Sharks brass looking genius after refusing to rebuild


Sharks brass looking genius after refusing to rebuild

The quiet dynamic of this fresh new era in San Jose Sharks history -- the one where they don’t get snickered at by strangers -- is what it takes to rebuild a shambles.

And let’s not smooth this over in these days when casual fans everywhere are grafting themselves on to this hastily constructed bandwagon with claims like “I’ve loved them since 1998,” “I’ve loved them since 1991,” and the new “I’ve loved them since 1967.”

Yes, we know the Sharks didn’t begin in 1967, but Bob Cole, the Canadian hockey announcer and part-time demigod, referred to the Sharks as “North Stars” during the Canadian broadcast of Wednesday night’s Western Conference Final victory over St. Louis, and if Bob Cole says the Sharks are the Minnesota North Stars, they will damned well be the Minnesota North Stars.

Anyway, the North Stars -- er, Sharks -- were what we hockey experts call a hot mess on a cold plate. They had not only undone the good will of a decade’s worth of good hockey, but looked like they might enter a decade of hot mess-itude.

Without getting into our usual tedious detail, the Sharks had reached that stage in their development in which everyone needed to be fired, swiftly, cruelly and in such a way that none of them would ever find gainful employment again. They’d vomited up a 3-0 series lead and been driven from yet another playoffs, doubled down by finishing a misery-soaked 14th-place finish the following year, and if there had been relegation in the National Hockey League, they’d be developing a rivalry with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Instead, a decision to do what they had always been criticized for -- holding on to their core for yet another year -- and making seemingly minor changes at the fringes made the Sharks something they had never been before.

A team that is actually greater than the sum of its parts.

General manager Doug Wilson, who had been rancorously drilled for mangling the Joe Thornton captaincy issue and losing a coherent relationship with now ex-coach Todd McLellan, was retained to the dismay of a fair percentage of the customer base.

But in what can only fairly be called his best offseason ever, he replaced McLellan with Peter DeBoer, who said most of the things McLellan had been saying but with a different voice and tone and with none of the burdensome history and preconceptions.

Wilson then doubled down by fixing his seemingly perpetual goaltending problem by signing former King Martin Jones, repaired his ongoing hole in the third and fourth lines by seizing former Capital Joel Ward, and then figured out how to defend his seemingly tenuous position on Brent Burns as a defenseman by signing Paul Martin, who appears to be the one man that can let Burns be Burns and handle the issues that Burns occasionally leaves undone.

Much was made of the triage of the team’s other gaping wound, the captaincy, which had been taken from Thornton, turned into a rotational honorific and then awarded to Joe Pavelski. But as it turns out, the dressing room dynamics didn’t change all that much, but everyone was satisfied with the decision and its recipient. The “C” didn’t matter so much, but the restoration of peace and removal of tension within the room did.

And after a stuttery start that lasted until the first week of January, the Sharks took all these grafted alterations within the context of the greater commitments to the past and went on the run that has led them here. They are 40-18-4 since losing successive home games to Winnipeg and Detroit on Jan. 2 and 7, a 111-point pace over a full season.

By that extrapolation, they would have been the best team in the Western Conference, making their boatracing of Los Angeles, their survival of Nashville, and their non-glamorous but comprehensive suppression of St. Louis more explicable.

And since victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan (former Boston Bruins coach John F. Kennedy), all those moves now seem prescient and even inspired by the ghost of Sam Pollock, the most successful general manager in the sport’s history.

In sum, owner Hasso Plattner did not fire Wilson, who in turn brought in DeBoer and did some carefully targeted shopping to tidy up the roster disarray, and left DeBoer to work with what had been retained and introduced. His expertise earned with a limited team in Florida and a once-proud team in New Jersey that he led to a Cup final in 2012 caused him to look old problems with new eyes, and address them with a fresh voice.

Thus, he found fresh value in Burns, very slightly adjusted roles for Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and most of the rest of the core group, introduced new faces to the old tapestry, and through the alchemy that happens rarely to once-good teams that too often hit their sell-by date, they are now That Team.

