The boys were back (on Zoom), at least for one afternoon.
Two days after the official end of the San Jose Sharks’ 2019-20 regular season, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson and Mario Ferraro spoke with the media in what essentially were exit interviews.
The one thing that was clear, despite a tumultuous year — they missed each other.
In the first call, which Couture, Burns and Hert participated in, Burns greeted Hertl’s sign-in with a booming “Project Rock, look at him!” before interrupting a reporter’s question to Hertl with this genial request: “He prefers if you call him The Rock, actually.”
Asked to elaborate, Burns joked that Hertl has a sponsorship deal with Under Armour’s Project Rock apparel line. As Hertl got up to show his Project Rock shirt, Couture interjected, “Tell him to take his shirt off and you’ll find out.”
Hertl demurred, “I can show you my legs. But not the upper body.” Couture shot back, “Show us where all those cupcakes go.”
Piling one inside joke on top of another, Burns laughed, “I saw the tweet, I saw the waistline. The old baby outfit. I didn’t know if that was real or a hula hoop.”
On the second call, Karlsson signed on as Ferraro was answering a question, teasing, “Look at that playoff beard!”
“What’s up, beauty?” Ferraro cackled. “Your hair’s just as good-looking as it was when I last saw you.”
At the end of the call, Karlsson admitted, as his seven-month-old daughter Harlow cried, “I think she’s ready to change her diaper because it stinks!”
The rookie zinged the NHL’s highest-paid defenseman, “You don’t do that though!”
“I do it all. I’m the [21st-century] house dad,” Karlsson deadpanned. “You should see my biceps, Mario, they’re huge.”
It was a little like being back in the room again.
Everybody’s Got An Answer
It’s probably a good thing that these “exit interviews” took place two-and-a-half months after San Jose’s last regular season game, instead of the customary day or two after. The layoff seems to have taken away some of the bitterness from a sour campaign.
Predictably, there was persistent optimism from a group that isn’t used to missing the playoffs. Couture, for example, has only missed the postseason twice in his 11-year NHL career, all spent with the Sharks.
In the off-season, everybody’s got an answer.
On Tuesday, Doug Wilson emphasized the need for San Jose to get off to a better start next year. Counting the preseason, they lost nine of their first 10 games this year.
Couture cited that, a rare instance of a veteran granting more than nominal value to exhibition results.
“Our training camp this year wasn’t up to par,” the captain acknowledged. “You look at our preseason games, we got spanked in a lot of those games.”
For what it’s worth:
For anybody worried or jazzed about their team's pre-season record:— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) September 30, 2018
* 2018 Caps went 2-5; 2016 Pens went 3-5; 2014 Rangers went 1-5
* 2018 Oilers went 6-2; 2018 Isles went 6-0-2
Last time Cup finalists "won" respective pre-season divisions was 2008-09.
In other words, relax.
Regardless, nobody wants a bad start. While a good start doesn’t guarantee anything, it certainly beats the alternative.
Another answer? Perhaps the Sharks came into the season riding too high.
“We just weren’t sharp. Not to make an excuse, but it’s tough when you come off a Western Conference Final,” Couture said. “You have that feeling that you’re a really good team, and it’s just going to come to you. But you really gotta work at it.
“As a group, it’s been discussed. I believe we’re going to be better in camp this year and preseason.”
Perhaps a proud group needed humbling?
Couture, Hertl and Karlsson also seemed to agree with Martin Jones’s assertion to Elliotte Friedman that the team “went our own ways instead of coming together” once things started going off the rails.
Karlsson brought a subtle perspective.
“When things don’t really go your way, individually and as a team, it’s nothing more than natural that you start thinking in different directions. You start looking for solutions that might not be there,” Karlsson mused. “I think anything that happened this year is a normal reaction you would’ve got on any team, in any pro sport. I didn’t see anything really alarming. I don’t really judge the things that happened this year.”
That said, Hertl asserted, “All 20 guys in the locker room should be like one.”
