The NHL paused the 2019-20 season on March 12 because of coronavirus concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic has created plenty of uncertainty. It’s unclear when or if the NHL season will resume. Going through with the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs remains a priority for the league, but this situation is very fluid.
In the meantime, we will be writing profiles on every team as well as some players of note from each squad based on where they stood prior to the hiatus. The Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators have been covered. This week we’re continuing the series by turning to the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks took a significant step backwards in 2019-20. San Jose entered the year with a streak of four straight seasons with a playoff appearance. That streak was on pace to end, as the Sharks had the worst record in the Western Conference at 29-36-5 and sat 15 points out of a Wild Card spot with 12 games remaining.
San Jose had a 4-8-1 record in October thanks in large part to a four-game losing skid to start the campaign. The Sharks managed to bounce back in November with a mark of 11-4-0, but with the team struggling again in December amidst a five-game losing streak head coach Peter DeBoer was fired. He was replaced by assistant Bob Boughner on an interim basis when the team had a 15-16-2 record.
Goaltending has been an especially big problem for the team. The Sharks have permitted 3.21 goals against per game, which ranks fifth worst in the NHL. San Jose’s .895 save percentage is better than only the Detroit Red Wings (.886) this year. Martin Jones struggled mightily in 2018-19 despite posting a record of 36-19-5 and he was having the worst season of his career prior to the pause. He had provided 17 victories in 41 appearances to go along with a 3.00 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. Aaron Dell had been competing for starts with Jones prior to the season being put on hold, but he wasn’t a reliable option either in the crease.
The club has gone 14-20-3 since Boughner took over even though improvements were made structurally as well as defensively. Jones and Dell had spurts of stronger play under Boughner and the team’s save percentage was up to .902. However, the goaltending situation of the Sharks needs a rework and it will be something the team should address in the off-season.
The Sharks also had problems scoring in 2019-20, which isn’t surprising when you consider the amount of offense that was permitted to walk out the door last summer. Departures of Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi via free agency subtracted 58 goals from the club’s 2018-19 total. San Jose tied for second in the league with 289 goals that year and placed sixth in power-play percentage. The Sharks slipped to 180 goals in 2019-20 and rank 27th in goals for per game (2.57).
Evander Kane leads the team with 26 markers and Timo Meier is the club’s only other 20-goal scorer with 22 following a sluggish start to the year. Meier was the leading producer on the Sharks with 49 points in 70 games prior to the pause of the season. Brent Burns’ scoring pace slowed to 45 points in 70 matches, which is nowhere near the level of point generation he had in previous years.
Injuries hurt the team’s offense, as Erik Karlsson, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl were unavailable for extended stretches. Karlsson and Couture are expected to be ready if the 2019-20 campaign resumes, while Hertl is slated to be available for training camp ahead of the 2020-21 season. San Jose hoped that Kevin Labanc, Dylan Gambrell and other younger players would step up and provide some secondary scoring, but that never materialized. In the end, the team wasn’t able to replace the offense that was lost. The core players on the Sharks are capable of bouncing back, but the supporting cast could stand to go through some retooling. However, that will be a very difficult task with limited cap space. San Jose has over $66.6 million tied up in 13 players for 2020-21.
San Jose has been busy during the NHL’s hiatus, signing forward John Leonard and defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk to entry-level contracts. They are both intriguing offensive-minded prospects who should be in the mix for roster spots. The Sharks desperately need to restock a farm system that has fallen behind the vast majority of NHL teams. Not having a first-round pick in 2019 and dealing away their 2020 first rounder has set the team back further. San Jose would have had the third-best odds of landing the first overall selection in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, but that pick belongs to Ottawa due to the Karlsson trade. The Sharks managed to get a first-round pick back at the trade deadline from Tampa Bay in the Barclay Goodrow deal.
The Sharks organization finds itself in uncharted waters going into next season after expecting to contend for a Stanley Cup and falling significantly short. Changes should be on the menu after such a disappointing year, but GM Doug Wilson isn’t expected to launch a rebuild. He doesn’t have the assets and has some tricky contracts to work with, but parting with some talent in cost-cutting adjustments could be on the menu. Additionally, getting a better option in goal should be at the top of his list. San Jose is certainly capable of turning it around and moving up the standings in a weak Pacific Division.
Logan Couture - Couture was one of the few players on the Sharks who didn’t take a large step backwards in 2019-20, but he was hampered by injuries. He was limited to 52 games, while generating 16 goals and 39 points. Couture tied Tomas Hertl, who was also sidetracked by injuries, for the team lead in points per game (0.75). The San Jose captain was close to a return from a head injury prior to the pause of the 2019-20 season.
Tomas Hertl - Hertl went through some dry patches, but he also had stretches when he was the team’s best player. He collected 10 goals and 11 assists in 15 games from Oct. 13-Nov. 14. Hertl underwent season-ending knee surgery in late January to repair a torn ACL and MCL. He has been recovering ahead of schedule and could be skating normally by late July or August. Hertl is expected to be available for training camp ahead of the 2020-21 campaign. He will be looking for more consistency, as he can be a dominant player.
Kevin Labanc - Labanc helped the Sharks with a bargain contract last summer when he agreed to a one-year deal for $1 million. He hoped it would help the team be a Stanley Cup contender, while others believed it could set him up for a big payday down the road. However, Labanc’s performance in 2019-20 left a great deal to be desired. He dropped from 56 points in 82 games to 33 points over 70 contests. Labanc did have a chance to surpass the 17 goals he scored and he was getting more shots on goal, but his point decline and career-worst minus-33 rating didn’t make him an attractive fantasy option. The 24-year-old forward will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 campaign.
Martin Jones - Jones had a tough 2018-19 season and he was trending to be worse this campaign. He owns a 2.96 goals-against average and .896 save percentage in his past 103 appearances. Jones still has four years remaining on a six-year contract worth an average annual value of $5.75 million. Dell is eligible for unrestricted free agency. The Sharks would be wise to let him walk and search free agency or the trade market for a replacement who is capable of taking over the number one role. However, as mentioned previously, that may prove to be difficult. Still, it’s a change that has to happen if the Sharks are going to bounce back because Jones can’t be relied on any longer.