SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)After missing the playoffs for a third straight season for the first time in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks head into the offseason facing a series of significant questions.
The Sharks are searching for a full-time general manager after Doug Wilson stepped down for medical reasons, must decide on the future of coach Bob Boughner and must find the pieces to get one of the NHL’s top teams from 2004-19 back into contention after a 32-37-13 season that left them in 12th place in the Western Conference.
”We did a step in the right direction this year,” forward Timo Meier said. ”It needs a couple more steps and it needs some more things to happen to start winning again.”
The main ingredient needed is more scoring after finishing 30th in the league in goals with 211.
Meier had a career-high 35 goals, Tomas Hertl added 30 and captain Logan Couture had 23 but no one else on the team scored more than 16 goals in the highest-scoring season in the NHL since 1995-96.
”All the playoff teams have 40-50 more goals this season,” Hertl said. ”That’s a lot of goals. … I think we need a little more help.”
The Sharks managed to stay in contention until late January but fell off following the All-Star break and won just 10 of their final 39 games.
Wilson took a leave of absence in November for an undisclosed medical issue and then announced in April that he was stepping down for good. Assistant GM Joe Will is running the team while a search for a full-time replacement goes ahead. Will said the organization is making progress in finding a full-time GM but there’s no timetable for when that will be finalized.
But he doesn’t expect a change in philosophy for an organization that has no interest in a rebuild.
”I don’t think we’re looking at a scorched earth scenario,” Will said. ”We’re not going to start over.”
Boughner has a 67-85-23 record since taking over from Peter DeBoer early in the 2019-20 season but the team did show some progress in his first full season after the previous two years were hampered by COVID-19. The players publicly support Boughner, who got the team to play much more cohesively on defense this season. The longer it takes to find a GM, the more likely it might be that Boughner gets another season.
”There are only certain things obviously under my control and I think that that’s what I worry about,” Boughner said. ”I would think that from my point of view, for my staff and myself and my players, I think everybody would love to find out sooner than later and have that stability.”
The Sharks played a franchise-record 18 rookies this season, tied for the 14th most in NHL history. Those players combined for 34 goals and 60 assists for the most points from a San Jose rookie class since the 2006-07 season. Jonathan Dahlen led the group with 12 goals and 10 assists, but Thomas Bordeleau showed good flashes as a late-season call-up and 2021 first-rounder William Eklund did the same early before spending most of the season in Sweden.
”There’s some great progress being made,” Boughner said. ”I think this organization is deeper than it’s ever been with with young talent. But with that comes competition.”
After having the second-worst save percentage in the NHL the previous two seasons, the Sharks moved into the middle of the pack this season thanks in large part to solid play from free agent acquisition James Reimer. Kaapo Kahkonen played well after being acquired at the trade deadline, while Adin Hill struggled at times as he was hampered by injuries.
Reimer and Hill remain under contract and Kahkonen is a pending restricted free agent. The Sharks will likely try to deal one of the goalies to avoid a glut next season.
What the Sharks are able to do this offseason to improve the team could depend on how Evander Kane’s grievance with the team is resolved. The Sharks terminated Kane’s contract in January but he has filed a grievance. If the Sharks win, that will clear $7 million a year off the cap for the next three seasons. But if Kane wins, the contract goes back in the Sharks’ cap and they would likely have to pursue a buyout to clear at some of the hit off their books.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports