How the Sharks rebounded in 2016
The 2014-15 season was awful. How did the Sharks bounce back?
We know the 2014-15 San Jose Sharks season sucked. We spilled plenty of cyber ink on this website on everything from John Scott to Doug Wilson to Hasso Plattner during a season I'd very much like to forget. A few key additions, a new head coach and a re-focused group helped San Jose get back to the playoffs in 2016. Let's break that down.
Lest anyone think the Sharks made the playoffs this season because of an increase in luck, let's do a quick look at the team stats. San Jose's score-adjusted fenwick-for percentage for 15-16 is 53.4 — that's an increase of 2.2 from a season ago. That's going from the ninth place mark since the 05-06 season to the sixth place. The Sharks got slightly improved goaltending, too, as the Sharks have an even strength mark of .922 after posting a .920 a year ago.
Okay, so it's not just luck. But how did the Sharks get those improved possession numbers?
Joel Ward, Paul Martin, Martin Jones and Joonas Donskoi all joined the Sharks this season (Donskoi was already a part of the organization, of course) and made immediate impact with the club. We knew what we were getting with Ward and Martin but Jones has exceeded my expectations while Donskoi blew them out of the damn water.
With Brent Burns a permanent (I guess) defender, Martin proved to be the perfect pairing we hoped he'd be. The two went through some growing pains, but like any power couple they worked hard and eventually found the ways they fit best together. They're the Jim and Pam of the Sharks, minus the half decade of sexual tension.
Donskoi and Ward both provide solid play, though in different ways. Ward's grit-and-grind (the good kind, not the Mike Brown kind) endeared himself to fans quickly and his scoring touch didn't hurt. Donskoi's flashy skill pairs perfectly with an unreal work ethic — a combination that both dazzles fans and helps get on to a coach's good side in a hurry.
Listen, I know we're not dying to look back at last season but here's an abridged list of players the Sharks cut loose after the 2014-15 campaign:
- Scott Hannan
- Adam Burish
- John Scott
- Antti Niemi
Two of those guys aren't in the league anymore (Burish and Hannan) and the two remaining are John Scott (who's only in the league again now for one game with the Canadiens) and Antti Niemi, who's sporting a .9234 even strength save percentage. In comparison to Jones' .9253, well, it's no contest. The Sharks added some good players this offseason and they also cut loose some very bad ones. That matters.
I'm skeptical this made much of a difference one way or another for the Sharks. Peter DeBoer seems like a perfectly fine coach — San Jose could do much much worse — but I'm less convinced he's an upgrade over Todd McLellan. Regardless, maybe the Sharks needed a new voice in the room. If that's the case, DeBoer has gotten plenty out of Joe Thornton and has provided steady leadership for a team that probably doesn't need too much tinkering.
Another area I feel must be met with trepidation, the Sharks just feel more focused this year. It's not hard to imagine the off-ice drama from last year affected the on-ice product in at least some small way. I don't think that's the difference between last season and this season, but I've really enjoyed not having to write about, well, most of the stuff I wrote about last year.
The difference, in the end, isn't complicated. San Jose jettisoned mediocre players and brought aboard good ones and as such are headed to the playoffs again. Glass half empty? Last year was one wasted as both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (probably) aged. Glass half full? It's good to be back in the dance.