After 198 wins, a Stanley Cup Final appearance and a trip to the conference finals just last season, Peter DeBoer’s time at the helm of the San Jose Sharks‘ bench is over.
But whether the coaching shakeup actually spurs a turnaround for the struggling club remains to be seen. A quick look at the central reasons that seem to be behind the team’s disappointing 2019-20 campaign suggest swapping DeBoer for Bob Boughner will do little to stem the tide.
They have to figure something out — riding a five-game losing streak, the Sharks currently sit fourth-last in the west, five points out of a wild-card spot with fairly strong clubs like Nashville and Vegas sitting in their way.
So, what tops the new coaching staff’s checklist of fires to put out at the SAP Center?
Here are the three core issues the team must address to try to salvage their 2019-20 campaign:
Figuring out the goaltending picture
If there’s one weakness that led most directly to DeBoer’s exit, it’s the Sharks’ paltry goaltending.
As things currently stand, San Jose boasts the worst save percentage in the league. They’re allowing the third-most goals-against per game among all NHL clubs, and that despite allowing the seventh-fewest shots per game on net.
After a difficult season for Jones last year, the 29-year-old has an .891 save percentage and 3.43 goals-against average through 26 games this season. Behind him, Dell seems to be in the same boat, with an .893 save percentage and 3.55 goals-against average through 11 games.
There’s little DeBoer could’ve done to improve the play of his netminders, but he isn’t the first coach to lose his job as a result of his goaltenders coming up short.
That said, it’s unclear how exactly Boughner’s arrival figures to change things in this regard, though, unless a drastic change to the club’s defensive strategy helps right the ship — though pulling back the offence won’t be an easy sell given the team is already scoring the eighth-fewest goals per game in the league.
With DeBoer now out of the picture, the central question becomes how much runway Jones is given as the club’s No. 1 before a change becomes unavoidable.
Replacing the top-end offensive losses
Things are no more inspiring on the other end of the rink as the Sharks sit among the bottom chunk of teams in terms of offensive production, ranking among the bottom 10 in both goals per game and shots per game.
Coupled with the tough goaltending situation, the Sharks’ goal differential is a lowly minus-25 — worst in the west and third-worst league-wide.
Looking at who carried the mail most for the team last season, the differences aren’t too stark. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl have roughly the same number of points as they did at this time last year, while Evander Kane is scoring at a slightly quicker pace. Brent Burns and Timo Meier are the two who sit below where they were in early December of last season, each sitting roughly 10 points below their 2018-19 early-December totals.
But there’s another significant pile of goals that have been completely removed from the lineup — the 38 scored by Joe Pavelski last year, not to mention the 14 posted by Joonas Donskoi. At this point, it’s unclear who’s stepping up to replace that production.
Making matters worse, even before those losses, the Sharks weren’t a team built around a Connor McDavid-esque scoring leader. They need contribution from as many different sources as possible — if they roll along much longer without getting it, looking for outside help become’s a necessity.
Reining in the lack of team discipline
Also quietly undoing the Sharks’ chances of righting the ship is the club’s overall lack of discipline. Through the first third of the season, they lead the league in total penalty minutes and penalty minutes per game.
That sum isn’t necessarily the natural extension of the Sharks simply playing an overly physical style, either. They’re also leading the league with eight bench minors, adding another chunk of far more avoidable penalty minutes.
The team has managed to stem the tide a bit in this regard by sending out the best penalty kill in the league, which is clipping along at an 88.3-per-cent success rate. That sterling kill rate doesn’t negate the problem of leading the league in the overall number of times they’ve been shorthanded though, particularly because of who it is killing those penalties.
San Jose’s three most important defencemen — Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Burns and Karlsson — average the most shorthanded ice on the team, meaning a chunk of their top blue-liners’ ice-time is being eaten up killing penalties. That’s an even bigger issue for Burns and Karlsson, considering the role both play in contributing offensively as well. The offence flows through those talented puck-carriers — they rank as the fourth- and fifth-highest scorers on the roster at this moment, while Burns in fact led the team in scoring in 2018-19.
Keeping their marquee defenders on the ice for more even-strength or man-advantage minues will be key for helping the offence round back into form, and given how the goaltending corps has performed, marching to the box as often as they are is simply playing with fire.