Sharks

Sharks need to get back on track after emotional loss to Golden Knights

Sharks need to get back on track after emotional loss to Golden Knights

Tempers flared considerably when the Sharks played the Golden Knights on Saturday night. So much so, even, that three members of the Sharks were ejected from the game, including head coach Peter DeBoer.

“We’ve got an emotional team,” defenseman Brenden Dillon told the media diplomatically. “We’ve got guys who are physical. Guys who definitely don’t like to lose, myself included.”

The Sharks and Golden Knights have played each other physically since Vegas entered the league last season, and San Jose was understandably frustrated after Vegas notched a 4-0 lead in the first period alone. But that was no match for the level of anger that was reached after a breakaway goal from William Carrier put the Sharks in a 5-0 hole. 

[RELATED: What we learned in 6-0 loss to Golden Knights]

Not long after coming out of the box for serving a high-sticking penalty, Evander Kane was called for tripping after a hip-to-hip hit on Vegas forward Tomas Nosek. Just moments later, Kane was issued a game misconduct and tossed from the contest, reportedly for language he used on the ice. Then DeBoer was noticeably absent from the bench as well, after also being tossed from the game.

The winger didn’t elaborate on the incident when asked about it after the game. The Sharks coach, however, broke down what transpired between himself and the ref. 

“I didn’t even swear,” DeBoer prefaced. “I just asked him, 'Did that feel good, kicking Evander out under these circumstances?' That was enough, I guess. I guess he wanted another victim.”

It’s understandable for DeBoer and the rest of the team to be upset. Kane is one of the Sharks most dynamic players – not to mention a guy who can help drive the team’s intensity in the face of adversity. In a contest where players were getting beat up and the score was incredibly lopsided, that’s not a player any team wants to lose.

“You’ve got a team down 5-0,” DeBoer said. “I’m already short on the bench with (Logan) Couture hurt and you’re going to kick a guy out for arguing a call because emotions are high? Have a little feel for the game.”

Even with the emotional response to Saturday’s game, San Jose knows they can't let this one derail them. Especially with four more road games ahead of them.

“For us, it’s just about getting back on track here,” Dillon summarized. “We’ve got a big rest of this road trip with some good teams and we’re just going to have to reset for the next one.”

Doug Wilson's job is safe despite Sharks' disappointing season, owner says

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AP

Doug Wilson's job is safe despite Sharks' disappointing season, owner says

This season hasn't gone as the Sharks had planned.

After starting out 15-16-2, the Sharks elected to fire head coach Peter DeBoer, much to the shock of players and staff. They promoted Bob Boughner to interim head coach. While the change appeared to initially spark the Sharks, their play has since tapered off since as they enter the All-Star break at 21-25-4 after three straight blowout losses.

With the losses mounting, some have wondered if general manager Doug Wilson's job could be in jeopardy. That is not the case. 

"While we are all very disappointed in the team's performance thus far this season, Doug has a long history of leading our team to success," majority owner Hasso Plattner said in a statement Thursday while announcing changes to the Sharks' business operations. "The last time we failed to meet our winning standards in the 2014-15 season, we were able to quickly rebound and re-establish a winning culture for the next several years. I am supportive of Doug's plan to get our team back on track."

The Sharks have to exit the All-Star break on fire if they want to make a run at a postseason berth. If they limp out of the gate, it will be time for them to focus on the future and how to quickly rebuild the team for a playoff return next season.

[RELATED: Key storylines to focus on during remainder of Sharks season]

Whatever happens, the ship still is Wilson's to guide.

Sharks storylines, developments to watch through remainder of season

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AP

Sharks storylines, developments to watch through remainder of season

Heading into the All-Star break last season, the St. Louis Blues were a .500 team (22-22-5). In the 33 regular-season games that followed, they caught fire and carried that momentum to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

This season, the Sharks enter the All-Star break four games below .500 with 32 games left to claw their way back into playoff positioning and hopefully do the same. As the Blues proved, it's not out of the realm of possibility, but if we're being realistic, it remains a longshot.

