Bob Boughner

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.

Three things going right for Sharks in otherwise frustrating season

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AP

Three things going right for Sharks in otherwise frustrating season

It's far easier to point out the main things that have gone wrong for the Sharks this season than it is to identify things that have gone right. Alas, that's what happens when you're in the midst of your worst season in more than 15 years.

Through the first 50 games of the season, San Jose has been inconsistent as can be. The Sharks already have four losing streaks of at least four games (and are one loss away from a fifth), but also put together a stretch in which they won 11 of 13. It's that inconsistency that ultimately forced general manager Doug Wilson to make the tough decision to move on from former head coach Peter DeBoer and hand the team to current interim head coach Bob Boughner.

For a team with as much collective experience as San Jose, it sure hasn't translated to the ice often enough.

That said, it hasn't all been bad. Yes, the Sharks are 11 points out of a playoff spot with 32 games remaining and a boatload of teams ahead of them to leapfrog, but their season isn't over. We have seen less likely turnarounds throughout NHL history, and it wasn't until the conclusion of the All-Star break that the eventual 2019 Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues finally found their stride.

If the Sharks are going to do the same, they'll have the few things that have gone right in the pre-All-Star break portion of the schedule to thank.

The penalty kill

Far and away, the most positive development for the Sharks in what has thus far been a very disappointing season is the continued dominance of their penalty kill. San Jose has taken the fourth-most penalties in the league, and if not for the success of the penalty-kill unit, whatever lingering hope the team has of making it back to the postseason would have been snuffed out long ago.

The Sharks have killed off 87.7 percent of the penalties they've taken this season, and that's even with a bit of recent slippage. That easily is the best penalty-kill percentage in the league, and the difference between their rate and second-place Washington (84.2 percent) is larger than the difference between the Capitals and the 15th-ranked Ottawa Senators.

While the forwards and defensemen have done a tremendous job of applying consistent pressure despite being at least one man down, the goaltenders have gotten in on the fun as well. San Jose is the only team in the NHL with a higher save percentage while shorthanded than at even strength, and it isn't even close.

The Sharks are a below-average offensive and goaltending team, and the penalty kill has constantly bailed them out in both categories. It's arguably the only thing San Jose has been able to rely on since the season began.

The kid

Mario Ferraro should not be this good, this quickly. He made the jump straight from juniors to the NHL, and at only 21 years of age, he has seamlessly slid into the Sharks' defensive corps.

He only has one goal on the season, but it's not necessarily his offensive plays that catch your eye. It's his defensive positioning, vision and awareness that seem to be well beyond his years and have allowed him to hit the ground running.

He's averaging over 15 minutes of ice-time while sharing a locker room with players nearly twice his age. It's still quite early in his career, but he sure does look like the second coming of Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

The old guys

Speaking of the age difference in San Jose's locker room, anything the two 40-year-olds have provided has to be considered in the things that have gone right category. I mean, they're 40-freaking-years-old.

Joe Thornton, currently in his 22nd NHL season, has appeared in all 50 games thus far. He ranks third among all Sharks forwards with 17 assists, and has even chipped in a couple of goals as well.

[RELATED: Polled NHL players want to grab beers with Jumbo, Burnzie]

Patrick Marleau rejoined San Jose after the first four games of the season and has appeared in every single one since. Only Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Kevin Labanc and Brent Burns have scored more than the franchise's all-time leader in goals, points and games played. Those are supposed to be the Sharks' best players, and frankly, Marleau has been one of them.

Of course, that also helps explain why the Sharks currently find themselves in the position they do. If you're banking on two 40-year-olds being main contributors, something has gone very wrong. That said, both Marleau and Thornton appear to have plenty left in the tank, and the times in which they've succeeded have provided some of the most enjoyable moments of San Jose's season thus far.

The Sharks might not be happy with the way their season has gone, but Marleau and Thornton have definitely made it more entertaining.