Ex-Shark of the Week: Devin Setoguchi
“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”
The San Jose Sharks of the late 2000’s were a force to be reckoned with, stringing together several consecutive 100+ point campaigns, winning the President’s Trophy in the 2008-09 season, and establishing themselves as a regular fixture in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For a brief period, young winger Devin Setoguchi was one of the team’s most exciting, albeit streaky players, providing fans with electric playoff memories and tantalizing them with what appeared to be bursts of incredible potential.
Although Setoguchi’s most significant impact on the Sharks was his departure - as he was the centerpiece of a trade that forever altered the franchise by bringing in a defenseman who went on to win a Norris trophy, set various club records and serve as one of the faces of the NHL — his contributions to some very good Sharks teams over his four years in San Jose shouldn’t be ignored.
The Sharks selected Setoguchi eighth overall at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. The Taber, Alberta native spent the next two years in the Western Hockey League (WHL), where he justified his draft position, scoring 148 points in 120 games over two seasons. His penchant for lighting the lamp was apparent early, evidenced by his 72/76 split between goals and assists, as was his knack for elevating his game in the postseason, where he registered 33 points in 25 playoff games. His play captured the attention of Doug Wilson and the rest of the Sharks brass, which led to him making his NHL debut the following (2007-08) season.
At this point, Setoguchi found himself — as many young players do — bouncing between his major league club and their AHL affiliate, but still managed to play in 44 NHL games, where he tallied 17 points (11 goals, 6 assists). The coaching staff, impressed with his offensive acumen, began the next season with Setoguchi in the starting lineup.
Skating primarily on the top line alongside the prolific Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi played 81 games for the Sharks, and made it clear he had no intention of returning to the AHL. At only 22 years old, he eclipsed the 30-goal mark, tallying a total of 65 points (31 goals, 34 assists) with a Corsi for percent (CF%) of 54.1. This season, coupled with his draft pedigree, left fans salivating at the prospect of Setoguchi’s potential peak.
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to them, they had just seen it.
In that year’s playoffs, he tallied three points in six games as the Sharks suffered a massive first round upset at the hands of their in-state rivals, the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks. The following season saw the young winger’s production drop, though he still tallied 36 points (20 goals, 16 assists) in 70 games. In that year’s postseason, Setoguchi continued his tendency to elevate his game when it mattered most, scoring five goals and recording four assists for nine points in 15 games, including a clutch, series-tying overtime winner against the Colorado Avalanche.
The 2010-11 season, his last as a Shark, saw an improvement in the winger’s numbers, as he posted 41 points (22 goals, 19 assists) in 72 games, and San Jose once again qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It was in this postseason that Setoguchi had his most impactful moments in a Sharks uniform, again elevating his performance under the brightest lights. He scored 10 points (7 goals, 3 assists) in 18 games, and while those numbers may not rank in the annals of NHL history, the manner in which he scored them should be fondly remembered by San Jose faithful. His first goal came in Game 3 of the Sharks’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings — the first-ever playoff meeting between the two clubs in Los Angeles. With the game tied at 5 goals each in overtime, Setoguchi fired a shot past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick to complete one of the greatest comebacks in NHL playoff history.
In the second round, he increased his production against a more formidable opponent. His primary matchup of the series was against a Pavel Datsyuk-led top line, as the Sharks faced off with the Detroit Red Wings. Game 3 of the series proved to be Setoguchi’s career pièce de résistance, as he opened the scoring for his team, tied the game at 2, and eventually completed the hat-trick with another clutch overtime goal, willing his team to a 3-0 series lead. Although after this he was held scoreless until the series reached Game 7, his next goal was once again of critical importance. With the Sharks desperately looking to re-capture some semblance of momentum, having lost three straight games, he tallied the game’s first goal, helping the Sharks build a lead they’d never surrender as they moved on to the next round.
However, that was as far as Setoguchi and his teammates made it in the playoffs. The Sharks headed into the off-season after dropping the following series 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks.
