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Round Table: The Sharks look bad, is there a fix?

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Fear the Fin looks at what went wrong in the off-season and where the Sharks go from here.

Oct 27, 2019; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl (48) is checked by Ottawa Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki (74) in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

After watching the San Jose Sharks get beat up by the Ottawa Senators, a team that San Jose was better than in terms of possession, win-loss record, and some would say skill, many Sharks fans are left wondering where the team goes from here.

I think most of Sharks Territory believes something should have been done earlier and many also believe that moving forward there needs to be a change. The question is, what?

When I woke up Monday morning and had time to process the loss, there were three questions that sprung to mind, so I tossed them out to the Fear the Fin writers and here’s what they think.

What went wrong for the Sharks in the off-season?

EFowle15: I don’t know what they could’ve done differently this past off-season. I think the problems they’re experiencing now are more a result of previous off-season moves, like signing Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns and Martin Jones to huge contracts. The team could have chosen to let Erik Karlsson walk and instead look for more undervalued contracts in free agency, a la Carolina. But the underlying issue — that there was no way to retain all of the top talent from last year’s team — wouldn’t have dissipated even if they chose to look places other than EK65 to fill out the rest of their cap space.

Kyle Demetrius: Nothing went wrong, per se. Signing Erik Karlsson is a 12 times out of 10 decision. If you take the physical names off of Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist and just look at contributions on ice, that’s where the Sharks went wrong. They haven’t adequately replaced the production in the top-6. Pavelski wasn’t going to provide 38 goals as he cruises past ages 35, 36 and beyond, but you still need to replace that production and the Sharks just haven’t done that yet.

Lakshya Jain: It seems like the loss of an excellent offensive line (Nyquist, Pavelski, Donskoi) hit them harder than anyone would have originally predicted. Those three players were all excellent play drivers last year and were able to absorb some heavy minutes. Having Kevin Labanc and Patrick Marleau fill their role just hasn’t had the same effect. Not doing something to upgrade the goaltending was also probably the nail in the coffin that ensured the team wouldn’t be able to mask their forward deficiencies either.

Erik Johnsgard: Primarily, the things that went wrong for the Sharks in the off-season weren’t actions that management made, but actions they chose not to. Over the last season, it was pretty clear to most observers that the Sharks were a massively deep and talented team that was held back by inflexible coaching and non-existent goaltending.

Bringing back Bob Boughner may be due partial credit for the team’s league-best penalty kill, but, both at the deadline and over the off-season, the team did nothing to address their problems in net, and not nearly enough to address the exodus of scoring talent. Assuming Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Labanc, Logan Couture, Burns, Erik Karlsson and others would all repeat their career years and then some was shortsighted, and it hasn’t gone well so far. The team can’t outscore its defensive shortcomings so far this year, and the lack of moves to address either end of the ice seemed risky at the time, and foolish now.

Sie Morley: Letting Joonas Donskoi walk was a huge mistake. There are average prospects in the pipeline or players like Tim Heed and Jacob Middleton who could’ve gotten a shot elsewhere and cleared up cap room for the Sharks to keep Donskoi — that is, assuming that Pete DeBoer would show any more confidence in him this season than he did last year, which feels doubtful.

What would you like to see to fix it? (Don’t worry about NTCs, cap space, etc.)

EFowle15: Let’s assume hiring a new coach/turning to someone like Boughner wouldn’t help change the fact poorly performing veterans receive too much ice time. Doug Wilson should instead pull out the rug from under his coaching staff by trading away guys like Vlasic and even releasing players like Melker Karlsson so that the coaching staff is forced to play younger forwards more minutes and move Mario Ferraro up the lineup. I don’t think this will suddenly turn the team into a playoff squad, but it’s clear that whatever is happening now isn’t working. Also, waive Marleau already. He’s going to get top-6 ice time making a fourth-line impact, so just don’t let him be an option.

Kyle Demetrius: If we don’t worry about NTCs and things of that nature, Vlasic holds a ton of value and can fetch you a top-6 forward. Vlasic’s play has also been trending downward so this would also be moving on from that trend. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t say, that ideally I’d like a coaching change.

