As most people know by now, the San Jose Sharks have officially missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002-2003. They lost to the Dallas Stars by a final of 5-1 on Monday night, but their fate was out of their hands perhaps all along. When the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Minnesota Wild, the die had been cast.
An awful lot went wrong for the Sharks this season and general manager Doug Wilson, who a year ago called San Jose a “tomorrow team,” will probably be talking rebuild.
It’s become a sort of tradition for the Sharks to stumble in the playoffs. This year, they won’t have the chance to watch a 3-0 series lead evaporate.
There has been tumult behind the scenes, like when Wilson explained his stripping of the “C” from Joe Thornton. Thornton’s response to that scenario was less than ideal and team owner Hasso Plattner had to play mediator between the two parties. It’s hard to quantify the effect that situation had on the locker room, but one imagines it was likely more a symptom of the toxic environment rather than an isolated incident.
The front office certainly wasn’t backing the play, either. For six straight seasons, the Sharks have had a top-10 payroll in the National Hockey League. This season, their payroll is 23rd overall. They’ve seen a boatload of veterans leave.
“We’re not the same team as we were last year,” said centre 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 Sharks, with two games to go in the regular season, average 2.75 goals per game. Their power play is effective at 21.6 percent, good enough for fifth overall. The problem is they allow 2.76 goals against per game and their penalty kill is in the basement at 78 percent. They allow just a shade under 30 shots per game and take an average of 31.5 per game.
But the product on the ice hasn’t exactly changed much over the years. They still get scoring from the usual suspects, with Joe Pavelski leading the way with 69 points in 80 games. Couture is second with 66 points in 80 games, while Thornton (64 points in 76 games), Brent Burns (59 points in 80 games) and Patrick Marleau (56 points in 80 games) round out the top five.
Goalie Antti Niemi has been holding it down in goal, with a 2.62 goals against average and a .914 save percentage over 60 games. He has five shutouts and 30 wins.
Breaking it down further finds that disaster mostly struck at home. In fact, the Sharks had 23 home losses. They only won 19 times in San Jose.
“This building, for years and years, it was a pretty sacred place to play in as a home team, and we just didn‘t have that this year,” said head coach Todd McLellan. “We’ll look back at our season and everybody will have an opinion about moments or games, but you have to look at it as a whole and add it all up. We weren’t good enough at home, and that‘s what probably ended up costing us.”
If there’s anything left to hold on to, it’s that the Sharks could play spoilers for the Los Angeles Kings’ playoff hopes. They play Saturday and could see some small measure of satisfaction. It would be something in a season filled with disillusionment and disappointment.