In other words, today everyone is a genius, and the Minnesota North Stars are at last the team of which the entire Bay Area can be proud.

2020 NHL All-Star Game live stream: How to watch tournament online

NBC Sports

2020 NHL All-Star Game live stream: How to watch tournament online

The players put on a show at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition in St. Louis on Friday night. On Saturday, they'll go head-to-head in the 2020 NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center.

Sharks forward Tomas Hertl didn't win any events on Friday, but he'll be one of the talks of the town heading into Saturday's exhibition due to the stunt he pulled against Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington in the Bud Light NHL Save Streak competition. It's unlikely he'll have a Justin Bieber mask stowed away under his jersey during Saturday's All-Star Game, but based on his personality, it wouldn't come as a shock if he had any other surprises in store.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl brings fun to NHL skills event with Bieber mask]

As San Jose's lone All-Star representative, Hertl will team up with the other members of the Pacific Division squad in an attempt to claim divisional supremacy over the rest of the league. The 2020 NHL All-Star Game will feature a two-round, three-game tournament in which the league's four divisions will square off. Each 20-minute game will be played 3-on-3, with teams changing sides at the 10-minute mark. Any game tied after 20 minutes of play will be decided by shootout.

In Round One, the two Eastern Conference divisions (Atlantic and Metropolitan) will face off, while the two Western Conference divisions (Central and Pacific) will battle in Round Two. The two winners then advance to Round Three where they'll face each other to determine the overall champion.

Here's how to watch the 2020 NHL All-Star Game online:

When: Saturday, Jan. 25, at 5 p.m. PT
Live Stream:

Sharks' Tomas Hertl brings the fun to NHL All-Star Skills Competition


Sharks' Tomas Hertl brings the fun to NHL All-Star Skills Competition

Leave it to Tomas Hertl to put a smile on everyone's face.

The self-described "smiley guy" is the Sharks' lone representative at NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, and he didn't take long to show the Enterprise Center crowd why he fills that role so well during the All-Star Skills Competition on Friday night.

Hertl participated in two events on the evening, and got the crowd on its feet both times. But it was his first event -- the Bud Light NHL Save Streak -- during which he created one of the highlights of the entire night.

The Save Streak competition pits goalies against one another to see how many consecutive breakaway saves they can make. Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy held the lead with nine consecutive stops with only the hometown Jordan Binnington left to go. The Blues goaltender recently challenged musician Justin Bieber to a breakaway competition on Twitter, in which he said he would die his hair platinum blonde if Bieber scored at least once on 10 breakaway attempts.

Clearly, Hertl was paying attention, because he had a surprise for Binnington on his own breakaway attempt.

See for yourself:

Hertl didn't score on his hilarious attempt, but it's tough to blame him for two reasons. For one -- and perhaps most importantly -- he had a gigantic Justin Bieber mask over his entire face. Secondly, Binnington would go on to stop six more shots in a row after Hertl to win the event with a streak of 10.

[RELATED: Sharks' Karlsson named to NHL's All-Decade Second Team]

The 26-year-old forward wasn't done for the night, though. He participated in the next event -- the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting -- as well.

The Accuracy Shooting competition involves a series of shooters attempting to hit five targets on a digital board. Hertl might have the best mits on the Sharks, and he wasted no time showing them off in St. Louis, knocking down four targets on his first four shot attempts. The crowd got louder and louder as it appeared Hertl might complete a perfect round in very short order, but unfortunately, the crescendo had to wait. Hertl struggled to hit the final target, requiring nine more attempts to close it out. Carolina's Jacob Slavvin ultimately won the event, hitting all five targets in only 9.505 seconds, considerably faster than Hertl's time of 17.161.

So, Hertl wasn't victorious in any one event at the Skills Competition, but he undoubtedly will be remembered as one of the big winners of the night. After all, as he likes to say, "Fun must be always."