With no NHL regular-season games to be played until at least December 2020, there isn’t much news regarding the San Jose Sharks these days. The only news seems to relate to the draft, and since they traded their pick to the Ottawa Senators, the fanfare for their poor season is subdued. It was exciting to see Derren Dreger break this news:
While Doug Wilson denied that Bob Boughner has earned an extension, he has not denied that Rocky Thompson will be joining the coaching staff. An oft-forgotten point about the hiring of Boughner as interim coach after Peter DeBoer was fired in December of 2019 was that Boughner did not get to pick his assistant coaches.
Wilson installed long-time head coach of the AHL affiliate San Jose Barracuda, Roy Sommer, and former players Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov as the assistant coaches. Ricci and Nabakov were working for the organization in player development so it wasn’t completely out of left field, but it certainly was not an ideal situation for Boughner.
Who is Rocky Thompson?
Thompson was a tough guy, drafted 72nd overall by the Calgary Flames in 1995. He never had more points than PIMs in any league in which he played, in fact, he never even came close. 29 points was his best offensive season in 1995-96 for the Medicine Hat Tigers where he also racked up 260 PIMs. Thompson only played 25 NHL games, scoring no points, but racking up 117 PIMs in the process. He retired in 2007, playing a majority of his professional hockey in the AHL for seven different teams.
What About Thompson as a Coach?
Immediately following his playing career, Thompson was hired as an assistant coach for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. After three seasons in the WHL, he moved up to the AHL as assistant coach of the Oklahoma City Barons. His first head coaching job was for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, who at the time were partially owned by Boughner.
In his first season, 2015-16, Thompson took a team that finished in the bottom five the year before to the playoffs, bowing out to the eventual champion London Knights in the first round. The following season, 2016-17, he won the memorial cup with the Spitfires and in two seasons had a winning percentage of .651. The season before he arrived they had a winning percentage of .382.
Continuing to Move Up
For the past three years, Thompson has been the head coach for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. He inherited a good team as the Wolves finished first in the Central in 2016-17. In his second season, he took the team to the Calder Cup Final before losing to the Charlotte Checkers. The team finished first in the Central in his first two seasons. In his final season, the season was cancelled due to COVID-19, and his team was fourth in the Central at the time of the pause.
What Does Thompson Bring to the Sharks?
In a May 27, 2019 article, Jesse Granger of The Athletic details Thompson’s coaching style. Basically, it is the opposite of how he was as a player. Instead of a tough in your face kind of coach, he is more of a benevolent leader with a calming presence, one who truly cares about his players. As a player’s coach, Thompson connects with players very well and has a knack for getting the best out of them, something the Sharks struggled with this season (from ‘From brawler to benevolent coach, Rocky Thompson could be the next hot NHL coaching candidate’, The Athletic – 05/27/2019).
Though he may not have had the most skill as a player, Thompson was always an extremely hard worker and possessed an elite understanding of the game. These are probably his best attributes as a coach. He is now known as a progressive thinker of the game and an early adopter of analytics. For example, he began pulling his goalie early in the third period before it became commonplace because analytics says it leads to favorable outcomes more often than not.
Does This Mean Boughner Will Be Named Head Coach?
It certainly seems that hiring one of “Bougie’s” guys means he will be named the head coach, but that is not yet official. In fact, Wilson has gone as far to say the following through insider Kevin Kurz:
If the Sharks are still looking for a different head coach, it would be strange to hire Thompson and again not let the new coach hire his assistants. It is possible that the Sharks will hire a different coach and let Thompson go, but it is more likely Boughner is here to stay.
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There are some very big name coaches without current NHL jobs that Wilson might be considering like Mike Babcock, Gerard Gallant, Bruce Boudreau, and Peter Laviolette. What a strange world it would be if the Sharks hired Gallant and essentially traded head coaches with rival Vegas Golden Knights?
Expectations for 2020-21
Assuming Thompson does join the staff and Boughner is named head coach, it will be interesting to see what role he plays. Since he has been known as an offensive coach in the past, it would make sense that he would have the most influence there. Considering his track record with young players and the youth on the Sharks, this could be a very good fit.
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At the very least, having a cohesive coaching staff would be better than what the Sharks had last season. It is hard to imagine it can get much worse than last season’s 27th-ranked offense and 29th-ranked defense. Though there is certainly much more to be fixed than just the offense, Thompson might be able to give the Sharks that extra punch to get them back to the playoffs in 2020-21.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife.