Bob Boughner

Sharks players laud Bob Boughner's performance as interim head coach

Sharks players laud Bob Boughner's performance as interim head coach

Being an interim head coach is never easy. The title itself implies something previously went wrong with someone at the top during the flow of a season, and that was certainly the case when Bob Boughner took over the Sharks on Dec. 11, 2019 after Pete DeBoer got sacked.

The once-mighty Sharks were floundering, in desperate need of an about-face the front office hoped radical change could provide. San Jose improved but not enough to make a real playoff push. The Sharks even failed to qualify for an expanded, 24-team playoff format designed to restart the NHL season after pausing it due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a long offseason ahead to sort out their issues.

Finding a head coach definitely is one, though after doing due diligence, it’s possible the Sharks simply lift the interim tag off Boughner’s title.

“We have time to build the staff that’s best going forward for this team,” San Jose general manager Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “Bob has certainly got the inside track. … We’re still in the middle of that process. We’ll be very thorough.”

Players don’t have the ultimate say in that decision, but they were impressed by what Boughner was able to do after taking DeBoer’s place.

“I don’t think he entered a very easy situation,” defenseman Erik Karlsson said Thursday in a video conference with local reporters. “He did the best he could with what he had. He clearly thought about what he needed to fix immediately, and also had a long-term plan even though his future was uncertain.

“I think he did the right thing for the team and the organization moving forward. I think he did everything he could to be the best coach he could be. I think we got a boost from [him], but I think we were a little bit too far gone to really be saved.”

The Sharks were 15-16-2 under DeBoer and 14-20-3 under Boughner, though the latter dealt with season-ending injuries to Karlsson and Tomas Hertl and played several weeks without captain Logan Couture.

Boughner helped improve a porous defense and held players accountable for poor play and missteps. Long-tenured defenseman Brent Burns was impressed by Boughner’s effort, seeing a change in his style after returning to the team following two seasons as head coach of the Florida Panthers.

“You could see there was a difference in him from being a head coach during the time he was in Florida, but he was still ‘Bougy,’” Burns said. “He has all those positive things that made him great as an assistant. He learned to be a head coach, so he evolved and became a bit more authoritative. He has the ability to interact with guys like he’s still a player. He’s a great communicator. He gets what’s going on and sees it, but at the end of the day, he has a little bit of that "fear of god" in him.

“I think he learned a lot from Pete, learning from a great coach. He was great before, but you could see he evolved and was better. The atmosphere he creates is good. That’s tough to say with how sh--ty everything was going, but he did a great job with where he was at and where we were at.”

[RELATED: Couture says Sharks have ambition to sustain long offseason]

Boughner already knew most of the longer-tenured Sharks, but also found a way to connect with younger players.

“I learned a lot from him,” defenseman Mario Ferraro said. “He held me accountable out there and gave me a lot of advice as a young player in the league. I like the way he coaches and, if I were to make a mistake, he’s going to be hard on me but show me a way I can improve with video and stuff in practice. The season was pretty hilly for me, and when I was on the downhill, he would try to pick me back up. It’s a privilege to play for him.”

Four things to know about Sharks' offseason after bizarre season ends

Four things to know about Sharks' offseason after bizarre season ends

It was an all-around bizarre season for the Sharks, culminating with an anticlimactic finish on March 11 in Chicago, their 70th game. That was more than two months ago.

Now that the NHL and its players have drawn out a 24-team straight-to-playoff format, the Sharks and six other clubs have been officially eliminated from contention and can begin “normal” summer operations. 

Here are four things to consider during what already is guaranteed to be the longest offseason in franchise history.

Sharks will be avoiding calculated risks, on several levels

While the NHL is taking ultimate precautions in hub cities to keep participants healthy, it’s one less health risk San Jose’s players and staff (and their families) would have to face amidst the pandemic. 

