San Jose Sharks: Post Season Post Mortem
Before we begin let me remind everyone that I don’t consider myself educated on any matters related to actually playing hockey. In fact within the scope of my lifetime I’ve watched hockey the least (6 years) compared to all the other major sports.
General Manager Doug Wilson was heard commenting the other day about the San Jose Sharks’ inability to kill penalties, and whether or not the failure was systemic or personnel. Of course he gave no answer other than they’re evaluating everything. When it came to the Sharks’ penalty kill, as well as every other aspect of their game with the exception of the power play, I feel like it’s safe to say that the Sharks system has become ‘predictable’.
For example when the Sharks are on the penalty kill you know the Sharks are not going to press you if you camp out behind their net. If you cycle along the boards they’re not going to challenge you. When playing 5-on-5 if a Shark camps out behind their own net waiting for a line change, you know if you fore check the puck handler there’s a good chance you can get a turnover. If the Sharks are in their own zone and you take away the middle, the default exit strategy is a pass back behind the net along the boards.
Again I’m no expert in hockey but when I can see what’s coming I’m sure the other team can see it. This used to happen during the Mike Singletary days of the 49ers. If I could predict what the next play was (Gore up the middle) I’m sure the other team’s defensive co-ordinator could see it coming too.
What’s my point? To answer for Doug Wilson I think the problem with the Sharks is the system, and that system has been decoded by the opposition. That explains the poor passing, untimely turnovers, poor penalty kill and lack of puck possession (which is important if you’re supposed to be a puck-possession team). And unfortunately the responsibility for the system is the coach - Todd McClellan.
I like Coach McClellan and I’m sure he’s more than qualified to coach in the NHL but I feel like if he’s going to stay on as the Sharks coach it’s time to adopt a new system. I must admit - I’ve been watching the playoffs and other teams’ offensive systems - entering the zone, rushes, attacking the net - is quite different than the way the Sharks execute. And sadly I must report it’s more exciting to watch.
The next question is if we have the right pieces to change tack. I think we do but I also think we took a step backwards this season. I feel like it’s going to take some time to get back to the level of talent we had before the start of the 2011-2012 season.
When the Sharks acquired Dany Heatley there was a lot of talk about what the trade meant to both the Sharks and the Ottawa Senators. But through all the excitement one national pundit on XM Radio’s NHL Home Ice stated very clearly that Heatley had worn out his welome at every stop along his NHL career and the Sharks would be no exception. I think everyone can agree that Heatley, and his contract, needed to be moved out of San Jose if we were going to move forward.
Sending Devin Setoguchi along with Heatley to Minnesota was a disappointment to many - I haven’t run into a Sharks fan who said they weren’t going to miss him - but I think the timing of the trade was very un-Wilson like. When your company memos are saying one thing but your company’s actions are saying another you usually pick up on the difference. Signing Setoguchi, and making all the public statements about his future with the team, then immediately trading him was one of those situations. I think we all get what was going on but it still didn’t sit right. It felt like the team was willing to forego loyalty and professionalism for the betterment of the books (and unloading Heatley’s huge cap hit). But that was just one move and I think we all were able to move on from there.
But then there was the Jaime McGinn trade.
Moves at the trade deadline are usually reserved for either picking up one or two final pieces for an already stocked and loaded roster poised for the playoffs, or clearing the books for a lost season and preparing your team for the next. Even Wilson himself said he’s not a huge fan of trade deadline moves as a vehicle for changing the direction of a team.
So when Jamie McGinn was traded to Colorado it felt like a desperation move. The Sharks were in no way the dominating team they had been the last two seasons and there was no way one or two acquisitions were going to solidify their playoff run. Not only did the trade feel like a desperation move but it was another example of the company memo not matching the company’s actions. For all I’ve been told hockey is about working hard at becoming better, and Jamie McGinn (along with Marc Edouard Vlasic), were the only two Sharks were I could see their game improving year over year. When the knock on your team is that you’ve depleted your farm system and your draft pool, and then you trade one of the few young players that have actually worked to become a legitimate NHL top six forward, you’re sending some bad juju into your dressing room.
I don’t know if my opinions are based on hindsight filtered through a disappointing season, or maybe it’s just a few bad moves all in the same year instead of spread out over time, but whatever the case I’m not all Negative Nancy. I’m happy to have Martin Havlat and Brent Burns on the roster and I liked what I saw in Thomas Greiss and Justin Braun. We also have lots of cleared cap space to navigate the summer without a Collective Bargaining Agreement in place. But I feel like were sitting at a true crossroads where we have to re-stock our farm system cupboards while taking advantage of the core we do have and make that push to The Cup.
If the team is evaluating everything then I look at this next season as a true test of Doug Wilson and Todd McClellan’s abilities. It’s easy to produce a winner when you have lots to spend, but it feels like the Sharks are both literally and emotionally ‘out of cash’ and now have to tread into that territory where you have to be your best during trying times.
For now it’s all about the Pacific Division in the playoffs…