The San Jose Sharks had a terrible training camp last season.
The Sharks have only won one of their six preseason games and few, if any, newbies have impressed management or coaching staff. Their roster was thin and the chemistry the Sharks had the previous season when they reached the Western Conference final was nowhere to be found.
The poor camp bled into the regular season and the end result was a 15th place in the Western Conference.
Of course, the Sharks must avoid the same thing happening this season when training camp opens on December 31st at the Ice Cave in Scottsdale, Arizona. You need to adapt to the way the coaching staff works first, and then find some less experienced players to contribute at the NHL level.
While trying to stay safe and healthy amid a pandemic.
Here are the top five questions asked by the sharks going to training camp.
1. CAN YOU GET THROUGH THE CAMP WITHOUT BREAKING OUT ?: MLB had some problems with the coronavirus after it started its season in July, and the NFL continues to have problems every week. Heck, the warriors recently struggled with both Draymond Green and James Wiseman missing most of the camp due to COVID reasons.
With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine that the NHL didn’t have similar problems, especially in the early days.
Before Christmas, the sharks had figured out logs and what they could and could not do as soon as camp began. However, it is fair to assume that they find themselves in a fairly restrictive environment and spend most – if not all – of their days either at the rink or at their nearby hotel.
It is obviously important that the sharks obey these rules. Not just for their physical well-being, but to get the most out of this time before the January 14 kick-off against the Arizona Coyotes. The last thing they can afford is groups of players sitting outside for days due to COVID. It goes without saying that if every player can stay healthy and qualified during camp, the Sharks will have a better chance of getting off to a good start into the season.
2. Can the goal be set ?: We start here with the questions on the ice, because without a solid goalkeeping team, all the coaching and personnel changes that the Haie have made in the long off-season don’t matter. They won’t stand a chance at the playoffs if Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk can’t improve their numbers from last season.
Jones had an even percentage of 0.891 in strength in 41 games last season, the 57th and last of all goalkeepers who have played at least 20 games. Dubnyk wasn’t much better with a 0.899 strength saving percentage, although off-ice issues with his wife in a serious medical situation may have played a role in his on-ice fights.
Evgeni Nabokov is starting his first full season as the Sharks goalkeeping coach, a role he took on in December 2019 after Johan Hedberg was sacked. Jones seemed to benefit from working with Nabokov on a daily basis, and Dubnyk said he was looking forward to working with the longtime former Sharks goalkeeper.
Although some intra-squad scrimmages are planned, there are no exhibition games, making it more difficult to evaluate the performance of both goalkeepers. We may have to see how things go in the first few games of the season before we know if Jones and Dubnyk are really making any headway.
Alexei Melnichuk is of course waiting in the starting blocks, who will be the Haie’s third goalkeeper for at least the first part of the season. As soon as the AHL starts in mid-February, the Sharks will decide whether to keep Melnichuk as the third goalkeeper or let him play regularly with the Barracuda.
SCOTTSDALE, AZ – JULY 8: Arizona Coyotes prospects at the Development Camp at the Ice Cave on July 8, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The San Jose Sharks will use the facility for their training camp this season. (Photo by Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
3. CAN YOU LEARN THE NEW SYSTEMS IN TWO WEEKS ?: Bob Boughner wants to make some style changes, Associate Coach Rocky Thompson wants to put his stamp on the Defense Corps and the power play and assistant coach John Madden takes time with the strikers and the penalty unit.
Can everything be perfect in two weeks? Probably not. However, can the sharks get close enough to hit the ground beneath their feet at the start of the season? That remains to be seen. With the exception of players on loan to European clubs and strikers like Ryan Donato and Matt Nieto who played in the playoffs, most of the Sharks players haven’t been in a game since March 11.
In Pete DeBoer’s first season in San Jose, it was almost half the season before the Sharks felt comfortable in a new system. It shouldn’t be that long before the sharks become familiar with Boughner in 2021, but there will still be an adjustment period.
“There will be a lot of changes, but we’re not recreating the bike,” said Boughner last week. “We’re definitely trying to involve our (defenders) much more on the offensive. That will be one of our biggest changes. ”
4. Can the sharks form some cohesion ?: Boughner emphasized the importance of building and maintaining chemistry in the room. Last season the boys went off alone far too often when the odds came up.
From that point of view, it might be a good thing for the sharks to spend so much time together for the next month. With many observers doubting whether the Haie can return to the playoffs, a “us versus the world” mentality may bring the team closer together.
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 17: The San Jose Sharks, including Mario Ferraro (38) of San Jose Sharks, celebrate a goal by Dylan Gambrell (7) of San Jose Sharks (center) against the Florida Panthers in the first period SAP Center in San Jose, California on Monday, February 17, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer / Bay Area News Group)
5. WHICH YOUNG PLAYERS CAN crack the OPENING NIGHT ROSTER ?: The Sharks had the same question at the start of camp last season after Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gus Nyquist all left through a free agency.
Surely today there is the question of who will take over the Sharks’ third line center after Joe Thornton’s signature with the Toronto Maple Leafs and who their sixth and seventh defenders after Tim Heed, Dalton Prout and Brandon Davidson could not step down.
The positive thing for the sharks is that they know more about the potential candidates to fill these jobs than they did last year.
Strikers like Joel Kellman, Noah Gregor, Antti Suomela and Alexander True gained NHL experience last season, as did defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov, and Jake Middleton and Trevor Carrick also got another glimpse of life in the NHL.
There is also a question of who will start the season on the 23-man squad and who will be in the taxi squad. Look for players who don’t have to go through waivers to be on the taxi roster as the sharks can get them up and down with impunity.