Burnside’s Burns: Are the San Jose Sharks hockey’s most dysfunctional franchise?
It seems somehow unfair that seemingly seconds after the Colorado Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup since 2001 early last week, the epic ’22 playoffs became an afterthought. That’s what happens when the NHL Draft appears almost immediately on the hockey horizon with 32 teams prepared to gather in person for the first time in three years (thanks COVID) in Montreal later this week.
Maybe all off-seasons are wacky, but to us it just seems what lies ahead for the 32 clubs, with the draft Thursday and Friday and then free agency set for July 13 less than a week later, is more super-charged this summer than in the past.
So, yes, we’ve got stuff to get off our chest.
So, where were we?
Julien BriseBois is The Man. Full stop.
Was there ever any worry that BriseBois would find a way to free up enough cap space to (likely) return Ondrej Palat to the Lightning fold? By peddling veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh to Nashville, the Lightning have cleared more than $4 million in cap space and could clear more if they end up buying out Philippe Myers, who came in Sunday’s big deal, although that doesn’t sound like it’s part of the plan. The trade should go a long way to retaining top-line winger Palat, who is a pending UFA and a key piece of the Bolts’ core. Assuming Palat stays in the fold, along with the deal to lock up Nick Paul (see below), BriseBois continues to cement his place as the NHL’s top GM and guarantee the Bolts remain very much in the Cup picture.
Preds don’t get younger but get serious
I have to admit I didn’t like McDonagh’s playoff performance too much. But any drop-off in play – and there was a drop-off – has to be weighted against the fact McDonagh was playing through injury. If he can get back to the level we saw him play at in 2020 and 2021 when he helped Tampa to back-to-back Stanley Cups, McDonagh is going to be an important part of the Predators’ blueline, although the cap implications – four more years at $6.75 million per – are daunting. Still, the Preds have always been led by their blueline, and McDonagh, 33, is a critical part of a deep and experienced group with Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, both 32. McDonagh will add experience and snarl to an already very physical team, and those three veterans provide a nice counterbalance to youngsters Dante Fabro, 24, Alexander Carrier, 25, and Jeremy Lauzon, 25. Does the move signal to pending UFA Filip Forsberg the Predators aren’t taking the rebuild route? It should.
Nick Paul cashes in
For all the talk of speed and skill and how those qualities dominate the NHL, the Nick Paul signing in Tampa reminds us that winning is a never-ending exercise in puzzle-solving. Some folks poked fun at Tampa’s bestowing a seven-year deal on a player who has registered just 34 NHL goals. First, Tampa doesn’t beat Toronto without Nick Paul, who scored twice in Game 7 of the first round. And, second, his versatility over the next seven years will help Tampa remain very much in contender mode. His deal, with a $3.15 million cap hit, mirrors pretty much a deal signed in New York by Barclay Goodrow after he’d helped Tampa to two straight Cup wins in ’20 and ’21. Actually the Paul deal looks a little better, frankly, given Paul is two years younger and comes in at about half a million dollars cheaper on annual average than Goodrow. Still, both have proven to be critical pieces to building winning rosters, and every single NHL team is on the lookout for players exactly like them. In short, good teams know that value isn’t just on the scoring line.
Hall of Fame thoughts, Part I
First, so pleased to see Herb Carnegie’s name included in the builder category for the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022. He was a trailblazer on and off the ice. Carnegie’s legacy as a champion for equal rights for young athletes continues to resonate even though he passed away a decade ago. I spoke to Carnegie’s daughter Bernice for a piece I wrote earlier this season about the Carnegie Initiative in advance of its groundbreaking summit in Boston. I’ll admit I knew little of Carnegie’s story and how former Maple Leaf owner Conn Smythe once opined that he’d pay someone $10,000 to make Carnegie, who was Black, white so that Smythe could have him on the Leafs. And I knew little of the educational impact Carnegie had on young athletes for decades in Ontario. So kudos to the Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee for making an important selection, one that not only honors Carnegie’s legacy but will allow hockey fans everywhere to familiarize themselves with an important piece of hockey’s racial history.
Hall of Fame thoughts, Part II
Here’s the problem with discussing the Hall of Fame’s annual induction selections. It’s difficult to debate the pros and cons without seeming churlish and without the discussion devolving into personal attacks. So let’s start with our deep appreciation for the careers of Daniel Alfredsson and the Sedin twins Daniel and Henrik, all three of whom were consummate professionals throughout. But the fact that all three found their way into the Hall of Fame ahead of, in my mind, more deserving players like Rod Brind’Amour and Alexander Mogilny is just a little disappointing. And the fact that the twins go in as a package deal as they were treated throughout their career from the moment they were drafted second and third overall (Daniel then Henrik) seems, well, just a tad gimmicky. Both won significant individual awards, Daniel winning the Ted Lindsay Award and the Art Ross Trophy and Henrik winning the Hart and the Art Ross Trophies. But neither won a Stanley Cup and both appeared in just one Final.
