It doesn’t come as a surprise that the San Jose Sharks will not be playing any postseason hockey for the second consecutive year. From the subpar season of Martin Jones to the inability of the top six to consistently hammer home goals, there’s certainly an argument to be made that it may be time to entertain the possibility of a rebuild.
Curtis Pashelka of the Bay Area News Group posted a tweet last week, saying, “Marc-Edouard Vlasic on if he’s concerned this will be a longer rebuild for the #SJSharks. ‘No, there’s no rebuild. Next year we’ll be back, and we’ll be competing for the playoffs.’”
If we’re to take Vlasic at his word, there will certainly need to be some changes — some big changes. There’s a conceivable way San Jose can get back to contender status next season, but it’s going to take the staff addressing just about every dimension of the team’s play — from who will be in net to generating more goal production from the top six.
Martin Jones Is Not the Answer
There are still questions about where Jones will be playing hockey next season, with some suggesting that he may not be returning to San Jose at all. Virtually every team that has made it to postseason play this season has had success in net. But this isn’t the first year that Jones has struggled. He has, in the past, had a ton of help up front, with quality goal-scorers picking up the slack. This is just simply not the case anymore. It’s debatable whether he has ever been a top-tier netminder.
The last three seasons have seen San Jose’s starting netminder chalk up a measly .896 save percentage — a non-elite stat, no matter which way you cut it.
It hasn’t been since the 2017-18 season that Jones maintained a .900-plus save percentage (.915), but he was still allowing an average of 2.50 goals per game. The number of goals Jones allowed was not a problem back then, as the team was consistently generating goals, averaging around 3.01 per game.
But the days of elite goal-scorers in San Jose have slowly faded away. The goal production for the 2020-21 season slipped to 2.70, and the goals against rocketed to 3.52. Not only has Jones performed like a shaky backup, but San Jose is going to have to find a way to score goals — and do it consistently.
Goals Win Games
While there’s a lot to be said for Jones not having the kind of season required for postseason play, San Jose’s goal production, as previously mentioned, hasn’t been much better. The team had been outscored 146 to 190 throughout the season, with Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture taking the biggest cut of those goals. It’s not necessarily expected that the fourth line is going to rack up a substantial number of points, but having three solid lines that can generate offense is likely to lighten the load of Jones and the defensive core.
Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, speaking of defensemen, are among the three highest-paid players on the team and have not only fallen short in scoring (seven and eight goals, respectively), but they have not been able to prevent goals from ending up in the back of their own net. Burns sits with a minus-10 and Karlsson with a minus-15. This is due, in part, to the fact that they have not gotten much help up front, putting too much of a burden on them to pick up the slack.
Nevertheless, as two players who were once among the best defensemen in the league, I think it’s time to start thinking about what kind of role they will play for the club in the future. There are rumors that Burns may be exposed to the expansion draft, freeing up cap space for San Jose to make some big moves in the offseason. Karlsson and Vlasic have a no-movement clause in their contracts, making it impossible for them to be exposed.
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The Athletic reported that there’s “already been plenty of speculation that the Sharks could try to offload Burns and his $8 million annual salary for the next four seasons to the Kraken, with a 2018 first-round pick and right-shot offensive defensemen Ryan Merkley waiting in the wings.” (from ‘What’s the future for Sharks defensemen Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns?,’ The Athletic, 05/11/2021) Even if Burns heads to Seattle and Merkley steps up from the Barracuda, there are still the team’s two Achilles’ heels that will have yet to be addressed: Martin Jones and consistent goal-scorers.
Whether the organization decides to push for a postseason appearance next season or embrace a full-on rebuild, there are substantial changes that must be made. Continuing to develop Ferraro and Knyzhov on the blue line, getting Merkley some exposure in the NHL, finding a reliable third-line center, and drumming up a solution in net are essential if the Sharks plan to make another run for the Stanley Cup in the 2021-22 season.
But the Sharks’ success can’t be solely on the small tweaks during the offseason. The veterans who will make a return to the lineup have to step up and play cohesive hockey. I don’t think there’s any question that there’s plenty of talent on the team, but the execution and consistency have just been hard to come by.