Sharks’ Legacy of Playoff Disappointment Not Getting Any Better

When the St. Louis Blues took home the franchise’s very first Stanley Cup by winning it all against the Boston Bruins last season, the list of teams yet to hoist the trophy dropped down to 11.

One of the teams trying to get their names scratched off that list is the San Jose Sharks, who’ve yet to raise the Cup since joining the league in 1991.

The Sharks’ inability to win Lord Stanley’s Cup is a curse that has plagued the team since its inception. Although often noted as a playoff team, the hockey world has long since made a mockery of the Sharks and their decades-long drought of postseason failures.  

The team has come close on a couple of occasions, just recently making an appearance in the conference finals, and only in 2016 losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Cup Final.

Phenomenal Sharks players of the past such as Owen Nolan, Jonathan Cheechoo and newly-departed Joe Pavelski are all prime examples of players who’ve led solid careers but were never quite able to win a Stanley Cup and thus were faced with plenty of criticism during their time involved with the team.

Owen Nolan
Owen Nolan of the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Evgeni Nabokov, a former goaltender for the Sharks is yet another amazing player who could be added to the list of Sharks greats, but not even he could bring the Sharks to Cup glory.

If we now look ahead to the Sharks and where they are this season, the unfortunate reality for the Sharks is that even their pitiful legacy as a playoff contender might be in jeopardy. The team appears to be going backward in terms of their place in Cup contention and until the major problems are addressed, I don’t see things getting any better.

With a list of excuses that could go on and on, debating the reasons for the team’s troubled past, I think it is better to focus on the future and whether or not there is a chance for the organization to be successful.

The main reason why I do not believe the Sharks are, as of right now, a playoff contender comes down to three important criteria; Coaching, an aging core and goaltending.

Peter Deboer’s Job Is on Thin Ice

The lack of success for a team is something that coaches must often take responsibility for. Peter DeBoer is no stranger to receiving press criticism, and for dealing with that, I suppose he is somewhat commendable.

DeBoer has been led the Sharks to a playoff appearance every year of his tenure but has been unable to capture the Cup with the team.

Pete DeBoer (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

When it comes to his ability to lead the Sharks to a Stanley Cup, I do believe we’ve seen all we can from the man who has headed the team since taking over in 2015.

I imagine that someone new behind the bench could bode well for the team and could spark some fresh new ideas.

The Sharks’ heavy forechecking, combined with aggressive defense and puck movement, is a style that has worked well for many seasons. Who knows, though, what new ideas could be implemented with a different coach, and honestly, if the opportunity arises, I think the Sharks should take it.

Age – More Than Just a Number for the Sharks

While players like Alexander Ovechkin might be able to break goal-scoring titles well into their 30s, for most players, aging is a factor usually accompanied by a loss of speed, stamina and overall performance output.

Looking at the Sharks lineup, you’ll see plenty of veterans to the game. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are now 40 years of age. While this may be an incredible feat of accomplishment in today’s game, it goes without saying that these two are no longer in their primes of hockey.

Don’t get me wrong, both of these players have done wondrous things for the organization and are Hall-of-Famers in my book. Regardless of that, one can not doubt the fact that these individuals can no longer put up the numbers they once did in previous years of youth.

Further down the Sharks roster, the ageing group continues with defenceman Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic who are 34 and 32, respectively.

Brent Burns - Sharks
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks, Oct. 9, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

You can honestly see the speed decrease in the Sharks’ play by just watching them play. Burns has been stumbling a lot more recently on the back-check and has even fallen down on a couple of occasions trying to prevent an odd-man rush down the wing.

Now, I’m not saying the Norris-winning defenseman is completely washed up by any means, but I am saying that a lot of the responsibility to produce for the Sharks has shifted and now falls on the younger core of players like Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, and newly named captain Logan Couture, among others, to provide results in places where these vets no longer can.

These players have at times proven they are capable of providing those results – just look at this video of Hertl tallying an amazing four-goal game against the New York Rangers.

Sharks in Desperate Need of a New Goaltender

One area in drastic need of a change for the Sharks is in the goaltending department. While I believe there is plenty of room to debate as to whether or not DeBoer should be fired, there is simply no questioning that Martin Jones needs to go.

When taking a look and analyzing Jones, I believe his .888 save percentage speaks for itself.

Sitting below .900 as a professional NHL goaltender is unacceptable in my eyes and I simply do not see the goaltender getting better as time goes on. His save percentage has gotten worse for consecutive seasons now and I don’t see him improving, especially at his current rate and abysmal 3.31 goals against average, he just remains too inconsistent to perform at the professional level.

If the Sharks are to reach the Cup, they will need to do it with someone other than Jones in the net.

Bringing an up and coming goaltender from the minors might even be a sound option for the team and could free up some much-needed cap space for the organization, which has now just indebted itself to Erik Karlsson for an eight-year, $92-million contract.

Whether or not the Sharks make the playoffs this year is still undecided. Until the changes I mentioned are made, the outlook seems grim, but hopefully, I am wrong. No one expected the Blues to go as far as they did – The team was in last place in the league early January of the 2018-19 season, but they managed to pull it off and who knows, maybe the Sharks finally will too and get the Stanley Cup they’ve so long hungered for.