Wednesday 11 December 2019

A Results-Based Change

It seemed like it was only a matter of time when it came to Pete DeBoer's dismissal in San Jose thanks to an aging lineup, shaky goaltending, and woeful returns from veteran players, and tonight is when the time ran out on DeBoer's tenure with the Sharks. General Manager Doug Wilson fired DeBoer this evening along with assistant coaches Steve Spott, Dave Barr, and Johan Hedberg, citing their current record and underachieving position within the division as factors for the changes.

Wilson stated in a release tonight,
"When you have had a level of past success, change is never easy, but we feel this team is capable of much more than we have shown thus far and that a new voice is needed. As a team and as individuals, our play has not met expectations this year and our level of consistency has not been where it needs to be. This group of individuals who will lead our team moving forward are very familiar with our players, and we think this change can provide out group with a fresh start."
The Sharks are currently sitting in sixth-place in the Pacific Division with a 15-16-2 record as they prepare to host the New York Rangers tomorrow night. They returned from a four-game road trip that saw them go winless while picking up a single point, being outscored by the Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers, and Predators by combined scores of 18-5. Ouch.

Replacing the four men named above behind the San Jose Sharks bench are newly-crowned interim head coach Bob Boughner, associate coach Roy Sommer, and assistant coaches Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov. Boughner was elevated from assistant coach to head coach while Sommer was the head coach of the AHL's San Jose Barracuda, and is bringing with him an incredible amount of experience as a head coach at the AHL level. Ricci was San Jose's development coach while Nabokov was the goaltending development coach with the Sharks and Barracuda.

It might be a good time to point out that Pete DeBoer likely shouldn't have taken the fall tonight for what has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster regarding player personnel on the ice thanks to Doug Wilson's adoration with veteran talent. DeBoer seemingly got more out of a roster that shouldn't have turned in the results it did thanks to its shortcomings, but DeBoer guided them to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final and to the Western Conference Final last season despite seeing key players injured and goaltending that often was near the bottom of all NHL playoff statistics. DeBoer was 198-129-34 in four-plus seasons in San Jose.

With less than $1 million available to the Sharks in cap space, there's little doubt that this team had to win in order for this group to return on the investment made by Wilson. While Logan Couture, Evander Kane, and Timo Meier all have nine-or-more goals and 20-or-more points, they occupy one-quarter of San Jose's cap space at $21 million combined. The $19.5 million duo of Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have 24 and 21 points, respectively, but their defensive flaws have been largely exposed by their opposition this season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is a defensive specialist for the team, has been turning in solid results for the Sharks in his own zone, but his $7 million salary might be a little much for a player who has just nine points this season. All combined, that's $47.5 million in six players whose contributions might be more noticeable if it weren't for the one flaw this team has that Wilson continually overlooks and seems uninterested in solving.

Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have been anything but NHL goalies this season as both netminders have some rather horrific stats when it comes to stopping pucks. Dell is ranked 57th-overall in save percentage while Jones checks in at 60th-overall out of 74 netminders seen in the NHL this season. Jones is ranked 56th-overall in GAA while Dell ranks in at 60th-overall. Making matters worse, Dell and Jones rank 66th- and 67th-overall for even-strength save percentage out of 74 total goalies seen in the NHL this season. That's simply horrible.

Comparatively, however, Dell and Jones rank 5th- and 9th-overall for power-play save percentage, so it's not as if the Sharks aren't getting the goaltending they need while on special teams. The Sharks, as a result of this netminding, have the top penalty-killing unit in the league at 88.3% including a league-best 94.0% efficiency at home while being fifth-best on the road. Instead, it's the five-on-five play where San Jose seemingly falls apart despite the club allowing the seventh-least shots-against this season.

I have a hard time believing that the Sharks, who went to the Western Conference Final seven months ago in spite of their netminding, have changed systems so dramatically that their five-on-five play has fallen off so far. Like we saw in the playoffs last season, however, it seems that Pete DeBoer had no answer for the Sharks' goaltending woes as the state of the goaltending was already noted for how poor it was earlier this season by The Hockey News' Jared Clinton back on October 30. While Clinton did write that San Jose seems to give up more than their fair share of high-quality scoring chances which would be a coaching issue, the fact that netminders give up a guaranteed goal every ten shots suggests that they're part of the problem rather than their stats being a result of the poor defence in front of them.

If you're thinking that perhaps there might be a solution on the farm with Roy Sommer joining the NHL club, the San Jose Barracuda have no solutions for the Sharks at this moment. Rookie Josef Korenar is AHL San Jose's best netminder right now, and he has a 3.10 GAA and an .893 save percentage in 15 games - hardly NHL-promotion numbers - while rookie Andrew Shortridge is worse on both counts in the eight games he's played.

Making matters worse is that there are a handful of draft-eligible goalies this season - including the highly-touted Russian Yaroslav Askarov - but San Jose doesn't have a first-round pick thanks to the Erik Karlsson deal, meaning they're waiting until the second-round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft to select their first player unless they make a deal to move up. If San Jose is going to improve their netminding in the next five years, their scouting staff needs to do a rather stellar job in looking at the remaining netminders in the draft as most are ranked by the scouting services to start being selected late in the second-round at best.

At this point, the only solution to improving the Sharks will be to make major roster changes to either improve their defence, improve their goaltending, or change both. Pete DeBoer's firing tonight should weigh heavy on Doug Wilson's conscience for nothing more than this roster he's cobbled together has been rather average despite its hefty price tag while his goaltending has consistently been worse than NHL-average over the last few seasons.

If those two facts alone don't have Doug Wilson on the hot seat after dismissing DeBoer, there's something seriously wrong with how Wilson is being evaluated after years of falling short.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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