NHL teams based in California seem to be on a collective nosedive, and the team it is hitting the worst appears to be the San Jose Sharks. A Western Conference finalist just two years ago, 2019 feels so far away. With the world being subject to the pandemic, the end of last season and the beginning of this one took place at such odd times of the year. It has felt both like we’ve missed out so much hockey and experienced a surprisingly long season.
How Quickly the Sharks Have Fallen
It can be easy to forget how quickly the Sharks seem to have descended into mediocrity. However, the Colorado Avalanche managed to turn their team around just between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Why can’t the Sharks? On paper, the team in teal seems to be one of the strongest in the league. However, it has not translated onto the ice, and we all know that’s what counts. Especially with all play in the NHL taking place only within the divisions, it’s easy to get complacent. Less than two full seasons ago, the Sharks finished the regular season with a 46-27-9 record. They hit 101 points and were second in the league in goals scored (289).
Stopped just short of the Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks lost captain Joe Pavelski to the Dallas Stars and forward Joonas Donskoi to the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason. However, they then proceeded to add Erik Karlsson to their roster, signing him to an eight-year, $92 million contract, and returned in the fall of 2019 with some high expectations. Boy, did they fall short throughout the season.
While the 2019-20 season ended early, the Sharks found themself 29th in the standings and were one of seven teams left out of the bubble when play returned for the play-in rounds for playoffs. All three teams from the Western Conference were from California. There was a brief thought that the Sharks might use the failure to qualify for the playoff bubble as fuel to succeed this season. Yet, here we are. We’re 27 games into the season, and one can find the Sharks at the bottom of the division standings. Not only that, they are near the bottom of the overall league standings once again.
While the team can still turn this season around, the odds of it happening are slim. With a current record of 11-13-3, the Sharks are just barely holding it together against teams in the Honda West Division. If they don’t figure something out soon, another postseason will fly right past them.
More Questions Coming in the Next Few Years
With five players signed through at least the 2024-25 season, the Sharks have limited themself a bit. Players like Martin Jones and Erik Karlsson are locked into contracts through 2023-24 and 2026-27, respectively. The Sharks have work to do on the team around them, or they will need to work on finding trades for some of the higher-cost or longer-contract players. However, with a lower salary cap for the time being, that may be a tall order. As much as fans may want an overhaul, making do with what they have may just be necessary for the next few years.
If the Sharks hope to get back to a top spot any time soon, they need to find a fix, and they need to find it quickly. However, is there an easy fix to the epic downward spiral the Sharks have been on? No. If there were, the move would have been made already. A coaching change, acquisitions in the offseason, moving players in and out of the lineup, nothing has worked. There has to be a solution, right? If this truly is a reset season for San Jose, maybe it’s time to see more of the younger prospects allowed more prolonged periods of play with the Sharks. The offseason needs to see the Sharks acquire a true starting netminder if any success is to be maintained.
Sharks Rookies and Veterans Have Both Teased Hope
Wednesday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights provided a glimmer of hope that maybe things weren’t so bad. That glimmer was quickly stomped out in the third period. As we know, 3-1 leads are dangerous in this league.
Throughout both last and this season, there have been rookies who have piqued the interest of fans and team management alike. It just hasn’t been enough to convince the team to move away from more experienced veterans. Especially when those veterans have shown flashes of brilliance in the same period of time. This team is capable, but not performing. It is time to start considering making drastic changes, but those would be a massive risk that this organization does not seem prepared to take.
Prior to last season, the Sharks appeared to be on a positive track. Is it too impossible to believe the organization could get back to that soon? No, but it will take a bit of luck, strong leadership, and some notable changes. There is minimal hope springing forth from the younger players in the system, but it is not yet enough for fans to find excitement. In their own right, most of the players on San Jose’s roster are strong players. On the ice together as a team, however, they fall flat. This struggle to find a cohesive team feeling has left fans feeling disappointed and hoping for a fun game rather than a win night after night. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer to stay in the win column, though? San Jose fans will see the team get there again – it’s just a question of when.
Lizz Child has grown up in the Bay Area and can be found at nearly every Sharks and Barracuda game. You can also see her writing at dubnetwork.ca where she covers the Portland Winterhawks and the US Division of the Western Hockey League. She has also worked for the Sharks 50/50, having the time of her life interacting with fans and over the season. Following multiple teams and multiple leagues, she is always up to talk hockey whenever possible.