- Predicting the next coach for the San Jose Sharks
- Hasso Plattner gives Doug Wilson a vote of confidence
- Agent: ‘No serious discussions’ between Niemi, Sharks on new deal
- Looking at the roster next season
Okay, it’s probably less of a prediction and more of a guess.
Let’s just say from the beginning that San Jose won’t land Mike Babcock. My guess is that Babcock will stay in Detroit, and if he leaves Detroit, I expect the most likely destinations will be Toronto or Philly.
I’ve been watching the pundits talking about possible candidates. As usual, the Sharks play their cards close to their chest and don’t say (or leak) much. The first name that came to my mind was former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, but I haven’t seen much chatter indicating he’s being considered by the Sharks or anyone else.
Some of the names that are surfacing are interesting: Ken Hitchcock, currently with the Blues, seems to be in the same “considering my options” limbo as McLellan was; same with Dave Tippett in Phoenix. Um, Arizona. Peter DeBoer is also being whispered as a candidate.
The most interesting name that’s surfaced is former Shark Rob Zettler, who has been coaching the Syracuse Crunch for the last two years, and prior to that, the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey league. Zettler played with Wilson on those early, awful Sharks teams so they know each other well. He was considered a very good coach in the WHL and his two seasons in the AHL show about a .500 record, but a big improvement in his second season and a return to the playoffs.
One other name that came to mind the other day is Tony Granato, another former Sharks player and former coach in Colorado that’s been an assistant in Detroit. I wonder when or if he’ll get a second chance to be in charge behind the bench.
Any of these names would honestly be strong coaches for the Sharks. I find myself particularly drawn to Ken Hitchcock, but there’s a fond spot in my heart for Rob Zettler; we met him a couple of times during the Cow Palace years and he came across as an interesting and nice guy and I love rooting for folks like that.
So let me come out and say I hope the Sharks bring Zettler in and give him his first chance behind the bench. I think it’d be an interesting experiment — and let’s take that one step further and suggest he bring in Tony Granato and Mike Sullivan (both ex-Sharks and both ex-NHL-coaches now working in varying capacities — Sullivan in Boston and most recently assisting in Vancouver). I’d also love to see the Sharks bring Roy Sommer over to the NHL team as an associate coach, as he’s more than earned that promotion. With the Worcester Sharks becoming the San Jose Barracuda next year, maybe it’s time to bump Roy up stairs in some new capacity and bring in some of the Sharks that have been doing player development and give them control of the bench in the AHL.
On the other hand, if we end up with Hitchcock, I won’t be upset…
(for what it’s worth, it’s looking a lot like McLellan will end up in Edmonton, which a month ago I never would have guessed, but some very positive and interesting things are happening up there, and that’ll be a team to watch next season. The one thing that might derail that is Babcock leaving Detroit, and I have to wonder if the Red Wings would make a play for McLellan if that happens).
Hasso Plattner, the owner of the Sharks, has come out and made it clear that Doug Wilson is staying on as GM. he also expressed support for Wilson’s rebuilding plan and made a side comment that he felt that fans calling for Wilson’s head were reacting emotionally.
As one of those people who has called for Wilson’s replacement — or at least a restructure of duties to bring in another executive with some fresh ideas — I have to admit that I think Plattner is mostly right. When you step back from the situation and start asking the hardest question: “who could we bring in that would be better?” it’s hard to come up with many names.
Combine that with the thought that in my last Teal Sunglasses, my analysis of why this team missed the playoffs was that we were missing one key player — either Brad Stuart or Dan Boyle on defense — the errors that led to this season’s playoff miss were serious, but perhaps it’s overkill to consider that mistake a fatal one.
Overall I do support the rebuilding effort. he’s made some mistakes that I feel are serious — the most notable his gaffe at throwing Joe thornton under the bus at lsat year’s season ticket holder event, but it seems he and Thornton have hashed that out and moved on.
So we’ll see what happens with the coaching search and how he patches the holes in the roster going into next season. I think this team can be a 2nd round playoff team next year if a few things are improved, but I don’t think that’s close to a guarantee. And I guess we’ll see how I feel about him this time next year.
And honestly, that’s because they shouldn’t, and it seems pretty clear the Sharks, while not officially saying so, don’t seem to have any interest in bringing Niemi back. Niemi at this point in his career is, frankly, an adequate goalie with a frustrating lack of consistency. He’s not bad — he’s just not great. And bringing him back won’t solve the Sharks problems and merely puts a body in place that limits the Sharks ability to find a better alternative.
This doesn’t mean I think the Sharks are fine with their current goaltending — I don’t feel it’s adequate. It’s an area the Sharks need to address in the offseason in some way, either by finding a free agent or making a trade. There are going to be many opportunities for goalies to move between teams between now and October (Ottawa being just one team that needs to move an asset) and I think it would be a major mistake for the Sharks to do nothing, or do the ‘simple’ thing and bring Niemi back. It’s time to go in another direction.
One final thought on Niemi: If you think back to 2010, the Sharks made a significant move in signing restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson to a deal, which the Blackhawks ultimately matched. That left the Hawks in some serious salary cap problems, which was part of why they walked away from an arbitration deal with Niemi that helped the Sharks ultimately sign him and part ways with Evgeni Nabokov. At the time, Doug Wilson commented that Nabokov wasn’t a goalie that was going to take the Sharks to the Stanley Cup.
At the time, it was generally thought that the Sharks pulled a big one over on the Blackhawks. With the view of 20-20 hindsight, however, and Niemi was coming off that Stanley Cup win but was never that good for the Sharks, while Hjalmarsson was and continues to be a key contributor for the Sharks. Nabokov went on to a solid career that finally ended this season when they brought him home to retire as a Shark.
It’s now clear to me that the Hawks made the right choice in keeping Hjalmarsson, and while the team might have been right about Nabokov not being the goalie to win the Cup with San Jose, neither was Niemi. And if you count the number of rings each team has earned during this time, in retrospect, Chicago clearly won this gambit.
My opinion is that Niemi was different than Nabokov but ultimately not better, and maybe things might have gone differently if the Sharks had kept Nabokov and pushed the money and effort that went into Niemi in other directions. As fans we all learned to respect Niemi, but we loved Nabokov and I don’t think the team ever convinced many of us that this deal was worth pushing out such a well-loved player.
And in reality, the results definitely didn’t.
The Sharks have a lot of decisions to make this off-season beyond goaltending. MJ Kasprzak does a nice job of summing up the needs and challenges.
One of the big problems the Sharks had this last season that hasn’t been talked about enough was the loss of Raffi Torres from the roster, and it’s still unclear if he’ll be ready or able to play next season. I wonder if the team needs to make a decision to move on from Torres and find a permanent solution to that third line, “sandpaper” type player, and if Torres does come back have both on the roster.
The big worry to me continues to be on defense, which is too thin on talent and too young on experience.
I also have to wonder if Patrick Marleau will be a Shark on opening night. His no-movement clause notwithstanding, he had a poor season and the challenge of playing through the problems this last season and with the rift between him and Doug Wilson clearly affected him. Maybe having lived with his decision not to waive that clause for a year he might reconsider — because while Joe Thorton didn’t let those issues affect his ice play, Marleau did. I don’t think anyone wants another year like the last one, and I think a fresh start for everyone is the best idea here.