How Sharks improved since Bob Boughner was named interim head coach


How Sharks improved since Bob Boughner was named interim head coach

When the Sharks overhauled their coaching staff in December, one of the most common phrases we heard inside and outside the locker room was “needing a different voice”. It has been 22 games and almost two months since Bob Boughner and his new assistants took the helm. 

That's probably enough of a sample size to make some initial observations and identify: What are the biggest changes since?

Similar results, different circumstances.

The situations are apples and oranges across the board, but seven NHL teams have changed their head coaches in-season, to varying levels of results. While it’s true that only the Sharks have a worse point-percentage since their transition, only the Toronto Maple Leafs have experienced a tangible difference in either direction.

Listed here are those seven teams, dates of the coaching change, records with point-percentages, and point-percentage differentials:

Coaching change: Nov. 20
Before: 9-10-4 (.956)
Since: 19-9-3 (1.32)
PTS % diff.: (+.364)

Calgary Flames
Coaching change: Nov. 29
Before: 12-12-4 (1.00)
Since 15–10-2 (1.19)
PTS % diff.: (+.019)

New Jersey Devils
Coaching change: Dec. 3
Before: 9-13-4 (.846)
Since 10–11-6 (.963)
PTS % diff.: (+.117)

Dallas Stars
Coaching change: Dec. 10
Before: 17-11-3 (1.19)
Since 13-7-2 (1.27)
PTS % diff.: (+.008)

San Jose*
Coaching change: Dec. 11
Before: 15-16-2 (.970)
Since: 9-10-3 (.955)
PTS % diff.: (-.015)

Nashville Predators
Coaching change: Jan. 6
Before: 19-15-7 (1.10)
Since: 7-5-0 (1.17)
PTS % diff.: (+.007)

Vegas Golden Knights
Coaching change: Jan. 15
Before: 24-19-6 (1.10)
Since: 4-2-1 (1.29)
PTS % diff.: (+.019)

Injuries and travel have clouded the issue

For San Jose, it’s impossible to properly evaluate the group minus their top two centers in Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. This also makes it difficult for Boughner and Co. to truly implement changes they think could turn the group around. There’s no denying the numbers above, yet, it’s also fair to say the similar results have a different feel.

Additionally, the Sharks just endured a road-heavy January, and only have five total home games in this month of February. Which is less about the home-ice advantage at hand, and more about the lack of quality practice time in San Jose, where opportunities to iron out tactical issues on a rink are easier.

Dell has responded to the chance

The most notable change since Dec. 11 has come in the net. Aaron Dell has started 15 of the 22 games Boughner has coached. In the last 11, Dell has posted a 2.27 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. Without ever officially being anointed the "starter", that’s exactly what the former backup has become. 

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Part of it feels like team defense has improved in front of Dell, with less odd-man rushes and net-front chances for opponents. But most of it looks like Dell is confident in making the big saves and eliminating second-chance opportunities. The more he plays, the better he looks.

Shooters shoot

While the shot clock doesn’t always correlate to a team’s effort or even the end result, you can definitely see the Sharks have adopted more of that shoot-first mentality under Boughner. Over the last seven weeks, they’re averaging around six more shots on net per game than they did in October and November.

Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality


Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality

Sharks winger Evander Kane called on prominent white professional athletes to speak out against police brutality against African Americans.

Kane, who is black, joined ESPN's "First Take" on Friday morning to discuss George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this week. The 28-year-old Kane said it can't just fall on black athletes to lend their voices to causes of racial justice, and white players joining their black peers is "the only way" for professional athletes to truly affect change.

"We've been outraged for hundreds of years and nothing has changed," Kane said of black people speaking out against racism (H/T Fear the Fin's Sheng Peng). "It's time for guys like (Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback) Tom Brady and (Pittsburgh Penguins center) Sidney Crosby and those types of figures to speak up about what is right, and clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong. Because that's the only way we're gonna actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change, especially when you talk about systematic racism."

Bystanders in Minneapolis recorded video Monday of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, having a white police officer's knee pressed into his neck for nearly eight minutes as three other officers looked on. Floyd pleaded that he couldn't breathe, but state charging documents alleged that the officer, Derek Chauvin, continued to have his knee on Floyd's neck for almost three minutes after he became non-responsive. Chauvin and the three other officers were fired Tuesday, and he was arrested on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday.

Kane tweeted Tuesday night that the video of Floyd's death made his "[f--king] blood boil." He shared a petition Wednesday night calling for the four former officers to face charges.

