Sinking feeling in San Jose as Sharks' playoff streak comes to end

Sinking feeling in San Jose as Sharks' playoff streak comes to end

Now that the San Jose Sharks have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03, expect general manager Doug Wilson to reference the “rebuild.” He called the Sharks a “tomorrow team” almost a year ago.

“I’m not happy with where we are, but I’m not surprised with where we are,” said Wilson on March 17 at the NHL GMs’ meetings, when the Sharks were five points out of a playoff spot. “We knew the transition of this year would have its challenges and its moments.”

Just remember this team was one of the best in the NHL last season and a win away from sweeping the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Yes, the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead and lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, San Jose’s worst playoff failure in a decade of playoff failures. But now they won’t even have a chance to fail in the playoffs.

Even if the Sharks didn’t expect to be as good as they were before because of the moves Wilson made, they expected to be better than this. There was too much turmoil and too much inconsistency. There was too much underachievement once again.

There was too much turmoil and too much inconsistency in San Jose this season. (Getty)
There was too much turmoil and too much inconsistency in San Jose this season. (Getty)

“We can’t just look at a single faction of our team, whether it’s the youth, the older players, the leadership, the coach, the coaching staff, whatever it might be,” said coach Todd McLellan. “We’re team-deep as far as where we’ve put ourselves in the standings. The plan’s in place obviously to try to adapt or adjust the team as the years go on, and that’s what we’re dealing with now. We haven’t been successful enough with the group that we’ve had, whether it’s young, old, anybody on the staff. We’re all part of it.”

It’s hard enough to win in the NHL already. It’s that much harder when you have a soap opera – from Wilson revealing players told him they were “coworkers and not teammates,” to Wilson wondering whether veterans would want to stick around for a rebuild, to Wilson insisting he wasn’t trying to get Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to waive no-trade clauses, to Thornton losing the captaincy, to the latest incident at a season-ticket holder event.

The San Jose Mercury News reported Wilson explained to the fans why the Sharks took the ‘C’ from Thornton. “He carries the weight of the team on his shoulders and he’s got such a big heart that when stress comes on him he lashes out at people and it kind of impacts them,” Wilson said. “The pressure and stress, I felt, was getting to Joe.”

Wilson said he told Thornton that others needed to share in the leadership, and though Thornton didn’t like it, he understood. Thornton responded by saying Wilson needed to “stop lying” and “shut his mouth.” Owner Hasso Plattner asked him to call Wilson to smooth it over.

“It’s hard to tell how much it had an effect on guys,” said forward Joe Pavelski. “Obviously it does [have an effect]. There were some guys that took a whole lot more than others, but as a player and a friend and a teammate, you feel that as well. We’re upset the way they’re being treated for what they’ve done for myself, for teammates, for the organization. There’s better ways handle situations. I think the one thing that’s disappointing is some of the stuff that got out. Whether it’s said or not, the fact it got out and it wasn’t handled in a different manner I think definitely upsets players.”

Then there was the effect of the rebuild itself. In short, Wilson felt the Sharks were not close enough to the Stanley Cup, so they would not be in win-now mode. They would not trade draft picks or young players for veterans, nor sign free agents who would leapfrog young players, in an attempt to put the team over the top in the short term. They would put younger players in better positions to play, lead and develop for the medium and long terms.

Wilson parted with veterans Dan Boyle, Martin Havlat and Brad Stuart and replaced them internally. The Sharks’ payroll decreased from $67.8 million to $65.1 million at the same time the salary cap increased from $64.3 million to $69 million. For six straight seasons, the Sharks’ payroll ranked in the top 10. This season it ranks 23rd, according to

Young players such as Tomas Hertl failed to deliver on expectations. (Getty)
Young players such as Tomas Hertl failed to deliver on expectations. (Getty)

On the first day of training camp, the first words out of McLellan’s mouth were: “We’re here to win.” He did not want to lower expectations. He did not want to relax the standard. But he didn’t put together the roster.

“We’re not the same team as we were last year,” said center Logan Couture. “We’re not the same team as we were two years ago. We’ve lost guys and brought in some new players, and we’ve struggled at times.”

The top five scorers are the same as last season: Pavelski, Couture, Thornton, Marleau and Brent Burns. But while Pavelski has excelled and Thornton has been good for the most part – especially under the circumstances – the feeling is that Couture could be better and Marleau could be far better. Burns has moved from forward to defense and still looked like a forward at times.

Second-year players such as forwards Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto and goaltender Alex Stalock haven’t met expectations. “Obviously if you’re in your second year, players and teams know who you are,” Couture said. “Some guys had some difficulty with that.”

Rookie defenseman Mirco Mueller struggled to adjust to the NHL. No surprise. He turned 20 on March 21. Rookie forward Melker Karlsson has shown some promise. Still …

“It’s no secret,” Thornton said. “We just went younger, and guys are going through growing pains. I think that’s normal as a young team goes through things like this. … These guys are going to keep getting better, and we’ll be better next year for it.”

We’ll see. Wilson was willing to take a step backward to take two steps forward. One down, two to go.