Another San Jose Sharks season, another depressing exit from the playoffs for the 9th straight year. Some fans are happy the way the Sharks played against the defending champion LA Kings.
Being a life long Sharks fan I for one believe the contrary and General Manager Doug Wilson is responsible for the demise of this team over the past two years.
The Sharks in 2010 and 2011 were Western Conference Finalists and won the Pacific Division 4 years in a row. Then Doug Wilson traded essentially Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle and Devin Setoguchi for Martin Havlat and Brent Burns in two separate deals.
Why did he make these moves after the great success we had the previous 4-5 years?
Wilson felt Havlat would help us in the playoffs due to his track record with Ottawa and Chicago. Havlat turned out to be “glass” as he was in several seasons before and turned out to be a non-factor due to injury.
Then he brought in Burns to become our “next” puck handling defenseman to take over for Dan Boyle once he retires. Plus overall help our defense improve and penalty kill which were weak at that time.
Turns out the minor league system had Matt Irwin and Justin Braun ready and the Sharks traded/signed Brad Stuart before this year. This plus the hiring of Larry Robinson as an assistant coach who is known for his work on defense and penalty kill.
Burns is actually one of the weaker of the current roster of defensemen when it comes to puck-handling and on the penalty kill. The Sharks with the sudden log jam on the blue line moved him to forward.
The Sharks did not pay Burns a huge contract to be a forward but to anchor the blue line for years to come. Trading Setoguchi and Coyle for him was a huge mistake if the Sharks were going to move him to forward.
Granted, Burns looked good playing forward at times but that is because he has Joe Thornton passing him the puck who makes life easy for wings, Setoguchi and Coyle would have provided extra depth and pushed T.J. Galiardi to the 3rd line where he belongs.
Heatley, say what you will about him in the playoffs is durable. He plays hurt if he has to and played 80 games 6 out of the last 7 full seasons. He was so banged up in 2011 playoff series against Vancouver with his wrist and lower body injury it was amazing he was still standing.
When both are healthy, Heatley is far better than Havlat regular season wise and flourished playing alongside Thornton. He just did not know when to sit out when banged up during the season. Says a lot about his character and will. Playoff performance goes to Havlat between the two but does that matter if he cannot stay healthy?
Setoguchi was always an enigma during the regular season but could be counted on come playoff time and had good success against the LA Kings. Setoguchi was also durable playing in 70 games plus in his last 3 seasons with San Jose.
Coyle was a first round pick who should not have included in the Burns deal considering how low the Sharks are on depth upfront. He played some this year for Minnesota and has tremendous upside.
Yet Wilson traded those three for Burns to play forward with Havlat hurt most of the time. Not good.
Even Minnesota fans were stunned about the Burns deal, they knew he was terrible on the penalty kill and does not puck handle very well in the neutral zone. Yet the Sharks traded for Burns to do both?
Wilson then trades away Ryan Clowe who was struggling earlier this season for lower round draft picks. Clowe owns the LA Kings and with the exception of last season was very good come playoff time. In my opinion, trading Douglas Murray was all the team needed at the time to send a message as the team was struggling at the time.
Then Wilson backtracks and trades for Raffi Torres once he saw the team was going to make the playoffs after all. Torres has been a total wild card his whole career only to have him get suspended for pretty much the entire Kings series. With Havlat already out this hurt the Sharks big time in the forward department.
One could argue keeping Clowe was the smart move in this case. One could also argue who could for see Torres getting suspended but at the same time we all knew his reputation so can we be surprised?
The Sharks weakness this season and playoffs as one can see was upfront. We could not put the pressure on Jonathan Quick like we did two years ago when the Sharks were top 5 in goals scored. They were 24th in the league this season.
Our first line right now is Galiardi, Thornton, Burns. In 2010 and 2011 the first line was Heatley, Thornton, Marleau. That is a huge downgrade, Burns is not a true forward and Galiardi is lucky to get a goal here and there even with a superstar like Thornton passing him the puck.
Somehow, Thornton with his weak wingers ended up with more points than Couture who had major talent around him with Pavelski and Marleau for the most part. The third and fourth lines were terrible for the most part all season because of the lack of depth and with Havlat and Torres out it became worse against the Kings.
Even if Havlat was healthy and Torres was not suspended, one cannot argue them and Burns upfront is an improvement over Heatley, Setoguchi, Coyle and Clowe who are playing their natural positions over the course of the regular season/playoffs and are all playing as “true forwards”. Not even a close argument.
Wilson as one can see clearly “out smarted himself” after the 2011 season.
He pretty much in a “nut shell” traded Heatley, Setoguchi, Coyle, and Clowe for Burns (as a forward), Havlat, Torres, and a few lower round draft picks over the past 2 years.
When the Kings series came around Havlat was out, Torres was suspended, and Burns was playing forward. If the Sharks had Heatley, Clowe, Setoguchi the Kings and the rest of the West would have been toast.
In fact, it is doubtful the Sharks would have finished with a 6 seed and would have finished much higher in the standings had they not done any of these trades these past 2 seasons. Offense was a issue all season and the big reason for the inconsistent play all season.
The Sharks only had Burns at forward to show for all the moves the last two years come playoff time against the Kings this season and him playing forward defeated the purpose of trading for him and paying him a big contract.
The Sharks went from winning 4 straight Pacific Division titles, President’s trophy winner, two Western Conference Finals berths, multiple 1 and 2 seeds to finishing 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific division and earning 7 and 6 seeds the last two years come playoff time.
Not winning on the road once in LA in four tries shows we have a long way to go. We regressed significantly since 2011 and it showed up on the ice the last two years in the regular season and playoffs.
Everyone acknowledged we have improved on defense/penalty kill and were responding to the new coaching style but we could not score as Wilson depleted us upfront with his moves.
Defense does win titles but in hockey you need depth on 3 lines upfront plus a good penalty kill. Had Wilson stuck with the team after 2011, let Braun and Irwin come up, and hired Robinson the Sharks would be great offensively but also defensively with a very good penalty kill.
Instead the Sharks are now great on defense/penalty kill but cannot score if their lives depended on it. How ironic the only goal in Game 5 and 7 at the Staples Center came from Dan Boyle, a defenseman no less.
In Wilson’s defense, Havlat being hurt and Torres getting suspended did not help his cause but they each had past reputations for getting hurt (Havlat) and suspended (Torres) but he traded for them anyways.
He gambled on both and lost big, he also gambled on Burns and the jury is out if this forward thing works out as if he returns to the blue line next season he would be closer to the bottom of the depth chart than the top. Not good with the amount of money Burns is set to make.
In the end, it is easy to see it was Wilson’s bad moves the last two seasons doomed the team and regulated the Sharks to being a lower seeded playoff team this year and last year after being a high seed the previous 4 years and on the cusp of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Every move he made after 2011 has backfired as I have documented above. He had them on right track and just needed to stick to his guns and stay the course. Hiring Robinson alone probably would have put the team into the finals as he fixed our defensive problems and penalty kill pretty well in a shortened season with minimum training camp.
Instead, Wilson has set the Sharks back for years to come. Heaven forbid if Marleau or Thornton got hurt. It would make the Sharks a mediocre team in the Western Conference since we have very little depth upfront as it is.
I for one believe he has to go, he has been in San Jose a long time and has had his shot.
Wilson had a very good run but the time has come to make a change.