting very soon.