With the Sharks season closing out with a whimper rather than a bang, THW collected its Sharks contributors and discussed some important topics. Featuring Andrew Bensch, Zeke, Drew Weber, and myself: this is part one of the Sharks roundtable. Feel free to posit a question to our writers in the comment section below.
Question 1: Who’s to Blame?
Ken: Who is most to blame for the Sharks failures this season? The playoffs are out of reach, who deserves the blame?
Zeke: For me, this is the easiest one of all. The owner. The Sharks went from a competent organization to a basket case, pretty much overnight. It feels like everyone is on different page. Bad management brings out the worst in people and there has been a lot of ‘worst’ this season. Dysfunction starts at the top.
Andrew: Management is primarily to blame. And when I say management that includes ownership on down to GM and the coaching staff. Owner Hasso Plattner needs to be more visible and actually offer an opinion on the performance of his GM Doug Wilson. Speaking of Wilson, he’d be wise to have admitted his comments about Joe Thornton were a mistake. However he didn’t do that. Nobody is buying what Wilson is selling anymore, clearly the Sharks players don’t. While I’ve frequently been critical of head coach Todd McLellan, recent developments make me wonder how much freedom he has actually gotten to make typical coaching decisions. When it comes to players wearing letters, that should be a coach’s call, but Wilson has been making those decisions over the years.
Drew: Doug Wilson, no question. He completely overreacted to the reverse sweep in the playoffs. While losing four straight in a series is not something to be happy about, it is very difficult to beat a team that would eventually become the Stanley Cup champions without your top defenseman (especially when defensive depth is an issue like it is in San Jose). He did nothing to make the team better in the offseason and elected to sign John Scott instead of pursuing a top-four, left-handed defenseman that the Sharks desperately needed. This is all on top of stripping Joe Thornton of the ‘C’ and the feud that has existed ever since.
Ken: It seems to me like a lot of this could have been in their plans. Sort of a planned negligence deal. Wilson wanted something very specific (young and rebuilding) and when Thornton and Marleau didn’t comply, it forced him to go another direction. So, his ideas over the offseason keep the Sharks weakened and he never really repairs the relationship with the veterans. Now, with another offseason coming up, he gets another shot at pushing them out.
Zeke: I understand why Drew and Ken are pointing the finger at Wilson. Brent Burns to defense was a poor decision. Mirco Mueller playing in the NHL this season was a poor decision. Having no captain was a poor decision. These were all correctable decisions that Wilson and McLellan did not correct. I can’t imagine that both guys didn’t look at Burns and Mueller and all those A’s on the sweaters with no ‘C’ and say, ‘you know maybe we should fix these things’. The only explanation that makes any sense for this is that the owner was OK with it all.
Ken: I like having Mueller up here. He isn’t going to get any better without getting the playing time. And the owner being okay with it all makes sense if he is following what Wilson wanted. It really is a shame that Wilson is so entrenched in Plattner’s pocket.
Question 2: Will the Next Goaltender Please Stand Up?
Ken: Should Stalock take the net next season? Or should the Sharks go with a youngster or someone outside the organization?
Drew: Find someone outside of the organization. Stalock is not ready to take over the starting role and Niemi’s odds of returning are next to nothing. There are some decent, granted unproven, goaltenders in the free agency market this summer, including Karri Ramo, Viktor Fasth, and Jonas Gustavsson. The only problem is that San Jose has been historically terrible at attracting free agents. The team does not want a situation where they let Niemi walk and can’t find another starter to replace him, so maybe it would be wise to sign the Finnish netminder for another year just to be safe. Nemo will at least keep you somewhat competitive.
Ken: I have to agree. I don’t think Stalock is starting material. But none of the guys in the system are ready yet either. But my issue is in who is available. I don’t think the pending free agents are really worth the risk either. The best option I see is Josh Harding and Jonas Gustavsson. Neither of whom are proven. The thing that might have to happen is a few years of poor goaltending or a major blockbuster trade.
Andrew: Stalock should be given a chance next season to prove he can carry the load but another relatively young and cheap (<4 million) veteran should come in to be the main goalie that Stalock pushes for ice time. Start out as a 60-40 split and give Stalock more ice time if the other veteran starts to struggle. Start riding the hot hand and giving multiple goalies a chance instead of just riding one starter all year like with Antti Niemi and Evgeni Nabokov all these years.
Zeke: Every year it seems, there are goalies that come out of nowhere. The Rangers, Wild, Canucks and Senators all have great ‘come out of nowhere’ goalie stories. Until goalies get that chunk of time to play game in, game out, it is hard to know what you have. The Sharks hurt themselves by not providing Stalock a few lengthy stretches of consecutive games. He could be a good goalie. His success from the prior season seemed to come from having good chemistry with the defense — the Sharks only rolled 7 d-man all year. It was amazing how many rebounds Stalock gave up that were cleared out last year by the defense. This year has been a lot different, he’s now played with 10 different defensemen, 5 of them are new this year. I do not think Sharks management and coaches trust either Stalock or Niemi. If you want some names, Aaron Dell has put up impressive numbers in Worcester and I think Cam Talbot gets moved by the Rangers. I expect the Sharks to search for the low cost ‘hidden gem’. Stalock has another year on his deal and it is probably cheaper to keep him.
Ken: I want to give Stalock a chance, I really do. But he just screams backup to me. If San Jose were able to pull one of the upcoming free agents, that would be the only way I see the goalie situation improving next season.
Question 3: Marleau’s Future
Ken: Is Patrick Marleau declining to retirement or does he have a bounce back season coming?
Andrew: The first half of this season was mostly just poor puck luck for Marleau but the last couple weeks in particular (sans the Detroit game) he has been flat out bad. He can definitely bounce back next year with a reduction in minutes and some better puck luck.
Drew: There is no doubt in my mind that Marleau is going to have a better year next season. Will he be as productive as he was when he was younger? Probably not. But players of Patty’s caliber don’t just forget how to play hockey and see their production dry up for all of eternity over one offseason. Marleau has been incredibly unlucky this season, leaving him nowhere to go but up.
Zeke: Andrew and I both wrote articles about Marleau’s with similar themes — I said Marleau was playing too many minutes overall, Andrew said he was playing too many of the wrong minutes. The skills are still there, but he needs a more appropriate role. Have him play 15-16 minutes per game for 75 games and see where that leads. There is no point in playing him 19 minutes a night, every game, if he spends a bunch of that ice time managing his energy.
Ken: I don’t know about this one. It’s hard to gauge whether someone has hit the end of their career. But I also don’t think this year has been one of bad luck. Marleau just might not have the ability anymore. Jumbo changed his game when he felt his shot was dwindling, maybe that is what needs to happen for Patty. Marleau needs to play against easier competition for sure, though. He is just simply not producing offensively or defensively. His usage needs to be adjusted, otherwise, I see more of the same next season.
Drew: I feel Marleau would be better in a third line role, where the minutes are reduced and the quality of competition isn’t as high. By dropping him down, he will have that extra second to make the right play or put the puck exactly where he wants it. This would also help the depth issues that San Jose has faced all season.
Zeke: Seems we are all in on the ‘fewer minutes equals a better Marleau camp’. For whatever reason, he doesn’t seem to have much chemistry with Couture, splitting them up could help both. Perhaps the most oddball stat of this season for Marleau, just one first period goal all year, read into what you will. I also agree with Drew and others on the need for more balance between the lines, moving Marleau down helps this.