The San Jose Sharks will no doubt be working on the basics, implementing new systems, evaluating young players and improving their power play when they start training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona in a week’s time.
Equally important to coach Bob Boughner is rebuilding the team spirit that fell apart during a turbulent 2019-20 season.
The Sharks were rarely on the same page in their first year without ex-captain Joe Pavelski when they hit a 29-36-5 record and last in the Western Conference. The more the sharks fought, the worse it got. Goalkeeper Martin Jones said in May: “When it started turning we went our own ways instead of coming together.”
Now, even without another emotional leader in Joe Thornton, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sharks must find a way to restore a successful culture.
“I think that’s one of the most important things I can do as head coach this year,” said Boughner, who was appointed full-time coach for the Sharks in September. “Of course you will miss (Thornton) as much as we will (Pavelski), but it’s a way to pass a torch on to other people.”
The last time the Sharks’ team chemistry came into question was after the 2014-15 playoff-free season.
Tensions between Thornton and Doug Wilson had surfaced a month before the end of the season, and Thornton accused the general manager of lying to season ticket holders about the circumstances in which Thornton had lost the captain.
Although the problems between the two were soon resolved, by the end of the season it was clear that Thornton’s relationship with then coach Todd McLellan had turned bad.
That off-season, McLellan and the Sharks broke up, and Wilson tried to improve the chemistry in the room by signing freelance agents Joel Ward and Paul Martin – two team-first boys – for multi-year contracts. Pavelski was named captain by new coach Pete DeBoer, and everyone seemed to have a fresh start.
That off-season, the Sharks brought Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Donato over the deal, signing the more affable Matt Nieto and franchise icon Patrick Marleau for a year. But Boughner is looking for other players who are already on the roster in order to now fully establish themselves as team leaders.
Logan Couture will be captaining the Sharks for his second season this year, and Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Tomas Hertl will continue to serve as deputies. Another deputy will be named before the start of the regular season on January 13th. Younger players, even those who have been in support roles in the past, need to take responsibility for the team.
“I think the guys realize that when things didn’t go that way last year we might have tried fixing everything one by one and we went on our own side and it didn’t work,” said Boughner. “The good thing about coming back this year is that they realize that you are learning from your mistakes and from things that didn’t work.
“I’ve already addressed a lot of this through video calls in the off-season, and it’s something that I will really bring up and address when we get back together as a group. That’s a work in progress. But I know we have really good people and people who really care, and people who all prove otherwise and want to get back to where we belong. ”
The sharks will undoubtedly get a chance to get close to each other throughout January.
After staying at a hotel together for a two-week training camp beginning December 31, the Sharks will play at least their first eight games of the season. The Sharks will stay in the Phoenix area to play against the Arizona Coyotes at the Gila River Arena in Glendale on January 14th and 16th. They then play two games each against St. Louis, Minnesota and Colorado.
The Sharks’ first scheduled game at the SAP Center, if Santa Clara County’s health authorities allow it to take place, is February 1st against the Vegas Golden Knights.
From Boughner’s point of view, maybe all the time together can be a good thing.
“If you’d asked me last season what this team could have probably used from a chemical and cultural point of view. I would have said a training camp where we can all get away with it and then have no distractions and probably a good long road trip to start the season, ”said Boughner. “I think this is a little more than I would like, but I think it will be a good thing for us.”