For a team that doesn’t actually mind taking the big swing now and then in hopes of that one great performance spike, the San Jose Sharks have a reputation for being a corporate and on-ice metronome. They don’t tend to make loud splashes or loud noises; indeed, in some ways they go out of their way not to be noticed, as in the case where they extended head coach Peter DeBoer’s contract over the summer and never told anyone.
They just seem to plow through season after season, making the playoffs but rarely going deep – succeeding, sort of. They maintain front office and roster stability, firing rarely. Their core has been largely the same players year in and year out, especially since Doug Wilson (Class of ’03) traded for Joe Thornton (Class of ’06).
Their owner, Hasso Plattner, is nearly invisible to the public eye, though he helps that by never making demands on the public for trinkets like a new arena. Why, even their new Forbes valuation puts them smack in the middle of the NHL (15th, $510 million, up four percent from a year ago and with minimal debt value and modest profitmaking).
So when they do go for launch angle in hopes of hitting a home run, as they did with Erik Karlsson this summer after grabbing Evander Kane at the trade deadline in March, expectations spike, and the Sharks have struggled to meet those expectations. Even after Wednesday’s 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, they have still lost more games than they have won through a third of the season, and are barely above the playoff line after having been given more than a reasonable amount of time to assimilate Karlsson into the operation.
They moved popular players (Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo), in the room to get Karlsson in a trade, a deal anyone would make a thousand times. They lost two more (Paul Martin and Joel Ward) to age, which is unavoidable. They handed out enough big contracts to put themselves in future salary cap hell.
And Tuesday, two days after a team meeting in which their performance was harshed by DeBoer and by each other, they rotated their assistant coaching staff to different roles in search of applying new voices to the same problem – how to make urgency happen on a team that has sludged its way through the first third of the year.
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The Sharks are not making this season easy on themselves, largely by trying to make this season easy on themselves, and the latest response from head coach Peter DeBoer and grand-higher-up Doug Wilson to create greater urgency has been to move defense coach Rob Zettler off the bench and upstairs, Dave Barr from the press box to behind the bench working the forwards and the penalty kill, and Steve Spott to working with the defensemen.
This is not unheard of, but it is infrequent enough to be construed as a message to the regular 20 players that the next two months will not play out like the first two months without more substantive changes. And that message has been received for two of the three periods in Montreal and enough of the Carolina game to suggest that the message is dawning on the players – just in time for another road trip.
But this is the hand they have dealt themselves by letting the first third of the season go by without figuring out who and what they are, let alone consistently proving it. In that way, this radically new version of the Sharks is like so many others – overpromising and underdelivering.
Now they still have more than 50 games left to find their true place, and that is their responsibility more than even DeBoer’s. They should know by now what is required of them, and how to deliver it consistently.
And if they can’t, the steadiest franchise in the NHL is probably going to do something else drastic. After all, Karlsson was Wilson’s latest all-in move, and at some point the hand has to play itself.