A quick look at the NHL’s Western Conference standings today shows the San Jose Sharks in 10th place—two spots out of a playoff spot. Since the team has made the postseason 15 times in the last 16 seasons, this is somewhat surprising, although not really considering how bad this team has been since choking in the playoffs last spring.
San Jose is two points behind eighth-place Calgary, and the ninth-place team (Minnesota) has a game in hand on the Sharks as well. Two contending teams in the West are going to miss the postseason chase for the Stanley Cup, and right now, San Jose is one of those teams.
The Sharks have been outscored by three goals this year overall, and they have a losing record at home (14 wins, 17 losses) after being dominant there for the past several seasons. It’s that bad, so with the March 2 trade deadline approaching, it’s surprising there are few whispers about what the San Jose front office is planning.
They have two options: first, improve the team with some big trades, or second, blow up the roster and start rebuilding. As the team prepares to host the Detroit Red Wings tonight at the SAP Center, though, it’s pretty clear something has to be done. Maintaining the status quo right now is the only wrong thing to do.
The Sharks have five solid-scoring skaters on this roster, yet they can’t seem to find the net enough when it matters: Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau should be a solid enough core to really thrive with in today’s NHL. But San Jose can’t seem to make it work.
Goaltending issues have hurt the Sharks this year as the No. 1 guy (Antti Niemi) is having his worst season ever, and the No. 2 guy just doesn’t seem ready yet for prime time with a 5-7-1 record and a 2.85 goals-against average. There aren’t any solutions in net hiding in the organizational depth, either.
So it would seem that San Jose needs a good goalie, and those don’t grow on trees. But moving Niemi for a younger, cheaper and better player—along with some draft picks, perhaps—could do the trick. Niemi is a free agent after this season, so he’s not a long-term solution for another team. Yet it’s pretty clear the Sharks aren’t going anywhere with him.
But it’s time either way for the San Jose front office to start taking some risks—even if that means firing Head Coach Todd McLellan. And that might be the best idea. By all accounts, McLellan is a nice guy, and his regular-season record is the best in Sharks history. However, he hasn’t gotten this team over the hump, and now the team is regressing. Why not give Associate Coach and Director of Player Development Larry Robinson the reins for the last month-plus of the season and see what he can do?
Robinson won six Stanley Cups as a defenseman with the Montreal Canadiens, and he won three more Cups as a coach with the New Jersey Devils—including as head coach in 2000. It’s a shame to let him sit there on the bench and not give him a chance to do what McLellan certainly cannot do: wake this team up before it’s too late.
So that’s the deal: make trades to get a better goalie and switch the coaching staff around. If the Sharks don’t do both those things before next week’s March 2 deadline, they’re dead in the water—and packed in ice—for 2015, guaranteed.