Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is betting on coach Bob Boughner following in the footsteps of the most recent Jack Adams Award winner, the architect of one of the greatest in-season turnarounds in NHL history and a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
Shortly after San Jose announced Boughner had his interim designation removed, Wilson mentioned to reporters Tuesday that Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, St. Louis Blues bench boss Craig Berube and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan are current coaches who previously were in Boughner's shoes.
All three were fired after no more than two seasons in their first NHL head-coaching job, as Boughner was by the Florida Panthers in 2019. All three were promoted from within their current organization, as Boughner was when he was first named interim coach after Peter DeBoer's firing in December. And all three have had far more success during their second stints leading a team, as Wilson expects Boughner will with the Sharks next season.
"Well, I think it's a product of experiential learning," Wilson said in a video conference with reporters Tuesday. "I mentioned a couple other guys in the league that I have great respect for, they got their second job, and I think if you ask every one of them, they'd say they did things a little differently or they utilized some of the knowledge that they had from their first time. And I also think the fact that they came from within the organization (helped). They knew a lot of the younger players. They had the support of the rest of the staff."
Boughner compiled an 80-62-22 record in two seasons with Florida. His 2017-18 Panthers matched the NHL's record for most points by a non-playoff team (96), but they had 10 fewer points the following season and Boughner was replaced by three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville.
The Sharks didn't enjoy the same bounce with Boughner last season that the Blues did with Berube or the Penguins did with Sullivan in 2015-16 and win the Stanley Cup. San Jose didn't even make the playoffs, as Boston did with Cassidy in 2016-17.
Still, the Sharks' play under Boughner was far better than their 14-20-3 record would indicate. They ranked no worse than 15th in any category measuring the share of 5-on-5 puck possession from Boughner's hiring onward, and only six teams generated 5-on-5 expected goals at a higher rate than San Jose (2.47 per 60 minutes) did under Boughner. Wilson credited Boughner's collaborative spirit as a big part of the turnaround.
"That's one of the things I really like about Bougie," Wilson continued. "And it started last year when I put him in a very difficult position midseason, not having his own staff and obviously having some key players out. But how he handled that revealed a lot to me. Very inclusive, he integrated everybody, he's very open-minded and looking to find solutions."
Boughner will have his own staff this time around. Rocky Thompson and John Madden are the new faces as Boughner's associate and assistant coach, respectively. Thompson will work with the defense and run the power play, while Madden will coach the forwards and the penalty kill.
Both Thompson and Madden are former players with AHL head-coaching experience, and Wilson said each has the right "ingredients" to help the Sharks maximize the talent currently on their roster. When Wilson mentioned Thompson's strategy in activating defensemen, for instance, it's easy to imagine he did so with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson in mind.
The Sharks have nearly $59 million towards the salary cap committed to Karlsson, Burns and six others over the next two seasons, and it's likely the salary cap will remain flat at $81.5 million during that time. It's difficult to envision San Jose returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs with getting the absolute most out of its veteran core.
As the Blues, Bruins and Penguins did with Berube, Cassidy and Sullivan, the Sharks think Boughner can in his second chance as a head coach.
"We're not used to having a blip or a bump in the road like we did last season," Wilson said. "That is on us. We did not accomplish and meet our expectations. When that's happened in the past, we've gone to work, made some adjustments. But often, the changes truly came from the core of our team, and we feel it's the same situation now. We have a lot of work ahead of us."