And so she takes
Tells the moon to wait
And the sun to linger
Twist the world
Round her summer finger
SJ Merc: Purdy: Have Sharks’ offseason moves made them a playoff team?
NHL roster departures: Antii Niemi, Scott Hannan, Matt Irwin, John Scott
NHL roster additions: Martin Jones, Paul Martin, Joel Ward
Is all of that going to be enough for a major boost in the standings? One of The Hockey News’ numerical meat grinders performed some calculations using the WAR (wins-against-replacement) statistic and declared that as a team, the Sharks have so far had the NHL’s second-best offseason in terms of boosting their victory expectations.
By the WAR metric, the Sharks have added 3.3 wins to their roster compared with a year ago. Only the Buffalo Sabres did better, with an addition of 4.4 wins.
And even with an additional 3.3 wins purely by these personnel changes, the Sharks still would not have made the playoffs in the 2014-15 season, being 10 points out (so needing those 6 WAR points AND at least five more from somewhere).
What needs to happen for the Sharks to return to the playoffs? And is that enough to be a realistic contender for the Stanley Cup?
The Sharks will have to improve from within or upgrade the players further, plus get their mojo and fans back, to accomplish either. (Or multiple teams ahead of them in the standings will have to fall back.)
First, the WAR metric does not address the issues of no captain and a new coach.
At the Sharks STH town hall (and reiterated in 7/23 radio interview), new head coach Peter DeBoer indicated the team will have a captain before the start of the season. So any issues with fractured leadership should be a thing of the past. (But from the outside, I don’t think that leadership by committee was that big a deficit.) However, a single leader will allow the team to focus on supporting and following one man, and stop the speculation and distraction from not having one. Very hard to discern the difference this will make.
A new coach and staff will bring new ideas to the team and play on the ice. The Sharks defensive play and PK are two areas that need to provide improve. (There are rumors that one or more additional assistant coaches will be added to the mix, so until that is finalized, and each coach’s responsibilities know, it’s just a guess as to what the team can accomplish with the new staff.)
Second, the WAR metric does not address the issue of a healthy Raffi Torres.
Torres may help the team draw more penalties with his abrasive style. In 2014-15, the Sharks drew 852 minutes of penalties, and had an efficacy rate 6th in the league at 21.6%. In 2013-14, the Sharks drew 921 minutes of penalties, but only had an efficacy 20th in the league at 17.2%. So, in 14-15, even though they drew less penalties than the previous season, they got more results. But with a healthy, Torres, they could increase the number of man advantage opportunities, and if they improve PP% further, they could add goals, leading to more wins.
In 14-15, Sharks had 31 one-goal games, including 9 regulation losses, and 15 that needed extra time. In 13-14, the Sharks had 43 one-goal games, 9 regulation losses, and 22 that needed extra time. So, those extra goals can help with those one-goal game deficits.
Third, the WAR metric does not address the mindset (and culture) of the team.
After their 2014 playoff fall out, some pundits have speculated that the malaise that precipitated it continued into the new season. The team’s confidence definitely took a drop this past season.
Having clear leadership with a new captain, and a new voice and style from the coaching staff, may be exactly what is needed to revitalize and reinvigorate the psyches of the players and restore and renew the confidence that deteriorated.
Update 7/25: Couture mentions that he and other players will be motivated after a playoff miss.
Fourth, the WAR metric does not address the impact of fan support of the team.
The Sharks are known for a big home rink advantage, but 2014-15 definitely did not have it. Way before their February 2015 swoon, when the Sharks had no home wins for the month, their fan support was waning.
In 2014-15, the Sharks were tied for 10th with 18 home ROWs (regulation, overtime wins) and had one SOW (shoot out win). In 2013-14, the Sharks were tied for 4th with 24 home ROWs, plus had five SOWs.
In 2014-15, the Sharks had only 24 sell outs. In 2013-14, they sold out their full season.
And what fans were there for home games in the 2015 calendar year, often voiced their displeasure at the home team based on the on-ice results (regardless of who was to blame: players, coaches, GM, owner, etc., which is beyond the scope of this article). Excluding some diehards, the arena often was half empty or more by the end of a losing game.
Thousands of season ticket holders did not renew their seats for the upcoming season (based on observed available seats at the select-a-seat event). Especially with the INCREASE in Sharks STH pricing. The team has not announced (that I recall seeing) the STH retention %, nor the number of new STH.
Regardless of the changes made to date, I still get the sense that many fans are not happy that the ownership retained the GM, much less the ticket price increase.
Even with the lure of the 25th anniversary season, it may be that the team does not sell out at home and get the full support of the fans behind them until they prove themselves on the ice.
(It won’t help attendance that the newly relocated AHL Barracuda will be sharing the arena and may be the focus of some Sharks fans on the future “stars” of the NHL team, rather than many of the aging stars of the current NHL roster that has not produced. This hockey option will be a much more affordable one compared to the NHL ticket pricing.)
Expectations from those external to the organization may be lessened with most pundits thinking there’s no way the Sharks can return to the playoffs after just a handful of player and coaching moves.
Internal expectations and goals are still high (that the team will be able to make the playoffs AND go far).
What the reality will be won’t be known until the “opening night” roster is set and the puck drops on a new season.
But there is hope that the 25th Anniversary season 2015-2016 could be the best yet.
(And GM Wilson’s oft repeated mantra: he’s always looking to improve the team. And he’ll work on the 2015-16 roster until the trade deadline.)