With an excellent postseason performance behind him, the speedy winger seemed primed to stay in San Jose long-term, signing a deal that would keep him in teal for the next three years.
The next day, he was traded.
He had been acquired by the Minnesota Wild, along with promising forward prospect Charlie Coyle and a 2011 first round pick, in exchange for a young, offensively-gifted defenseman in Brent Burns, as well as a second round pick in the 2012 draft.
While Setoguchi’s time in Minnesota was disappointing, never even coming close to realizing the potential he had flashed as a 22-year-old, many remember it as significantly worse than it was. The Wild acquired him in the hopes he’d re-capture the magic of his 65 point season despite his streaky scoring, and although he didn’t come close, it wasn’t like the winger ended up as a regular in the press box.
In his first season with the Wild, he put up almost identical numbers to those of his 2009-10 season with the Sharks, scoring 36 points in 69 games (the 2009-10 season saw him tally 36 points in 70 games) while playing with a less offensively talented group. His possession numbers regressed following the trade, but Setoguchi hadn’t been acquired for his ability to drive play — he had posted a negative CF% relative (CF% rel) to his team every season in the Bay Area. In fact, his first season on the Wild saw him register the lowest CF% of his career at that point (48.2), but it was still good for a +4.0 CF% rel. In short, in terms of driving possession, he was a positive addition to his new team.
Setoguchi’s second season on the Wild saw his production remain largely the same, as his 27 points in 48 games gave him a slightly improved point-per-game rate (PPG), while his CF% only marginally regressed (48.2 to 47.9). Minnesota qualified for the playoffs that year, the first and only time they would with Setoguchi on the roster, and were eliminated in five games — Setoguchi scored once.
During the summer, he was traded again. This time, to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a second round pick in the 2014 draft.
In Winnipeg, Setoguchi repeated his previous year’s point total of 27, while appearing in 27 more games - a massive drop in his per-game production level. While his CF% improved to the highest it had been since being shipped out of San Jose, it was clear the winger wasn’t the player he once was. At the season’s end, he signed a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames, now his third team in as many years. After going scoreless in 12 games with Calgary, Setoguchi was assigned to the Adirondack Flames of the AHL, where he played the remainder of the year.
Just before the conclusion of the AHL season, Setoguchi checked into a rehab facility across the country in Malibu, California as part of the NHL’s Substance Abuse program. As he’d later discuss with great candor, a long-fought battle with substance abuse had reached new lows while he recovered from an injury in Glen Falls, New York (home of the Adirondack Flames) during the season. Thankfully, Setoguchi managed to overcome these issues, and managed to get himself sober and into game-shape in time for the 2015-16 NHL season. He signed a professional try-out (PTO) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but was released during training camp. Determined to rehabilitate his career, Setoguchi ventured to Switzerland and signed with HC Davos, as friend and former teammate Joe Thornton, who had played there during the two most recent NHL lockouts, had forged close relationships there that helped open the door for his former line-mate. In Switzerland, Setoguchi put himself back on the NHL radar, tallying 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 30 games, as well as eight points in seven playoff games.
He’d proven he deserved an opportunity to compete for a spot on an NHL roster, and as the next season (2016-17) began, he found himself with one. Following another PTO, this one with the Los Angeles Kings, he earned a one-year contract. He appeared in 45 games with the Kings, scoring 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) with a 56.1 CF%, good for a +1.8 CF% rel. At the end of the season, the Kings opted not to offer Setoguchi a contract extension, who returned to Europe and signed with German club Adler Mannheim, where he scored 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 47 games — the last of his playing career.
Since then, Setoguchi has returned to the Bay Area, where he is active in the Sharks alumni community, serves as a Sports California/Sharks Playoff Live TV analyst, and owns an F45 Training center. While he never duplicated his 65-point campaign or became the perennial 30-goal scorer he once seemed poised to become, he was a fan favorite for years in San Jose — and his clutch playoff performances ensure he’ll remain one in retirement.