Now that we have mercifully turned the page on 2016, it is time to look ahead to what the future holds. San Jose has about half a season and the playoffs remaining, followed by an interesting off-season and the start of their 27th season. In the spirit of turning the page, here are some resolutions for the Sharks all the way from my couch in Toronto.
The previous year was, by definition, easily the most successful season ever in Sharks history. Even though San Jose lost in the Cup Finals, it is no shame losing to a superior team, especially when this is the first time the Sharks franchise has made it that far. You take that loss and build on it. A guy like Thornton or Marleau is so close to the end it stings to lose, but for the future core of the team it was invaluable experience. Some smart guy a long time ago said, “you must lose first, before you can win”. San Jose has plenty of losses and 2017 could be the time they win.
Resolution 1- Keep Martin Jones fresh and ready because come playoff time, he will need to win games by himself. Jones stats have been stellar this year and watching him brings a sense of calm. Yes, he will have some down nights. Yes, he has had some up and down stretches this season. Yes, when you watch him play the game there is rarely a moment where you think he doesn’t have it. Jones looks calm and steady in net, game in and game out. This is important when long playoff series come around, as Jones presence will settle down the entire team. Once the playoff picture becomes clearer, it will be time to give Jonesy some nights off. Having him play 72 games is probably not ideal or necessary. San Jose expects a long run and it starts with Jones, let’s make sure he’s ready.
Resolution 2- Get that PP working! During the Kings-Sharks game they flashed the special teams percentages, with the Sharks power play clocking in at 17th in the league. This is pretty bad, especially for a team that can ice so many weapons. There are underlying stats that say they are unlucky, but eventually something needs to give. It is a dangerous game to wait for the shooting percentage to even out, even if they will and should. Sometimes, I believe, you need to force it to even out. Tonight, Joel Ward has been bumped to the first unit, which doesn’t seem ideal but is worth a shot. The return of Hertl will significantly help both PP units, but until then it is time to work out the kinks and get the dangerous Sharks power play back into the top 10.
Resolution 3- Continue with the great team defense that has helped the Sharks to the Pacific Division lead. San Jose has a deep stable of rear guards, arguably the deepest in the league. Combine that with defensively responsible forwards, and the Sharks have been a nightmare for other teams offenses. This will come in quite handy when the bounces aren’t going their way and San Jose is on enemy ice fighting off a game six Edmonton barrage.
Resolution 4- Continue doing the things that are working. This is a veteran team for the most part, with rookies/young guns being slowly worked in. There is no need to drastically alter the game plan or try out a new style of defending. Keep the ship steady and make minor adjustments as they appear. PP not working? Tinker a bit to get it going. Joonas Donskoi in a slump? Pair him with a playmaker that can activate his skills. Focus on the little things that make this Sharks team good.
Resolution 5- Ice the best lineup possible that gives you the best chance to win. I, as a hockey fan and man, will not say I enjoy the Micheal Haley experience. BUT! Haley might be part of the best possible Sharks lineup. The coaching staff and players all seem to trust him and want him to be part of the Sharks team. Is he the most skilled guy available? No, there’s four or five Barracuda who are far more skilled. Hell, there are scratched Sharks who are better, However, Haley isn’t being asked to turn into Mike Bossy; instead he is asked to draw penalties, work hard, and be physical. I believe skill trumps grit but obviously the coaches don’t and lo and behold the Sharks are winning. You can’t stare at the Sharks win-loss record and tell me they have been doing it wrong. What Haley is being asked to do is vastly different from what a Nieto, Ward or Goldobin is asked to do. Haley pays confidently and plays within himself, which is all that can be asked of him. Maybe, just maybe, Haley is part of the best lineup the Sharks have.
Resolution 6- Sign Joe Thornton. Just do it. Come on. I was 16 the last time I watched a Thornton-less Sharks team take the ice, and I am not prepared for him to leave.
Resolution 7- Put the pedal down and win the division. So fun fact for everyone: both of the wild card spots are occupied by Pacific teams. As of this writing, Calgary and a southern California based franchise are holding it down in the wild card. This comes contrary to myself and numerous other great hockey minds believing that the Pacific blows and the Central is the end all be all of hockey divisions. Yes the Hawks and Wild have more points than San Jose, but the other teams are regular hockey clubs with similar amounts of points to everyone else. Maybe the Pacific isn’t so horrific after all. This is just a long way of saying that San Jose can’t coast and needs to pull away. They have a western heavy schedule on the horizon and need to bank wins and assert themselves as the Pacific powerhouse. Home ice through the first two rounds would be a nice card to hold.
Resolution 8- Finally feel the kiss of cold steel on your lips as you hoist Lord Stanley’s Mug high in the air.