The forward has been increasingly outspoken against racism in the last year, particularly in hockey. Kane is one of just 43 NHL players of color, according to WDET, and they account for fewer than 5 percent of the league. He said he hasn't seen "too many" hockey players discuss Floyd's death, but Kane feels supported by his teammates in speaking out.

"In terms of my teammates, they're incredibly supportive of me and what I stand for," Kane said. "I think hockey, unfortunately, has a different culture than some of the other sports in terms of speaking out and using your voice and speaking your mind. I think for me, I'm one of the anomalies when it comes to NHL players doing that. That's another part of the problem, guys being scared to really speak their mind and stand up for what is right."

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often address the media, shared his support of Kane in a rare statement Friday hours after Kane's appearance on "First Take."

"There is no room for racism in society," the statement read. "We applaud Evander for his thoughtful and rational response to the recent terrible tragedy. Events like this occur way too often. We all must find a way to do better."

Kane tweeted he was "proud to be part of" the Sharks in response.

[RELATED: Kap starts fund to pay lawyers for Minneapolis protesters]

Kane said sports have the inclusive potential to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds. In order to live up to it, Kane thinks athletes -- white and black -- need to pull in the same direction off the rink, field and court.

"[When] we talk about our own personal battles outside of sports, there's a lot of people that are silent on issues," he said. "They're important issues. They're issues that have been going on for hundreds of years, and we need that same type of team mentality to be brought to issues outside of our sport."

Sharks players laud Bob Boughner's performance as interim head coach

Sharks players laud Bob Boughner's performance as interim head coach

Being an interim head coach is never easy. The title itself implies something previously went wrong with someone at the top during the flow of a season, and that was certainly the case when Bob Boughner took over the Sharks on Dec. 11, 2019 after Pete DeBoer got sacked.

The once-mighty Sharks were floundering, in desperate need of an about-face the front office hoped radical change could provide. San Jose improved but not enough to make a real playoff push. The Sharks even failed to qualify for an expanded, 24-team playoff format designed to restart the NHL season after pausing it due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a long offseason ahead to sort out their issues.

Finding a head coach definitely is one, though after doing due diligence, it’s possible the Sharks simply lift the interim tag off Boughner’s title.

“We have time to build the staff that’s best going forward for this team,” San Jose general manager Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “Bob has certainly got the inside track. … We’re still in the middle of that process. We’ll be very thorough.”

Players don’t have the ultimate say in that decision, but they were impressed by what Boughner was able to do after taking DeBoer’s place.

“I don’t think he entered a very easy situation,” defenseman Erik Karlsson said Thursday in a video conference with local reporters. “He did the best he could with what he had. He clearly thought about what he needed to fix immediately, and also had a long-term plan even though his future was uncertain.

“I think he did the right thing for the team and the organization moving forward. I think he did everything he could to be the best coach he could be. I think we got a boost from [him], but I think we were a little bit too far gone to really be saved.”

The Sharks were 15-16-2 under DeBoer and 14-20-3 under Boughner, though the latter dealt with season-ending injuries to Karlsson and Tomas Hertl and played several weeks without captain Logan Couture.

Boughner helped improve a porous defense and held players accountable for poor play and missteps. Long-tenured defenseman Brent Burns was impressed by Boughner’s effort, seeing a change in his style after returning to the team following two seasons as head coach of the Florida Panthers.

“You could see there was a difference in him from being a head coach during the time he was in Florida, but he was still ‘Bougy,’” Burns said. “He has all those positive things that made him great as an assistant. He learned to be a head coach, so he evolved and became a bit more authoritative. He has the ability to interact with guys like he’s still a player. He’s a great communicator. He gets what’s going on and sees it, but at the end of the day, he has a little bit of that "fear of god" in him.

“I think he learned a lot from Pete, learning from a great coach. He was great before, but you could see he evolved and was better. The atmosphere he creates is good. That’s tough to say with how sh--ty everything was going, but he did a great job with where he was at and where we were at.”

[RELATED: Couture says Sharks have ambition to sustain long offseason]

Boughner already knew most of the longer-tenured Sharks, but also found a way to connect with younger players.

“I learned a lot from him,” defenseman Mario Ferraro said. “He held me accountable out there and gave me a lot of advice as a young player in the league. I like the way he coaches and, if I were to make a mistake, he’s going to be hard on me but show me a way I can improve with video and stuff in practice. The season was pretty hilly for me, and when I was on the downhill, he would try to pick me back up. It’s a privilege to play for him.”