Hertl, Karlsson Not Hurting
Having a healthy Hertl should help San Jose get off to a better start next year.
Even though the 26-year-old All-Star, who suffered season-ending torn ACL and MCL injuries to his left knee in late January, hasn’t began skating yet, he was bursting with his usual optimism:
“Right now, I’m almost doing everything. I can run now, not full speed, but almost everything I was doing before. I’m really surprised after not even four months.
“If I knew the season started in October, I probably would start skating in a couple of weeks.
“Extra time may help me, but I think even by October, I’ll be 100 percent ready for the season. But we’ll see what happens.”
Meanwhile, Karlsson also isn’t skating.
“I have not skated since the lockdown happened,” Karlsson revealed. “I don’t think there’s many people who have, unless you’re in Sweden right now.”
The defenseman, of course, didn’t suffer lower-body injuries like Hertl. Instead, he was felled by a broken thumb in February, and has spent most of the last two months in the Bay Area.
This was probably one of the last times that Karlsson skated, if not the last time. On March 10, as his teammates were flying to Chicago for what would be their final regular season game, the Swede took the ice:
Erik Karlsson still here, still skating pic.twitter.com/8AmvwArZA3— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 10, 2020
In a time of uncertainty, Karlsson still isn’t sure how he’s going to approach his off-season training. But it’s going to be a steep climb for the two-time Norris Trophy winner, who’s seen consecutive seasons cut short by injury, to get back to the top.
“It’s not going to be a normal summer, since we’re probably not going to start next season at a normal time. You’re going to have to find a way to maintain your body and your motivation for a very long time,” Karlsson observed. “I don’t really know how I’m going to plan my summer yet. Once everything starts opening up here and you can go to the gym with a few individuals, it’ll be no problem.”
Bringing Back Boogie
The “endorsements” kept rolling in for interim head coach Bob Boughner’s return.
Despite Boughner’s 14-20-3 record, as opposed to Peter DeBoer’s 15-16-2 behind San Jose’s bench this season, Couture asserted: “The team was playing hockey that could win us games.”
Some underlying stats support this notion. As Boughner himself pointed out in April, the Sharks were 30th in the league in odd-man rushes allowed before the coaching change, eighth after.
Back in February, Couture was already going at length about Boughner’s effect:
Burns was equally effusive yesterday, citing Boughner’s growth from San Jose assistant coach in 2015-16, two years in Florida, and now.
“You could see there was a difference in him, being a head coach in the time he was in Florida. He evolved and became more authoritative, is that the correct word? He has that ability to interact with guys, he’s still a player. He’s a great communicator. He gets what’s going on. But at the end of the way, he’s got that little bit of a fear of God in him.
“He created a great — the atmosphere was good. It’s tough to say that with how shitty everything was going. But he did a great job with where he was at and where we were at.
“He was extremely detailed. Little in-game changes. If you needed a snap, he could. He was great. My opinion of him is always going to be high.”
Boughner, of course, wasn’t as familiar to Karlsson, who’s relatively new to San Jose.
“I think Bob did a good job. I don’t think he entered a very easy situation. He did the best that he could with what he had,” Karlsson said. “I don’t think anyone can judge his head coaching performance based on the situation he was brought into, the year that we had. He handled himself as well as head coach that I’ve had in this league. It certainly feels like he’s fit for a head coach job, whether that’s with us or someone else.”
Meanwhile, Ferraro gave some insight as to how Boughner works with younger players. That’s going to be important for a Sharks organization that’s hoping to incorporate youth into their revival:
“I love Coach Bob. I like the fact if I were to make a mistake, he’s going to help me out. He’s going to be hard on me, but he’s going to show me a way that I can improve with video and in practice.
“When I was on the downhill, he tried to pick me back up and get me back on the uphill.
“It’s a privilege to play for him. He’s a great coach.”
Granted, no player is going to “sewer” a current coach publicly, so these “endorsements” should all be taken with a grain of salt. But you can tell when a player is saying more than they have to, which was the case here.