Let’s not belabor the point. The San Jose Sharks were supposed to be better than this. Following a summer of change, one that saw the Sharks say goodbye to captain Joe Pavelski and pay big bucks to prized defenseman Erik Karlsson, San Jose was supposed to find its footing early, adjust to their new makeup and earn a playoff spot as a Pacific Division contender. That was supposed to be followed by the Sharks trying, once again, to win the franchise its first championship and get Joe Thornton a Stanley Cup ring so he could skate off into the sunset.
But through 15 games and the first full month of the campaign, San Jose doesn’t look like a divisional threat, hardly appears wild-card worthy and suggesting they’re a top-odds Stanley Cup contender would be enough to get you laughed out of many a room right about now.
Consider, if you will, the by-the-numbers portrait the Sharks have painted as they prepare to enter action Tuesday. San Jose’s nine points are tied for the fewest in the league, their .300 points percentage the worst in the Western Conference. The Sharks’ minus-20 goal differential is second-worst in the NHL, only two teams allowing more goals against and only three more goals against per game. Further, only four attacks have produced fewer goals per game, San Jose has been outshot by two-plus shots per outing and the only statistic in which the Sharks rank among the class of the league, the lone feather in their cap, is penalty kill percentage. They lead the NHL at 89.6 percent. Hooray.
As we’ve written around these parts previously, some of the Sharks’ failures lie at the feet of the goaltending duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell. And the tandem’s poor play hasn’t improved much, if at all, since our last dive into their numbers. Jones’ .877 save percentage at 5-on-5 is better than Dell’s .867 SP, but the San Jose goaltenders rank 49th and 50th among the 52 netminders to play at least 200 minutes at five-a-side. Neither Jones’ or Dell’s goals-saved above average paints a better picture of the duo, either. At minus-1.2 and minus-1.53, respectively, Jones and Dell rank 49th and 51st among the aforementioned group of 52 netminders in GSAA per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play.
But a common rejoinder to any assertion that Jones and Dell are the Sharks’ greatest issue is that the play of the duo is symptomatic of San Jose’s defensive deficiencies. Despite what the SP and GSAA statistics tell us about the Sharks’ netminders, their play hasn’t occurred in a vacuum. Both San Jose netminders are middling in average shots against per 60 minutes of play at five-a-side, but measured against the same batch of 52 goaltenders, Jones (10.2) ranks seventh and Dell (9.9) 10th in high-danger shots against. The expected goals against rates per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 are likewise high for both netminders, Dell fifth (2.6) and Jones 14th (2.4). It should be noted, as well, that Dell ranks second in average shot distance and Jones fifth. The Sharks’ goaltenders are tested from closer in than any other team’s netminding duo.
And that points to an issue in front of the blue paint as much as in it. For that, the blame has to fall at the feet of coach Peter DeBoer.
Truly, there’s no way to look at the way in which the Sharks have played in front of their netminders and see a way forward for San Jose if this continues. While seventh-best in limiting attempts against at five-a-side, surrendering 52.1 per 60 minutes, San Jose’s per-hour rates when it comes to prime opportunities leave much to be desired. Only four teams – the Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers – allow more scoring chances against and only the latter two clubs allow a greater volume of high-danger chances against. DeBoer’s system is failing the Sharks just as much as the goaltending duo is failing to keep the red light from turning on. And that might mean, if San Jose’s losses continue to pile up and the panic button needs to be pushed, it’s DeBoer that has to go.
It’s not just about DeBoer’s system failing, though. At some point, if the time does come that Wilson feels the need to make change, sacking DeBoer is likely to be the only meaningful move the Sharks can make. There’s no budding superstar in the minors awaiting a call up, no blue-chip goaltender on the rise and the current cap situation is going to limit Wilson’s trade options. With roughly $800,000 with which to work, is there really anything worthwhile the Sharks GM can do to spark his roster? Any trade would have to be of the dollar-in-dollar-out variety and it could prove difficult to execute such a move, particularly with any immediacy. None of this is to mention that there are few who are going to be willing to make any swap for Jones or Dell, so adding a goaltending might be out of the question, and making some blockbuster deal to really shake up the squad might be out of the question. Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all carry no-trade protection, as do Evander Kane and captain Logan Couture, who would never be moved in the first place.
It seems certain that Wilson will give DeBoer some rope, however, and there’s little doubt DeBoer has earned it. There’s even some hope that the Sharks can get this back on track with DeBoer at the helm. At 6.7 percent, San Jose has one of the league’s lowest shooting percentages at five-a-side. If that normalizes and reaches a league-average rate, if the Sharks start getting some favorable bounces, maybe they can make up ground in a hurry. But if that doesn’t come to fruition, DeBoer’s days are likely to be numbered.
There were expectations for the Sharks, and with their poor defensive play and subpar goaltending threatening to sink them, San Jose’s only option for immediate results may be to make a move behind the bench and hope a coaching change can spark a roster that seemed destined for the dance this season.
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