“For them to not even be in the playoffs, it’s mind-boggling for everybody,” the 475-goal scorer, who ended his illustrious NHL career in San Jose, said.
The math, of course, isn’t in the Sharks’ favor. At the All-Star break, they’re 11 points out of a postseason spot, with five teams to leapfrog.
This is an unusual position for a franchise that’s usually planning its playoff push at this point of the season.
In fact, just four San Jose postseason teams have been out of the playoff picture at the All-Star/Olympic break. And just two of them were more than a tie-breaker out:
Nicholls was part of the 1997-98 squad that made a late push to secure the Sharks’ first postseason berth in two seasons. They would fall in six games to the Dallas Stars in the first round.
So what helped this San Jose team make up ground?
“We had enough older guys to understand what it takes,” Nicholls recalled. “As a team, you have to have confidence in yourself. We had that.”
The 1997-98 Sharks featured a fascinating blend of old and young, as General Manager Dean Lombardi was in process of transitioning up-and-coming players into larger roles. Nicholls, Mike Vernon, Marty McSorley, Murray Craven and Tony Granato were among the many 30-somethings showing prospects like Patrick Marleau, Marco Sturm, Andrei Zyuzin, Jeff Friesen, Mike Rathje, Viktor Kozlov and Andrei Nazarov the ropes.
Nicholls believes this current San Jose group possesses both the skill and leadership to turn their season around.
“I know they’re a long ways back, but they have a good-enough team to get on a roll,” Nicholls insisted. “For a team of their talent and leadership, it’s there for them.”
Player of the Month?
This was the San Jose Sharks’ December:
- They went 2-9-2.
- They got Peter DeBoer fired.
- They lost to the Detroit Red Wings.
- They got shut out by the Detroit Red Wings.
But two-win month or not, a team’s got to name a Player of the Month.
Tomas Hertl, who scored seven points in 13 December games, received the dubious honor.
#SJSharks announce Tomas Hertl as December Player of the Month. He finished December with 4 goals & 3 assists in 13 games...which is not a lot for a POM, but good enough for a 2-win month that got the coach fired— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 10, 2020
So is seven points in a month the least scored by a Sharks’ Player of the Month?
It’s down there — but since 1996-97, when the award was first given, it’s not the least for a San Jose forward in a non-Olympic month.
- December 2019: Sharks (2-9-2), Tomas Hertl (3-4-7)
- February 2017: Sharks (5-1-5), Logan Couture (3-4-7)
- January 2000: Sharks (3-5-2-3), Mike Ricci (1-5-6)
- October 1998: Sharks (1-6-2), Marco Sturm (2-2-4)
Points, of course, aren’t everything, but the third-lowest scoring total ever for a Sharks Player of the Month forward is telling.
Nicholls, by the way, remembered the month that Sturm won Player of the Month with just four points. That one-victory October — the Sharks didn’t win their first game of the season until Halloween — began with two games in Japan.
“I don’t know if it was the trip to Japan, if we left our game there,” Nicholls offered. “As a group, we started off slow. No one was playing well.”
Weekend at Bernie’s
Nicholls, who now resides in Las Vegas, looks back at his time in the Bay Area fondly.
“When I signed with San Jose, we drafted Patty Marleau, that was the first thing Dean Lombardi asked me,” Nicholls recalled. “Right now, we want you to mentor him. When it comes time for him to take your place, you have to take a lesser role. I welcomed that.”
Nicholls was ecstatic that Marleau was able to come back to San Jose this season: “He’s been a class act more than anything. As a good a player as he is, he’s represented the team very well. He’s been the ultimate professional.”
For his part, Nicholls still loves representing the Sharks. In particular, he mentioned really enjoying Sharks Fantasy Camps in the past, with the hopes of being invited back soon.
Nicholls extended his own invitation too.
In late February, Nicholls will be hosting a charity celebrity golf and poker tournament in Las Vegas. McSorely, Mario Lemieux, Chris Chelios, Grant Fuhr, Mike Eruzione, Dan Marino, Kurt Busch and Daniel Negreanu are among the participating celebrities, proceeds to benefit The Unforgettables Foundation. The Unforgettables Foundation helps at-risk and grieving families afford a timely and dignified funeral for their child.
Will History Repeat Itself?
Speaking of a San Jose to Las Vegas move, there’s of course, Peter DeBoer. This is one of many fascinating storylines:
About DeBoer to #VegasBorn: 1st time in 80+ years that NHL team has hired head coach who eliminated them in previous year's playoffs. Happened twice before:— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 16, 2020
*1934 (Maroons hired Tommy Gorman from CHI)
*1931 (Leafs hired Dick Irvin from CHI)
Maroons/Leafs won Cup in those years