The San Jose Sharks have undergone a significant management change in the off-season by hiring Mike Grier as a first-time general manager and David Quinn as new head coach.
After failing to reach the playoffs for three straight seasons, Captain Logan Couture says the veteran roster are ready to embrace a fresh approach in hope of a new lease of life.
Before 2019, when they reached the Western Conference Final, the Sharks missed the playoffs just twice in 21 seasons. During that time, they enjoyed several deep runs and made a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2015/16, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While still awaiting the franchise's first championship, the Sharks were often considered among the top contenders, but that tag has well and truly slipped off over recent years.
A sixth-place finish in the Pacific Division last season (32-37-13) was San Jose's best since they came second in 2018/19, but if they want to end their post-season drought in 2022/23 a much bigger improvement is needed, particularly offensively.
They ranked 30th in the NHL with 2.57 goals per-game last season after finishing tied for 27th (2.57 goals per-game) in 2019/20 and 25th (2.61 goals per-game) in 2020/21.
San Jose was 22nd on the powerplay (19.0 percent) last season after finishing 23rd in 2019/20 (17.5 percent) and 29th in 2020/21 (14.1 percent).
Forward Timo Meier led the Sharks with 76 points (35 goals, 41 assists). Centre Tomas Hertl had 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) and Captain Couture 56 points (23 goals, 33 assists).
Defenceman Brent Burns had 54 points (10 goals, 44 assists), but after that no other San Jose player had more than 39.
Their offence has been bolstered in the off-season with forwards Nico Sturm, Luke Kunin, Oskar Lindblom and Steven Lorentz all signing. None of their numbers jump off the stat sheet, but all offer significant experience and depth to take some workload off the Sharks’ top liners.
The Sharks will be without Burns in the 2022/23 season after the 37-year-old was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, ending an 11-year-stay in San Jose.
In the latter years of his career, Burns was keen to move to a Stanley Cup contender and while the understanding Sharks have wished him well, his departure leaves their blue-line with far less bite.
Since he was acquired from the Minnesota Wild in 2011, Burns has led San Jose and all NHL defencemen with 594 points (172 goals, 422 assists) in 798 games. He was named the Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defenceman in 2017 and was also a finalist for the award in 2016 and 2019.
The 24-year-old Mario Ferraro says a collective effort will be required to replace Burns and as one of the NHL’s leaders in average time on ice at 26.07 per-night, there will be plenty of minutes to share around.
Fit-again Erik Karlsson could be key to fill the Burns void on top of free agency depth defence signings Markus Nutivaara and Matt Benning.
A two-time winner of the Norris Trophy (2011/12, 2014/15), 32-year-old Karlsson is second only to Burns in scoring by an NHL defenceman since 2011/12 (589 points, 135 goals, 454 assists).
His problem, as evidenced by the 79 games that he has missed since the Sharks signed him to a huge eight-year, $92million contract in 2019, is staying healthy.
The 32-year-old missed two months of last season after having surgery to repair a muscle tear in his forearm.
But he is said to be feeling “better than ever”, which will be music to the ears of Grier and Quinn who have both been public in their view that he continues to be one of the best defencemen in the NHL.
The 56-year-old David Quinn was fired from his first NHL coaching job by the New York Rangers after three years in charge (2018-21) with a 96-87-25 record.
It was a tenure that began during a full-fledged rebuild, but expectations quickly rose after the Rangers landed premier free agent Artemi Panarin, defenceman Adam Fox became a Norris Trophy-winning defenceman and netminder Igor Shesterkin burst onto the scene proving to be one of the league’s best.
At the third time of missing the playoffs under his tenure, Quinn was sacked but Sharks GM Grier has been vocal in defending his coaches work at the Rangers.
It was under Quinn’s guidance that Fox won his award, and Mika Zibanejad turned into a 70+ point forward with Grier arguing that Quinn knows how to get the best of out of his top players.
The pair also share a common development belief, that prospects must earn their ice time and not simply expect it which caused rumbles of un-rest with Rangers’ players such as Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil.
Quinn has challenged his entire roster to make marginal gains in the new season and he will bank on system tweaks and the Sharks’ added depth at forward and defence to deliver an improved performance.
In a far more patient environment than he worked in New York, and with a collaborative GM in Grier, Quinn has a perfect second chance to prove himself as an NHL boss and get the Sharks chomping again after several fairly toothless campaigns.
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