Sharks

Doug Wilson admits Bob Boughner has 'upper hand' to stay Sharks' coach

Doug Wilson admits Bob Boughner has 'upper hand' to stay Sharks' coach

Throughout his lengthy tenure as Sharks general manager, Doug Wilson had never made a mid-season coaching change prior to firing Peter DeBoer on Dec. 11 and promoting Bob Boughner to interim head coach. While no decision has been made on whether or not Boughner will be retained moving forward, it sure sounds like Wilson is heavily leaning in that direction.

Wilson provided an update Thursday in a conference call with reporters on how the Sharks currently area proceeding given the indefinite pause of the NHL season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and spoke very highly of the job Boughner did in an interim capacity.

"We know we've got some work to be ready for next season, whenever that may be," Wilson said, "but while our results for the year aren't where we needed them to be or want them to be, I was pleased to see some of the overall play improved over the last half of the year. I thought more often than not we were playing the game the right way ... I thought we played as a team with identity and structure more so in the second part of the year."

The coaching change didn't produce immediate improvement, but San Jose eventually found a more consistent game with Boughner at the helm. The Sharks went 14-20-3 after the coaching switch, and they likely would have been even more competitive if not for severe injuries to several key players.

"I think Bougie and his staff did a lot of good things," Wilson continued. "They were certainly hamstrung with many of our top players out at times, it was almost like a patchwork lineup. But the things we were looking for, I thought were addressed. Bougie and I have talked a lot about just clarifying how we want to play, and ultimately, getting your team to commit to playing the right way for longer periods of time, regardless of your talent level. 

"So, he and I will go through this process. We'll keep those discussions in private, but I think there's no doubt the things that I talked about that improved as the year went on ... Bougie and his staff deserve a lot of credit."

That would seem to be an odd amount of praise for someone Wilson doesn't plan to bring back -- if that indeed is that case. Wilson went as far as to admit Boughner has a significant advantage over other potential candidates.

"Does Bob know our group and have the upper hand in this process? Absolutely," he said. "But I think you have to be thorough in this process."

Indeed, it sounds like Boughner already has a leg up on the potential competition. Still, Wilson knows he wouldn't be doing his job if he was limiting the scope in any way.

"You're always looking for ways to improve your hockey team," Wilson explained. "Whether it be player-wise, staff-wise ... our list of things that we need to address is pretty extensive. You use this time wisely, and you have to explore those things.

"My responsibility is to put the best group together to help us get to the next level, but there's no doubt that those guys are all valuable people to this organization. But are we excluding adding other people? Absolutely not. ... Missing the playoffs is not something we take lightly, and we will explore every area -- players, coaching staff, additional people -- to make this a better hockey team."

[RELATED: Sharks get great injury news on Couture, Hertl and Karlsson]

It's going to be an extremely important -- albeit unprecedented -- offseason for San Jose.

There is a lot of work to be done to get the Sharks back to a level of contention, and deciding on who will be behind the bench certainly ranks near the top of the list.

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

When it comes to the Sharks' top prospects, 19-year-old defenseman Ryan Merkley is in a tier unto himself.

San Jose selected Merkley with the No. 21 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft after he slipped due to character concerns. His talent, however, has never been in question and was too good to pass up.

Merkley impressed during his participation in the Sharks' rookie camp last September, and just completed what is likely to be his final season in junior hockey with the OHL's London Knights. With 15 goals and 76 points, he was the OHL's second-highest scoring defenseman, and his 61 assists ranked fourth-most in the entire league. London's season was brought to a premature conclusion due to the coronavirus pandemic, at which time the Knights sat in first place in their conference with a 45-15-2 record. San Jose's top prospect played a key role in their success.

"Ryan had a very good year," Sharks scouting director Doug Wilson Jr. said last week on a conference call (H/T The Athletic's Kevin Kurz). "In his career, every single season he scored more goals, he had more assists, he had more points and his plus-minus got better all four years in the OHL. I’m very excited about Ryan."

Always an offensive standout, Merkley is a great skater with advanced vision and tremendous passing ability. Though he has added more than 10 pounds in weight since the rookie camp, he's never going to be an imposing physical specimen, and his defense definitely is the area where he'll need to improve most. The Sharks, however, have someone specific in mind for him to learn from and model his game after.

"The biggest thing with [Merkley] was he’s never going to hit guys like Brent Burns or Radim Simek, he’s going to play defense more like Erik Karlsson," Wilson Jr. added. "If we can get him to use his stick to angle guys off in the neutral zone and then get the puck going north faster, that’s how he’s going to play defense. I think that’s what you saw this year with him."

Karlsson has long been regarded as one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and deservedly so. He signed an eight-year contract extension prior to the currently-paused season, so he should be around for quite a while. Merkley has a long way to go to get on Karlsson's level, but he already has been studying the former Norris Trophy winner for some time now.

"Yeah. He’s not the biggest of bodies, but he’s a great skater and closes up the gap well, makes that great first pass," Merkley told Kurz about Karlsson. "I do think there are some similarities and things I can look up to. Obviously, he’s one of the best in the world. So [Wilson Jr.] and [the Sharks staff] were big on me watching him and watching the way he defends. It’s just (about) growing, getting better and getting more reps."

In addition to Karlsson, Merkley has another Sharks' defenseman to learn from in Mario Ferraro. They roomed together during the rookie camp, and Merkley made sure to follow Ferraro's extremely successful rookie season.

"For sure, it was awesome for him. I was excited for Mario," Merkley said. "He got a good chunk of NHL games. He’s a workhorse. I’ve never seen anybody (take care of) the body and (do) what he does off the ice. It’s incredible. He never stops moving out there, his work ethic is incredible. He’ll play a long time in the league because there’s not many that take care of their body like that or work as hard as he does. It’s awesome, something I can look up to and follow."

[RELATED: What NHL's potential 24-team return could mean for Sharks]

Ferraro projects as a future top-pair defenseman and it wouldn't be surprising if he eventually was involved in the captaincy. The Sharks are hoping Merkley turns out just as well.

And, if they end up with another Karlsson ... that's the dream.

NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end

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NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end

The NHL and the players' association took a big step toward returning to the ice, but it could mean the Sharks' 2019-20 season is over.

The NHLPA announced Friday night that it has "authorized further negotiations with the NHL" on a 24-team return to play format.

As the players' association noted, the sides still have more details to work out before the league officially can resume the season that was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While no specifics were provided on the teams that would be allowed to resume playing, the Sharks are not one of the 24 best teams in the NHL standings.

The Sharks possessed the worst record in the Western Conference (29-36-5; 63 points) and the third-worst record in the NHL when the season was suspended.

[RELATED: What went wrong for Sharks]

If this is how the Sharks' season concludes, it will put an end to a campaign in which the team entered with high expectations.

Last season, the Sharks made it to the Western Conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

The Sharks again were expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season, but the departure of several veterans, combined with poor play early in the campaign, led to the firing of coach Peter DeBoer after 33 games. Bob Boughner took over as interim coach, but San Jose skated to just a 14-20-3 record under him.