Additionally, a large majority of NHL players haven’t had any access to ice in more than two months, and are about to endure a very expedited training camp. Several skaters had detailed risk factors involved with returning to game action so quickly, which is something the Sharks won’t experience.

Players are about to get the reset they hoped for

This past Sharks season was a grind, physically and mentally, as much as any other campaign in team history. Although many players had expressed the craving for their sport to return and complete the season, they also realized it was relatively pointless with a dozen games remaining and zero chance of playoff contention. 

Having the opportunity now for bodies and minds to recuperate for an extended period might benefit San Jose much as any other club in the league.

There is not just one problem, and one turn-key solution

The agenda for general manager Doug Wilson would be much more simple this summer to remedy a singular pressing issue, rather than several contributing factors which persisted last season. There were glaring defensive miscues and issues, especially before Bob Boughner took over as interim coach. 

There are related questions about how a goalie tandem will shape up moving forward, with Aaron Dell set to become a free agent. It’s also fair to speculate how the next layer of pipeline talent can contribute next season, given the Sharks' lack of tested depth in the 2019-20 campaign. 

Ultimately, it’s important to watch the Sharks evolve on many fronts, rather than assuming that one “move” they make this summer will be the only difference-maker required.

[RELATED: Where do Sharks go from here?]

Sharks can now move forward on coaching situation

If you read the room, it seems like Bob Boughner already would have been appointed permanent head coach under normal circumstances. Now the Sharks can act on that … or surprise us all by going in a different direction. 

Regardless, this move and announcing permanency of a corresponding coaching staff will add the kind of stability San Jose hasn’t had in almost six months. That will be a tangible benefit in the ability to start laying the groundwork for future seasons.

Sharks' biggest takeaways after team's 2019-20 NHL season comes to end

Sharks' biggest takeaways after team's 2019-20 NHL season comes to end

Seventy-six days after the Sharks last played a game, the 2019-20 NHL season officially came to an end for them and six other teams.

During recent weeks, NBC Sports California has been able to FaceTime video chat with a majority of players on the roster to gain better perspectives on where this group has been, where they stand, and where things could be headed.

Here are five defining quotes which stood out:

On big-picture takeaways from 2019-20 season

“We need to get back to playing responsible. There’s got to be an emphasis put on accountability, and playing as a team and family, and for each other. Sometimes we got away from that last year. Not throwing any blame around, but there was a lot of turmoil.”
Bob Boughner, Interim Head Coach (April 15, 2020)

On believing the core group is still the right group

“Coming into that team, if you look at the roster, we shouldn’t be where we are. I think everybody understands that. It’s an off year. They’ve been going deep into the playoffs for years and years. Trying to understand we still have that identity, and the right players on this team to get us back to a playoff hunt and competitive, that’s something [general manager] Doug [Wilson] is really focusing on.”
Stefan Noesen (March 31, 2020)

On the Sharks’ continued defensive struggles

“It’s never just the goalie. It’s the players in front of the goalie and the system. If you go back to last year [2019], Sharks were the only team that made the playoffs with a negative goal differential. The signs were already there last year, they just weren’t adhering and playing the way Pete DeBoer wanted them to play.”
Randy Hahn (March 19, 2020)

On Joe Thornton’s future in the NHL

“I look at this selfishly for Jumbo, hoping that he does come back for us next year. It saves an extra twelve games on the legs and that body. I know he’s going to get a little bit older, but saving some time will help us if he comes back. Which we’re all hoping he does.”
Logan Couture (March 18, 2020)

[RELATED: Where Sharks go from here now that their season is over]

On using struggles as motivation moving forward

“It’s easy to put it behind and focus on the next year. I’ll look back on 2014-15 [missing the playoffs], and then the next year go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. If you look at that and build off that, you know the guys came in next year with something to prove. We’re not that type of team to miss the playoffs. I don’t see why it can’t happen again.”
Marc-Edouard Vlasic (March 27, 2020)