After the Sharks epic collapse in the now-infamous 2014 playoffs, many were left asking, what’s next for the San Jose Sharks? The following (last) season, San Jose failed to qualify for the postseason for the first in more than a decade — which ended one of the longest postseason streaks in all of North American professional sports — leaving fans with an even more bitter taste in their mouths.
What would it take for Sharks management to notice their displeasure? At the time, there was this tweet from @mlucey13: “What a joke. Guess it will take a half-filled arena next season for him to understand how poor of a job his leaders have done.”
In the offseason, Sharks COO John Tortora announced that the club had indeed experienced a second-consecutive drop in season ticket renewals; and this season, a sellout streak of 205 games was broken. For nine years, San Jose had played to a crowd that filled 99.8 percent of the arena. Only once in franchise history, during the 2003-04 season, ironically, the last year San Jose had failed to qualify for the postseason, had the Sharks’ attendance fell below 96 percent of the capacity of SAP Center.
Last summer, general manager Doug Wilson appeared to be launching the Sharks back into win-now mode; he signed veterans Paul Martin and Joel Ward, inked a stud goaltender with his best years ahead of him in Martin Jones. Things seemed to be, at least on paper, turning around.
It’s not working.
Sure, San Jose stormed out of the gate, looking as determined as ever. Martin Jones wowed, setting a new franchise record for consecutive shutout minutes, Paul Martin seemed to be mentoring the defensive skills of Brent Burns, Joel Ward became the instant leader for the team he was signed to be, both off, and on, the ice.
Fans aren’t showing up to games. We can only presume that’s because they aren’t satisfied with the product on the ice.
Last month, Curtis Pashelka of the San Jose Mercury News reported the Sharks were playing to a capacity crowd of 91.5 percent, through six games. Widely considered the marquee matchup of both franchise’s, San Jose failed to sell out its game against the rival Los Angeles Kings.
Currently, San Jose is on a five-game losing streak, have lost six of their last seven, and carry a record of 14-13-1; we’ll call this a .500 record, for the sake of simple mathematics.
During the most recent loss, forward Logan Couture, who had just returned the previous night against the Calgary Flames, exited the game with an issue that head coach Peter DeBoer simply classified as a lower body injury. Couture was making his return from surgery on his right-fibula, which he fractured during a morning skate in New Jersey.
The ‘historic’ six-game wining streak on the road should have been enough to wake this team up, as they had the command and attention of the rest of the NHL, and a firm grip on the conference — at least in theory.
What’s that old quote? “Ignoring history means you’re bound to surely repeat it.” In case you’re reading this Doug, the fans played a pretty heavy role in the firing of San Jose’s last general manager.
Several of you may not remember Dean Lombardi, but you do know he is responsible for bringing two Stanley Cup’s in three years to Los Angeles, and doing it with the same head coach he had in San Jose. Lombardi was fired back in 2003 by the Sharks, just days after the trading deadline.
The biggest reason Lombardi was handed a pink slip? Because of a metaphoric blue line. During that season, like this one — which is supposed to be a celebration of San Jose’s diamond anniversary — they’d failed to sell out 10 of their past 19 home games leading up to Lombardi’s axing. Fans flooded then-president Greg Jamison’s email inbox with messages such as, “I’m not buying tickets next year, unless Lombardi is gone.”
Several similarities can be cited between this season and Lombardi’s final season — San Jose’s blue line remains a serious concern, on any given night, they could lose one of their top-four defenseman. As CSNBayArea’s Kevin Kurz points out, San Jose is 1-6-1 when that occurs. The Sharks’ special teams unit, specifically the power play, which was the one of the few areas of compliment last season, has regressed considerably.
The biggest failure of this front office?
San Jose’s developmental system — or lack of, for that matter. It’s slim pickings next door for the Sharks top developmental affiliate, the Barracuda. In fact, any of the youngsters that could be considered impactful players for the Barracuda, are with the Sharks. Chris Tierney continues to struggle in his role; Tomas Hertl is making his adjustments as he’s shifted into the role of playing center, but besides improved skating, it’s been a very slow process. At the blue line, Mirco Mueller looks as bad as Matt Tennyson most night’s.
It’s tough to put together a competitive NHL hockey team when you spend the year (or half) icing players such as Adam Burish, John Scott, Tye McGinn, James Sheppard and Barclay Goodrow.
At the end of last season, Sharks owner Hasso Plattner wrote, “We had hoped we could do both, stay competitive and rebuild at the same time,” in a letter to season ticket holders and fans. “It was close, but other teams in our conference were better, at least throughout the whole season, and deservedly finished ahead of us,” he added in the letter.
The genius mind that helped build the brand of SAP, which had over $17 billion in revenue last year.
In April, David Pollak wrote that Wilson and Plattner were in communication, and had an appropriate plan of attack to put last season behind them, and get back to the postseason.
“Hasso signed off on our plan and understands where we are trying to get to, and we are going to continue on with this,” Wilson wrote in an exchange of texts. “We expect to bounce back quickly.”
If things don’t change soon, and the Sharks don’t starting bouncing back, I’d find it very difficult to believe Wilson would be around next year, let alone, the end of the season.
Take note, Doug, the fans have started their attack.
David Barclay is an byteclay.com staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @DJamesIII