Senators continue to watch Sharks struggle with great interest

Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion. (Justin Tang/CP)

OTTAWA — Over the 27-year history of the Ottawa Senators, there hasn’t been a strong connection with the San Jose Sharks.

There was, of course, the initial fascination here and elsewhere with the non-traditional Sharks logo and merchandise, which flew off the shelves long before San Jose hit the ice with an actual hockey team in 1991, the year before Ottawa’s launch.

The creative marketing department in San Jose declared an affinity for Sharks because the sea creature was known to be "relentless, determined, swift, agile, bright and fearless."

The aim was to build a hockey organization with the same qualities.

To a large extent, they have found success, although the Stanley Cup has eluded them – San Jose has only missed the playoffs six times, including their first two seasons.

Ottawa’s interest in the Sharks has largely been through their original captain, Doug Wilson, an Ottawa boy who starred for the OHL Ottawa 67’s, became San Jose’s general manager in 2003, and before that was director of pro development. Wilson’s Sharks made a habit out of drafting Ottawa 67’s players developed by Brian Kilrea. Think Logan Couture, Jamie McGinn, Will Colbert etc.

Ottawa’s passing interest in San Jose took a sharp turn on Sept. 13, 2018 when Wilson swung a deal for Senators captain Erik Karlsson (and prospect Francis Perron), giving up Dylan DeMelo, Chris Tierney, Josh Norris, Rudolfs Balcers and a 2020 first round draft pick, plus a second round pick in 2021 conditional on the Sharks signing Karlsson to a contract extension.

Which, of course, they did. Eight years, $92 million.

The assumption, at the time, was that the Sharks would remain a strong contender in the Western Conference, despite a nagging suspicion that their window of opportunity was closing. As recently as last spring, San Jose reached the conference final, losing in six games to the eventual Cup champions, the St. Louis Blues.

That window suddenly seems to have slammed shut as an older core and a sprinkling of kids is missing strong goaltending and reliable scorer Joe Pavelski. Wilson’s frustration with a lousy start to the season boiled over in Wednesday’s firing of nearly the entire coaching staff, from Peter DeBoer on down.

In Ottawa, this move and the Sharks struggles might otherwise be only mildly interesting, but the latest pastime in the Nation’s Capital is checking those overnight scores to see how the Sharks did, given that the Senators own San Jose’s first round selection next summer.

It is no longer a ridiculous question to ask: which pick will be higher, Ottawa’s own pick or the one via San Jose?

The Sharks lost their first four games of the season, and have dropped their most recent five, for a record of 15-16-2 and a horrendous -25 goal differential.

Heading into Thursday’s home game against the New York Rangers, the Sharks were four points ahead of the Senators (13-17-2) but Ottawa has played 32 games to San Jose’s 33. San Jose is currently 12th in the 15-team Western Conference while Ottawa is 14th of 16 teams in the East.

As for trends, the Sharks have lost six of their past eight while showing a tendency to get blown out of games. In 11 of their 33 games, a full one-third, San Jose has given up five goals or more.

The Senators, in contrast, have shown an ability to compete on an almost nightly basis despite being deep into a rebuild. They, too, had a five-game losing skid from Nov. 25- Dec. 3, but turned it around with points in three of their past four games, which included victories over Boston and Edmonton.

Ottawa’s goal differential is -14, 11 goals better than San Jose, and their goaltending has been pretty solid, from Anders Nilsson and Craig Anderson, who is currently on the injured reserve list.

While the Sharks have had their road woes, they have played three more home games than the Senators, who have six more away games (19) in the books then they have at the Canadian Tire Centre (13). The Senators can expect a lot more home cooking in the months of January and February when they have 18 dates at the CTC.

Will the Sharks get a bump from the coaching change, with Bob Boughner succeeding DeBoer?

That’s the plan. Coaching changes in Calgary and Toronto have resulted in quick improvements, but both of those teams have a starting goaltender with strong numbers (Dave Rittich and Frederik Andersen). The Sharks’ Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have save percentages of .891 and .893 respectively. That is not going to get it done.

And so, until further notice, fans in Ottawa will continue to enjoy the spirited play of their young team while maintaining a San Jose state of mind.

It’s not that anyone wishes continued poor luck to Wilson, one of the finest hockey players to come out of the Ottawa area.

But with the possibility of a prime pick based on an off-year for the Sharks, let’s just say that there is a ton of interest in the remarkable timing that a historically poor season in San Jose could coincide with the Senators bearing the fruit of the resulting high draft pick.

If it helps Sharks fans feel better, Ottawa knows their pain, having gone through it with Matt Duchene (Colorado drafted Bowen Byram fourth-overall in 2019 with the Senators pick).

Fans in Ottawa and the Valley will go back to wishing Wilson well – after this season is over.

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