In This Edition of Felix’s Hockey Takes…
I’m going to talking about what in the heck is going on with our beloved San Jose Sharks. What are things that they as players can improve on and how can the coaching staff improve things? Although, let’s be honest. I’m going to be harping much more on the issues with the coaching staff more than the players. I’ll also touch on my thoughts on the coaching changes that have happened so far in the National Hockey League as well as just my thoughts early in the season in general. So, surprises, disappointments, all that good stuff. That said, let’s get right to it!
Up And Down Sharks
We’ll start off with the boys in teal. I remember when it was still maybe 5 or so games early into the season, people were panicking saying why does our defense suck, Jones isn’t good in net, is their a goalie controversy, all that. I remember writing an article saying now’s not the time to panic. I know the stakes are higher than ever. Expectations are higher than ever with the arrival of Erik Karlsson. Let’s just wait it out.
Last night, the Sharks played game 17 of 82 against the St. Louis Blues, and they looked totally lost. They were all over the place. Their defensive miscues were so visible. Quite frankly, it was embarrassing to watch. Poor Aaron Dell got hung out to dry on numerous occasions, and cue everyone complaining about how Doug Wilson maybe shouldn’t have pulled the trigger on the Karlsson trade, maybe Karlsson isn’t the best fit. Maybe it’s time Wilson ought to think about firing Pete DeBoer. All of this when seemingly everything was starting to click for the Sharks, especially on the power play. Granted, they lost three of their last five. However, their record in their last 10 games played that they have been winning more games. They are 5-3-2 in that aspect.
Thing is last night they didn’t play like a team that was 5-3-2. They played like a team that was absolutely struggling. So, what gives? What’s going on with the Sharks and why can’t they be consistent, at least in winning and putting in a good 60-minute effort? Another thing I should mention is that this is also a team that just went on a back-to-back, not that I’m making any excuses. They lost in Dallas in what was a better effort, at least offensively. Defensively, they were missing assignments and letting the Dallas Stars waltz right into the defensive zone. But hey. At least they scored a few goals right? Unlike against Chad Johnson in St. Louis.
Honestly, for as much as the coaching staff has made multiple changes to the defensive pairings, they have to settle for a pair that works. Pete DeBoer needs to stop changing up what works. I saw a tweet from someone saying essentially “well, of course Erik Karlsson has had trouble adjusting, his defensive partner keeps changing!” And honestly I couldn’t agree more.
Remember when early on the Tomas Hertl – Logan Couture – Timo Meier were rolling and creating all sorts of offensive chances and scoring goals? And then Pete decided for whatever reason to break that line up, even more so with Joe Thornton coming back into the lineup from a swollen knee? That’s exactly what this current conundrum feels like. It’s like there’s a theme here that Pete DeBoer likes to change things up when things don’t need a’changin’. And that’s frustrating, especially at this point of the season when you’re not at the half way point of the season yet, but you have to start banking in those points because, for crying out loud people, it’s November. We got one more month ’til the holiday season.
While I’m still on the “let’s wait and see if the Sharks can adjust to Erik Karlsson being in the lineup” train, something’s got to give. We have to start seeing results right now or someone’s going to pay the price for all this losing. I love Erik Karlsson, and I will not put too much of the blame on him. He’s not the issue. It’s up to the coaching staff to figure it out. Also his teammates should know how EK65 plays by now. They should communicate with him and know what to expect, where he’ll want to pass, when he’s going to want to jump up on a play, etc. As far as the coaching goes, PDB’s got to really start loosening up that leash and just let Karlsson play the way he knows how. That seat’s getting warmer with every loss, and not to say Doug Wilson is going to fire DeBoer, but if this keeps up, like I said, something’s got to give. Maybe it’s Pete.
Speaking of coaching changes, the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks relieved John Stevens and Joel Quenneville of their coaching duties. Stevens was fired as the head coach of the L.A. Kings. Former Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins takes his place as the interim replacement. Former Shark Marco Sturm was also brought in to replace Don NachBaur as the assistant coach. Quenneville is replaced by now-former Rockford Icehogs coach Jeremy Colliton. Colliton was hired by the Blackhawks last year to coach their AHL affiliate. The organization promoted former assistant Derek King as interim head coach to take over for Colliton.
Let me first say this. In sports, whenever a team is struggling and underachieving the way these two teams have to start out the season, the head coach is always going to be the one to get the first ax. That’s just the way it is, whether or not the coach deserves the blame. For the L.A. Kings, I’m not surprised. If you went through the Twitter replies in every game the Kings lost, the fans were obviously fed up. Nothing was clicking. Their defense was porous. Their offense wasn’t great either, and of course when you’re constantly turning the puck over and you don’t have the puck on your stick, and you’re caught puck watching a lot of times, nothing good ever comes out of that.
