Regardless of whether you are among the masses of Sharks fans calling for GM Doug Wilson’s removal, or part of the minority arguing he should stay, there is no denying the last 12-13 months in Sharks territory has been a drama filled s*%t show. Whether it be sound bites like “coworkers not teammates,” “not close enough,” “lashes out at people,” and “Doug should just shut his mouth,” or bizarre signings like the Mike Brown and John Scott contracts, or the reported disagreements between Wilson and now former head coach Todd McLellan, there has been too much drama surrounding this team.
Said drama is the primary reason why yours truly doesn’t expect much of an improvement from the Sharks if Wilson remains in charge of this team. However, Wilson or no Wilson, there is one key young player that gives this Sharks team a glimmer of hope moving forward. Rookie center Chris Tierney finished the season on a terrific run as the third line center. The 20-year-old Ontario native finished with 14 points the Sharks’ final 18 games of the season. That equates to an average of .77 points per game, or in other words an 82 game pace of 63 points. Combined with Tierney’s responsible defensive play as a two way center, that would be an All Star level performance. Now obviously it is a stretch to expect Tierney to play a full season next year at such a torrid pace. However, the way he was playing down the stretch, a 43-45 point season would seem well within reason. And that level of production would give the Sharks a strong third line, something they have rarely featured the past four seasons without Joe Pavelski in that role. Pavelski has done nothing but shred competition in that spot and the Sharks have done more winning with him there than on the top line. For whatever reason though the organization prefers him on Thornton’s wing. With Tierney emerging though the Sharks finally look to have that third line center that can produce much needed depth scoring while Pavelski plays in the top six.
Not only did Tierney finish the season on a tear, but he demonstrated play-making abilities second to only Joe Thornton on the roster. His on ice vision and knowing where his linemates are is again second to only Thornton. He reads the game at a different level than most and the Sharks need that type of player on the lower lines. They have had a lot of quality depth players in recent years but no real catalyst to get the best out of said players. One of those guys was James Sheppard, who was a productive complementary player on a third or fourth line. The only problem was the Sharks asked too much out of him to be the primary producer on a third line, something he has never shown capable of at the NHL level. Tierney on the other hand can be the catalyst on a third line and be the main generator of lower line scoring. Among his 14 final points, nine of them were assists as he helped raise the level of play of his linemates. Matt Nieto in particular had a nice finish of six points in his final 12 games as Tierney’s left winger. While Tommy Wingels failed to score a goal in his final 11 games, the right wing fit in well with Tierney and Nieto as the trio made for arguably San Jose’s best line while fighting for a playoff spot.
Looking forward to next season THW colleague Drew Weber suggests that 2015-16 could be even worse than this past season, but yours truly doesn’t see it that way. Given what Tierney showed down the stretch, I fully expect this team to be better even with Wilson remaining as GM. If Wilson remains though there will still be too much drama and lack of unity behind the scenes. The disconnect between Wilson and the players will cause too many problems for them to have any significant playoff success. But regardless I certainly expect them back in the playoffs with Thornton, Couture, and Tierney down the middle 1, 2, 3. And if Wilson were to be shown the door, with moves to upgrade the defense and goaltending, well, then this Sharks team could be much, much better than this past season. They could very easily bounce back into serious contention with just a couple of smart moves.