Lakshya Jain: A trade for an elite top-tier forward would be at the top of my wish list, as would trading Vlasic. The team is horrendous at even strength and lacks the forward depth to compete, and they’re being done no favors by their former defensive stalwart (Vlasic), who’s been arguably the worst player on the team this year and had a whopping … 17 percent expected goals share against Ottawa (!).

The Sharks need a player who can drive and dominate play at 5-on-5, which has been their biggest weakness so far, and a trade that ships off Vlasic for a solid forward and perhaps a depth defenseman would be very high on my wish list. It might be selling low on Vlasic, but No. 44 has been below replacement-level this season and has been pretty poor for over a season now. Leverage his reputation while you still can; he’s on the wrong side of 30 and won’t be getting any better.

A trade for a better goalie would be a big item for me as well. Jones hasn’t been good this year, and Aaron Dell has somehow managed to be worse. This probably says something about goaltending coach Johan Hedberg and whether he deserves to stay in his job, but in any case, the Sharks need a goaltender to cover up their mistakes from time to time, and it isn’t happening.

Erik Johnsgard: If we’re not worried about cap issues, the Sharks need a goaltender who can make a hard save in a pinch, and a coaching staff that’s able to implement a responsible enough system to reduce the frequency of those pinches. Unfortunately, they seem to be stuck with Jones and his $5.75 million cap hit through 2026 because, really, who would trade for it (probably Pierre Dorion, actually), and DeBoer allegedly signed a long, secret extension that would take the relationship through to 2023. My concern is that the team may not be in a position to make the big changes that would solve their current problems. I hope I’m wrong (I’m usually wrong).

Sie Morley: I would like to see a coaching staff shake up. This team is still incredibly talented, but there’s something systemically wrong in the way they’re playing this season at 5-on-5 and that won’t be fixed by adding or subtracting roster players.

What can Doug Wilson, realistically, do to fix it?

EFowle15: Release Marleau and Melker Karlsson. Maybe see if he can acquire picks for guys like Marcus Sorensen or Barclay Goodrow. I think Wilson is hamstrung until he sees what Radim Simek is able to do post-ACL surgery, but if he plays as well as he did last year, it makes someone like Brenden Dillon expendable. I’d rather see the team trade Vlasic, but Dillon’s contract is much more moveable. Trading away prospects for potentially undervalued NHL players is always a route the organization can take. It’ll have to move out salary for that type of move to be realistic, though.

The nuclear option is to fire DeBoer, but I am not convinced that the interim coach will do a better job of more evenly distributing ice time.

Kyle Demetrius: Wilson can change the coaching staff, albeit I don’t think that’s even on the radar until December at the earliest. What else can he do? Trading out bottom pieces like Sorensen, Melker Karlsson, Lukas Radil and so can happen. The most moveable piece that will provide real value is Brenden Dillon. I’m not saying they should or should not trade Dillon, but he’s got a movable contract and provides defensive value that would get you a return you want.

Lakshya Jain: The Sharks don’t have their own first, so it does no good to go into tank mode. Trading Vlasic, unless it’s to Montreal, is likely out of the question because of his NMC. However, acquiring a goalie like James Reimer or Jaroslav Halak would do a lot in terms of banking some extra points, as goaltending has arguably cost the Sharks a couple wins already this season. Trading for a cheap second or third-line tweener would be great as well, as this team sorely lacks any forward depth and seems intent on icing a washed Patrick Marleau instead of trying Ivan Chekhovich or Sasha Chmelevski at the NHL level for the time being.

Erik Johnsgard: There have been rumblings about a possible trade from the blueline to shore up the offensive danger on the wing. Upon the return of Radim Simek, the Sharks will have a glut of left-handed defensemen on the NHL roster. Wilson may be able to move one of them for forward help, and if he could get any value for Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s contract at this point in his career, it would qualify as yet another DW miracle. One player may not be a huge difference, but a little defensive depth and responsibility may create a cascade of competence throughout the roster.

Sie Morley: If nothing else, Doug Wilson needs to be aggressive at the trade deadline looking for a scoring winger. Getting out from under Martin Jones’ contract couldn’t hurt, but it’s doubtful there will be takers.