Right now, L.A. has a record of 5-9-1, which is basically dead last in the Pacific Division. They have a league-worst -16 goal differential (Chicago has the second worst with a -15 goal differential), and are dead last in Goals For (33). They sit at the middle of the pack in Goals Against (49), tied with the New Jersey Devils. With Willie Desjardins now behind the bench, I’m curious to see how the Kings respond. The Minnesota Wild came into Staples Center this past Thursday and spoiled Desjardins’ debut as head coach, so we’ll have to see if that losing trend continues, or if the Kings can somehow manage to turn it around. I’m thinking it’s going to take more than a coaching change to right the ship in L.A.
Talking Chicago, this is one of those cases where the head coach absolutely does not deserve to get fired. Joel Quenneville is an established head coach. We’ve all heard numerous times how the Blackhawks won 3 Cups in 6 years. That’s all under Quenneville’s coaching. If anything, Chicago’s going to want to have a look at their general manager, Stan Bowman. I feel like this is the year, or if not this year, maybe next, that his seat could potentially get hot if the Hawks don’t turn it around. I read an article by Mark Lazerus from The Athletic that basically said the Hawks are sending the wrong message to their fans in saying that they’re a playoff team. They are miles from it. And I get it. You want to be able to sell tickets and merchandise. You’re not going to be do much of that anymore if the fans know you’re lying through your teeth and the team ends up putting on a massively embarrassing product on the ice night in and night out.
So, in a lot of ways, fine. You can fire Quenneville, even though he wasn’t the issue. But at least send the right message to your fans and do it the right way. To paraphrase the message Lazerus suggested for the Hawks to send for the fans, “We know we’ve won multiple Stanley Cups and have set incredibly high expectations of the past decade, and now we have to work to get back to that success. Just be patient with us. The results will come.” Something to that effect. Instead of just saying stuff like “I believe in this roster” and “I wouldn’t call it a rebuild”.
Bottom line is Chicago’s going to be a mess in the coming years. There’s going to be pain after all that success they’ve had. How they’ll handle that failure is going to be very interesting, but we’ve now seen the first bit of consequence that took place. One thing is for sure. Quenneville definitely won’t be out of a job for very long with his championship pedigree.
Here’s one coach I’d put, at least, under “coaches on the hot seat”. How about Randy Carlyle? Last I checked, the Anaheim Ducks are on the struggle bus as well with a record of 7-8-3. They are a measly 2-6-2 in their last 10. They’re coming off of a 5-1 blowout loss at the Honda Center against the Minnesota Wild. They have a -11 goal differential, and sit 5th place in what’s been a weak Pacific Division. They are currently tied with the Edmonton Oilers (of all teams) for 17 points. Gives you an idea of how bad things sit at the Duck Pond right now. Of course, they’ve had injuries to deal with but, man. Bob Murray needs to do something because it is not looking good for Ducks fans. And the thing is they have the skill. They have the youth. They have a great goaltender in John Gibson. They just don’t have the right system, and that falls on the coach. Randy Carlyle’s got to go, and I hope Murray sees that or he might have to pack his bags eventually as well. For the time being though, Bob Murray’s safe. Carlyle is not.
Early Season Thoughts
Needless to say, this has been a surprising start to the season. While Carolina had a great start to the season, they’ve started to come down to Earth with a record of 7-7-3. Though it’s still early in the season, Vancouver and Calgary currently sit at first and second place of the Pacific Division, respectively, with the Canucks leading the division. San Jose sits in third. As far as the rest of the division, you have Edmonton in fourth, Anaheim sitting at fifth place, Arizona in sixth, and Vegas and L.A. sitting in seventh and eighth places, respectively.
It’s still early. I’m not going to go over standings much until the playoff implications begin in the second half of the season. As for the Sharks, people are probably surprised that Erik Karlsson hasn’t made near the impact he was expected to make on this team. I’ll be honest. I was a little surprised, especially at this point, that it’s taken this long to gel with the system. Hell, it’s taken this long to even get a goal. He still has yet to put one in the back of the net. That’ll come. Right now, the whole team has to focus on defense first. And honestly, like I said, Peter DeBoer needs to figure something out and fast. I don’t think Doug Wilson is willing to fire him just yet, but you’ve got to think that DeBoer heat is only getting warmer with each loss. Now that Joel Quenneville is available, not saying it’ll happen but you never know in today’s NHL.