Pete DeBoer has done a fine job as head coach of the San Jose Sharks through a season and a half. I give him a B- based on team success, lineup decisions and overall roster management. So this past week and change has been puzzling to say the least.
DeBoer scratched Joel Ward against the Montreal Canadiens when Timo Meier made his NHL debut. Ward, stuck on two goals, is 34 and hasn’t produced up to his regular standards this year. That scratch wasn’t surprising given his production, particularly given the scratch Joonas Donskoi this season.
Then DeBoer scratched Ward again Tuesday against Calgary. He also scratched David Schlemko. Both of those scratches were coach’s decisions; the latter of which confirmed by Acquaintance of the Blog Curtis Pashelka on Wednesday.
#SJSharks DeBoer reiterated Wednesday that Schlemko sitting out vs. Flames was a coach's decision.— Curtis Pashelka (@CurtisPashelka) December 21, 2016
DeBoer: "We've got a lot options & tough decisions to be made, so it puts pressure on everybody to make sure you're playing @ the highest...— Curtis Pashelka (@CurtisPashelka) December 21, 2016
DeBoer, con't " ... level you possible can in order to make sure you're on the right end of those decisions." #SJSharks— Curtis Pashelka (@CurtisPashelka) December 21, 2016
Since I was not in the interview room when this conversation took place, I couldn’t press DeBoer further on these issues, but I have some follow up questions. First, what part of Schlemko’s play requires him to be a healthy scratch?
The defender has been phenomenal for San Jose and was a +5 in corsi differential against Chicago on Sunday so deciding Tuesday was time for Dylan DeMelo to get a look was ... puzzling. Leave open the possibility there’s something happening behind the scenes we don’t know about, but if this relates to on-ice play, I don’t get it.
Furthermore, the Ward scratch doesn’t make sense if Micheal Haley is the guy drawing into the lineup instead. If Ward’s lack of production bothers you, insert someone who can score. Haley has three goals in his NHL career — he’s not going to score more than Ward. You can’t complain about a lack of production for Ward and then substitute someone with less of a chance of producing points. It doesn’t work like that.
I don’t understand benching NHL players to give them a new perspective, nor do I get it to send them a message; but I get it’s a part of the league’s culture. What I can’t understand is giving a reason for scratching a player and then inserting a guy into a lineup who doesn’t offer a solution. You’re either sending a bad message to the guy you’re scratching or you’re not telling the truth.
This all leaves the Sharks in a precarious position. They probably can’t move Ward, who still has another year and more than $3 million left on his contract, and starting Haley over him long term would be a massive mistake. DeMelo has played fine with the Sharks but is certainly not the defender Schlemko is.
So now what? San Jose hosts the Edmonton Oilers on Friday facing serious questions for seemingly no reason. The Sharks must decide between playing Ward or Haley and DeMelo or Schlemko. These don’t seem like choices a smart organization should have to make; and yet here we are. If it feels like the Sharks should be past this, it’s because they should. But this is where we are, like it or not.