Whether the Sharks qualify for the postseason for the 20th time in the last 22 years or end up in dead last, there are a few potential developments to keep an eye on throughout the remainder of the season that will have an impact on the team both in the present and well into the future.

Even if the playoffs are out of the question, these three storylines will be front and center for San Jose:

Trade candidates

For the Sharks to have any shot of making it back to the postseason, they'll need to emerge from the All-Star break the same way the Blues did: by putting together a lengthy winning streak. St. Louis won 10 in a row coming out of the break last season, and San Jose might require something similar. But if the Sharks don't catch fire coming out of the break, it will be time to face facts before long.

If and when the playoffs become obviously out of reach, it will be time for general manager Doug Wilson to make some magic happen. The season can't be a complete loss, and he'll surely work the phones in an effort to expedite a partial rebuild. Considering the Sharks don't have their first-round draft pick as a result of signing Erik Karlsson to a contract extension, they need to recoup assets wherever they can get them.

Defenseman Brenden Dillon is the obvious name to keep an eye on, and the most likely San Jose player to be traded for two reasons. First, his physical style comes in higher demand the closer you get to the postseason. Second, he actually would bring back a decent-sized haul. Other players like Melker Karlsson certainly could be had, but the question will be if it is worth San Jose's while to do so, since he won't bring back anywhere near as large of a return as Dillon would.

As soon as it becomes obvious the current season is headed nowhere, the Sharks need to shift their focus to the future.

Boughner's audition

It hasn't been the easiest season to be an NHL head coach. Seven bench bosses already have been fired, including former Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. 

DeBoer, of course, has since been re-hired by the rival Vegas Golden Knights. His former top assistant, Bob Boughner, was promoted to Sharks interim head coach upon DeBoer's dismissal from San Jose. And, frankly, the coaching change appeared to provide the Sharks with the jolt they needed -- initially, at least -- as the team was far more competitive following the switch.

But three blowout losses leading into the All-Star break have sapped all of that momentum out of the Sharks, and Boughner hasn't shied away from calling out his players for unsatisfactory performances in those contests. While he definitely has the respect of the locker room, if San Jose continues its lackluster play coming out of the break, it might lead to questions as to whether or not Boughner is the right fit for the organization moving forward.

The other side of the lots-of-coaches-have-been-fired coin is that many of those established coaches now are unemployed -- but are unlikely to be for long. Most, if not all, will be hired to fill head coaching vacancies in the offseason, and Wilson wouldn't be doing his due diligence if he didn't consider all potential options. A strong finish for the Sharks this season likely would be a boon to Boughner's chances of having the interim tag removed from his title. But if it goes the other way, San Jose might have to make its second coaching change in a span of six months.

[RELATED: What has gone right for Sharks in disappointing season]

Balancing act

At what point does the current season become about the future? That might be the most important question facing the Sharks throughout the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign. They've dug themselves a considerable hole, and while they still can dig themselves out of it, they need to be prudent in how they go about determining which players to give opportunities to.

The Sharks' ideal scenario, obviously, is making it back to the playoffs. But if San Jose encounters any sort of extended losing streak, that should probably signal Boughner and Wilson that it's time to see what the Sharks have in their system. Instead of giving ice time to known quantities, San Jose would be better off finding out which of its prospects are the real deal, and which aren't.

Maxim Letunov, Joachim Blichfeld, Alexander True, Jayden Halbgewachs, Noah Gregor, Sasha Chmelevski, Dylan Gambrell, Lean Bergmann and Danil Yurtaikin are all 23 years old or younger. Some of them already have made their NHL debuts, while others still are awaiting their opportunity. If and when the decision is made to focus on the future, the Sharks should throw as many of their fringe prospects against the wall as they're comfortable with, and see who sticks.

If San Jose does enter a rebuilding phase, chances are you'll be seeing plenty of those guys moving forward.