Sharks

Erik Karlsson puts Sharks in Stanley Cup talks, NHL's best defense

Erik Karlsson puts Sharks in Stanley Cup talks, NHL's best defense

The Sharks landed their big fish.

Less than 24 hours before the start of training camp, San Jose acquired defenseman Erik Karlsson (and AHL forward Francis Perron) in a massive trade with the Ottawa Senators. The Sharks paid a big price for the two-time Norris Trophy winner, sending two roster players, two prospects, a 2020 first-round pick, a 2019 second-round pick and a conditional pick to Ottawa. 

Let's not bury the lede here: The Sharks acquired arguably the best defenseman in hockey, rounding out a top three of Karlsson, 2017 Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Few, if any teams, boast that level of talent at the top of their blue line.

"It's extremely rare that players of this caliber become available," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "The word 'elite' is often thrown around casually, but Erik's skillset and abilities fit that description like few other players in today's game."

Since entering the NHL in 2009, Karlsson has scord 96 more points than the next closest defenseman (Keith Yandle) and 117 more than Burns. 

Giving up Norris could sting, but acquiring Karlsson without losing Timo Meier or their 2018 first-round pick is an unabashed win for the Sharks and general manager Doug Wilson. San Jose will have to find internal options to replace third-line center Chris Tierney, who is coming off a career year, and bottom-pairing defenseman Dylan DeMelo. But, with Antti Suomela, the Finnish league’s leading scorer last season, and Tim Heed waiting in the wings, the Sharks could afford to make this move. 

Wilson is no stranger to making the big move and, as our own Ray Ratto wrote, this has shades of the Joe Thornton acquisition from the Bruins 13 years ago. The Sharks paid pennies (well, maybe, quarters in this case) on the dollar for one of the league’s best players, and made it clear they're going it for now as Thornton's career winds down.

And in the process, they’ve landed firmly in the Stanley Cup conversation. 

Sharks fired Peter DeBoer after rocky start, but what comes next?

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USATSI

Sharks fired Peter DeBoer after rocky start, but what comes next?

The Sharks' dismissal of Pete DeBoer is both mildly surprising, and not shocking, all at the same time. It’s a sad truth in professional sports that the head coach takes a fall for his team. It also offers an intriguing aspect, though, to see what kind of response the team delivers after the change.

It’s been difficult to figure out who the Sharks are this season, and that’s a scary trait when you’re responsible for assuring their success. They’ve lost four, then won three. Then lost seven of eight, only to win nine of the next 10. It’s almost a season’s worth of highs and lows as if they’ve ridden an entire amusement park worth of roller-coasters in just 10 minutes.

Other confusing trends include their defensive struggles in 5-on-5 situations, yet their utter dominance on the penalty kill. As well on the other side, their ability to draw a significant number of penalties but rarely be able to capitalize with any consistency on the power play.

A lot of folks will look at the goaltending stats to blame, but the eye test tells a better story. Save percentage and goals-against average are not complimentary right now for either Aaron Dell or Martin Jones. But those numbers are flawed because of the quality and quantity of “Grade-A” chances the Sharks have been giving up dating to the start of last year.

Not all shots are created equal. This holds true in hockey and in basketball. A lay-up usually converts at a much higher clip than shots from beyond the arc. San Jose essentially has been routinely giving up slam dunks while trying to shoot too many 3-pointers.

Team defense has to be a top priority to turn around, no matter who the head coach is.

It’s not realistic to think that change or improvement will take place overnight, but obviously, there will be a lot of extra attention surrounding the Sharks in coming weeks and months, as well as a lot of pressure on the new men at the helm. Bob Boughner was the only member of the staff retained, and will be joined by fan favorites Mike Ricci, Evgeni Nabokov and longtime AHL staple Roy Sommer.

[RELATED: Why firing DeBoer doesn't solve all of Sharks' problems]

The $80 million question (think salary-cap space) right now is, what happens next for the Sharks?

Does this move from a tactical or symbolic standpoint unify a group that seems to have all the right pieces but hasn't had consistent results? It has become a notable trend across the NHL to see high-profile clubs make moves early when things don’t launch well.

But to think that any team can match what the St. Louis Blues did last season -- going from worst in the league in January to a Stanley Cup win in June -- definitely shouldn't be considered a reliable blueprint.

Why Sharks firing coach Peter DeBoer doesn't solve all their problems

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AP

Why Sharks firing coach Peter DeBoer doesn't solve all their problems

It was time for a shake-up, there’s no question about it. And when things go sideways, the head coach typically takes the bulk of the blame.

But, the Sharks still have a lot of work to do.

So while those calling for Peter DeBoer to be out of a job have been granted their wish, it needs to be understood that his firing isn’t the beginning nor the end of San Jose's problems.

Don't get me wrong: The first stretch of the Sharks' 2019-20 campaign has been downright rough. They lost the first four games of their season and, despite having plenty of talent in the lineup, have struggled mightily to dig out of the hole they're in now. Even during the six-game winning streak, those games weren't always pretty.

And through that stretch of wins, there were issues that San Jose needed to address, whether it was goaltending or lack of offensive depth or the penalty kill being overworked.

Long story short: This isn’t just about coaching. Honestly, the Sharks still might lose a lot of games.

Please remember that DeBoer took the Sharks to the Western Conference finals last season with Martin Jones and Aaron Dell posting save percentages under .900. And DeBoer took the team to a Stanley Cup Final in 2016 after beating two stacked teams in the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. This isn't the story of someone who can't coach a Cup-contending team.

So, what was the issue?

Even before DeBoer's firing, the Sharks have been in a team in flux. After the first four defeats, DeBoer had his own list of complaints as to how the team was playing defensively. And offensively. Quite frankly, he wasn't happy with how the team played as a whole during the winning streak in November.

Whatever the core reason is for San Jose's woes, something still has to change now that DeBoer is out the door. After nearly erasing its October deficit with a phenomenal record in November, San Jose has gone 0-4-1 so far in December, a slide that has dropped the team five points out of a playoff spot.

[RELATED: Sharks scuffling because of bad combo of scoring, penalties]

December is a weird month to try to right the ship. The Sharks have a homestand coming up but with two long breaks shoved in the middle. They have a three-day layover ahead of a back-to-back with St. Louis and Vegas, and then another a few days later with the Kings and Flyers.

The Sharks absolutely could go on a run before the new year. Just don't expect the coaching change to solve all of their problems.