2011-12 San Jose Sharks: Shakeup Needed to End Struggles

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2011-12 San Jose Sharks: Shakeup Needed to End Struggles
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Todd McLellan, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton must get more out of this team the rest of this month

The San Jose Sharks are 2-5-2 in their last nine games. They have scored just 11 goals in those losses and just 20 in the last 10 contests, in large part because the power play is 2-for-29 in that stretch.

Losing streaks happen, even to great teams. The Sharks are just a half-game behind the Dallas Stars for the Pacific Division lead, so there is no reason to panic.

Yet.

But it is time for this team to be shaken up. It is not as much about their struggles as it is why they are struggling.

The Sharks almost never play a 60-minute game. Their work ethic is terrible.

Being out-shot by a team that had the puck less is bad, and having fewer blocks than a team that out-shot you is worse. Both happened against the slumping, inexperienced Colorado Avalanche.

San Jose has been out-hit almost every game this season. Some of that is to be expected because they are a puck possession team—you cannot register hits when you do not have the puck. But being out-hit 30-9 Tuesday was ridiculous considering the Sharks had only 11 more possessions than the Avs.

Of course, if the Sharks laid more wood on their opponents, they would take more trips to the penalty box. That would be devastating given their 74.4 percent penalty kill, second-worst in the NHL.

But the problem on both special teams simply underscores that the team is being out-worked. Despite claims by the Sharks-employed broadcasters (such as in my interview with Randy Hahn), this has been a consistent problem for some time.

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Is it the environment? California is laid back, but the Anaheim Ducks won a Cup with a far-less fervent fan-base.

So what should the Sharks do to motivate the team?

Firing a coach only works if you are the New Jersey Devils or if there is another out there clearly better. One could argue that Randy Carlyle qualifies, and he would certainly add some grit to this team.

This begs the question: Is the current coach to blame? Since these issues were also there under Ron Wilson, the answer would seem to be no.

Replacing the general manager during the season is not going to change the team's direction. Doug Wilson has continually tinkered with this roster and made it competitive enough to win five division titles, a President's Trophy and nine playoff series in seven seasons. But if Wilson does not get something done this season, someone else should be given the reins next year.

Is it the current roster? Only Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray remain from the first post-lockout season when these problems started surfacing.

You could say the problem lies with Patty and Joe, neither of whom is a fiery guy and both of whom have had their heart questioned, even by former teammates. But Patty was captain of the team that overachieved the season before the lockout, just two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.

So it is all Joe's fault? Losing is never the fault of one player, and certainly not the one that was arguably the team's best in last year's playoffs.

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But players always seem enamored with their skill and lack the intensity necessary to win in May.

In six of seven seasons during Wilson's tenure, the Sharks have finished the season strong. But they had dug themselves holes because they played without urgency in October and November.

A trade is a drastic move, because the only kind that will change the culture of the team is a blockbuster one that is likely to disrupt chemistry. That is not the kind of move a team that was in the conference finals two years in a row wants to make.

First, the team needs to change the line combinations, and Todd McLellan is doing that. But continually making changes is only keeping players from developing chemistry—at some point, he needs to settle on a combination and be willing to tinker more with those out on special teams.

In my next installment of this series, I will outline the forward combinations I would use for the six-game home stand that ends the month. If these do not bring about the needed changes, the next step will be trading role-players.

Only if both fail should the team consider either a replacement on the bench or a blockbuster trade.

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