On Wednesday night, the San Jose Sharks made the kind of coaching change you have to make when you’ve got a veteran core and you lose a bunch of games in a row.
These are the kinds of decisions that have to be made even if you don’t necessarily want to make them. Even if you think Peter DeBoer is a good coach. Even if you know you have fundamental problems elsewhere.
It’s not as though Doug Wilson can be shocked to see that his goaltending stinks (although throughout this losing streak, it’s particularly bad: .856). It’s not as though he doesn’t know Marc-Edouard Vlasic is basically done as an effective NHL defenseman (although that doesn’t accelerate the last six-plus years of his current contract, which has no-move protection until 2023). It’s not as though he can’t see the gaping holes in the roster where Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi used to be.
But the options to deal with those problems, which are the real problems, are limited.
Martin Jones is signed for too much money for the rest of this season and four more after that, with a small amount of trade protection (a three-team “no” list). Aaron Dell is signed for only the remainder of this season, but at a $1.9 million AAV no one would be interested in taking. It was a reasonable point to say Jones — a perfectly respectable NHL starter for a few years before he took a nosedive last season — could bounce back, but he hasn’t and thus all the losing.
Vlasic, too, was a situation where the team had little choice but to keep him for too long and too much, and has just seen him drop off an absolute cliff the last two years. That’s a no-win situation and once Radek Simek (Brent Burns’s usual partner) got hurt, and then hurt again, there really wasn’t an option for DeBoer but to put Vlasic in the big-minutes role he didn’t deserve. That’s dictated by the contract and the reputation, despite all the evidence that this should not be happening.
As for the lack of help for the Sharks offense, which has largely been illustrated by the team’s once-lethal power play looking both ineffective and unlucky. That’s maybe a little more of a DeBoer thing, or at least a “DeBoer’s assistants” thing. And those guys got canned, too. Coaches are most directly responsible for special-teams play and the Sharks’ has been lacking, but they also didn’t have any internal options for if things went sideways, which they inevitably did.
Pavelski ain’t exactly thriving in Dallas (he’s on pace for just 18 goals) but Donskoi looks great on the best team in the West.
The team is now effectively capped out, and with little in the way of trade options because its farm system is mediocre at best and it doesn’t have a first-round pick this season. A lot of changes may be on the margins, and if they come at all, they’ll have to be closer to the deadline.
Wilson’s only recourse to provide help in the near term, then, was to fire DeBoer and name Bob Boughner, the Brent Burns Whisperer, as coach instead.
Which, OK. Fair enough. Not a ton of options out there who aren’t expensive and/or bad-look PR moves (Babcock, Peters) or just plain old not-exciting options (Hynes). But Boughner’s track record as an NHL coach doesn’t exactly scream, “Here’s a guy with a solution.”
Let’s think about Boughner’s teams in Florida: No playoff appearances. Just-OK special teams. Subpar at 5-on-5. And save for that miracle second half in 2017-18, typified by low-success goaltending.
As Joel Quenneville and Rod Brind’Amour are showing, that team’s problems were far more than just a Luongo being old and Reimer being bad. The talent was there, throughout the lineup. Seems a lot like systems issues (plus the relative strength of the division) kept the team from being as good as they reasonably could have been.
Again, Wilson didn’t have much to choose from in the coaches’ market, and he has to pick someone who could potentially get this team somewhere before the season’s over. Almost every star on the team is at least 28 and more are in the 32-plus range. With no eye-popping prospects coming soon, no pick, and trade protection given out liberally, there’s nothing to be done but sit here and try to win this season.
Probably won’t work out regardless of who’s coaching because there are some glaring, fatal flaws in the roster. While “no roster options” is an uncomfortable position, and DeBoer shouldn’t have to pay that price, that’s how it goes.
There’s enough talent here, in theory, to get things figured out. Five or so points is a lot of ground to make up but they made up a lot of ground just last year. We should not write off this group just yet. But with that having been said, it’s more than just your standard “uphill battle.” There’s no room for error now. If this current skid stretches on much longer, or if another one like it crops up in a month or two, that’s the end of that.
The team was in an untenable position for a lot of reasons, and the guy directly in charge of the team paid the price. Fair enough. But there may not be a coach alive who can fix it. One suspects Boughner is more definitively not that guy.
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