They tallied fewer points than Brind’Amour, who won a Cup as captain of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 and two Selke Trophies. Mogilny it can be argued was among the most electrifying players of his generation, winning a Cup in 2000 with the New Jersey Devils, collecting 1,032 points in 990 regular season games and 86 more in the playoffs in 120 games. Alfredsson probably slots in behind the Sedins in terms of career accomplishments, although he did win rookie of the year honors. All three Swedes were iconic figures in their respective markets of Vancouver and Ottawa. But were they any more critical to building something meaningful in those cities than Brind’Amour was in Raleigh? No. In short, I have zero issue with the Sedins and Alfredsson being honored as they will be in November – it’s just the timing that is in question and, as they say, timing is everything.
Don’t look now, but we might have a new candidate for most dysfunctional franchise in the NHL, and it’s the San Jose Sharks. A team that still hasn’t managed to find a GM more than three months after Doug Wilson stepped down from his long-time role with the Sharks somehow managed to wait a full two months after the end of the regular season to decide they needed a new head coach, firing Bob Boughner a few days before the draft. Just the optics of cleaning out the coaching staff while you’re in the final throes of hiring a new GM is terrible, not to mention screwing Boughner out of a legitimate chance to land a job somewhere else had the team had its act together, oh, in May. If the argument is none of the final candidates, all of whom could have been hired long before now, were interested in bringing Bob Boughner and his staff back, fair enough. But shouldn’t that decision be made by the new GM and not the cobbled-together group running the ship in San Jose?
Multiple sources have told us that it was clear to ownership long before Wilson stepped down that they were going to need a change at the top, and yet the Sharks look to head into the draft without a GM or with one hired literally hours before the most important time of any team’s off-season, especially a team in tatters organizationally like the Sharks. Inexcusable. A team that as recently as 2018 was in the Western Conference Final – and might have won had they not been laid low by a series of critical injuries before and during their series against St. Louis – is now a bottom feeder that seems destined to not only miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season in 2022-23 but contend for a lottery pick in the 2023 draft. And maybe that’s the plan: make such a hash of all of this that they line up nicely for Connor Bedard next summer. Sad for a franchise that for years was the epitome of consistency and quality.
Pressure on the Prairie
Is there a team that faces as much uncertainty as the Winnipeg Jets heading into the off-season? After being rebuffed by Manitoban Barry Trotz who is taking a year away from the grind, the Jets have settled on Rick Bowness as their new head coach. It’s an interesting hire and already there is lots of talk about whether this is a long-term solution or a stop-gap answer for the Jets. Even before the end of the regular season, sources indicated the Dallas Stars were planning to move on from Bowness, who had come on in relief of Jim Montgomery following Montgomery’s firing early in the 2019-20 season. Bowness guided Dallas to a surprise berth in the bubble Final in ’20, and while some young players like Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz flourished under Bowness, others like Denis Gurianov did not. Regardless, the Stars were prepared months ago to move on, and it did appear as though Bowness, 67, was preparing to retire after a stellar NHL coaching career that began in 1984 in Winnipeg as an assistant. Given the shelf life of NHL coaches these days, maybe Bowness’s age is a red herring and the bigger question is whether Bowness can get this often fractious group to fly right. If he can, that will certainly mute the talk of being a simple placeholder in Winnipeg.
What to make of Pierre-Luc Dubois
Speaking of the Jets, I can’t really recall a parallel to Pierre-Luc Dubois, who has already pouted his way out of one market – Columbus – and has now made it clear he will be testing free agency, not next season, but in two seasons. What is that even about? If Dubois had set the world on fire in Winnipeg, you know, as in helping them into the playoffs, maybe you’d be willing to cut him some slack. But he’s been an up and down kind of player since Columbus selected him third overall in 2016. He was mostly up on an underachieving Jets team this season, scoring 28 goals, and he’s still only 24, so I get why GMs might be interested in testing the waters on the big center, who is a restricted free agent this off-season and UFA in the summer of 2024. But is he really a guy around whom you could build a team? Is he a true core guy? Is someone who is already charting a possibly different course two years down the road really someone you can count on in the clutch? Seems like a classic case of buyer beware on ‘PLD.’
List-O-Mania Part 1: Players that may produce seller’s regret
Martin Necas, Carolina
Yes Necas, suffered through a miserable regular season (14 goals, 40 points) and a worse post-season (0 goals, 5 points). But Necas, a restricted free agent who was selected 12th overall in 2017, is just 23. Has he developmentally hit a wall or do the Hurricanes simply need to continue to be patient with the smooth-skating, skilled forward? It’s a critical question for one of the best teams in the league when it comes to identifying and developing talent. A short-term deal at a modest number should fit both sides here, but if the team believes it’s time to move on, the return with his stock at a low ebb can’t possibly match Necas’s potential and may represent an absolute steal for an acquiring team.
Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers
Another RFA, Kakko is just 21 but falls into a similar category as Necas as both the Rangers and Hurricanes are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and need to find out if or how underperforming prospects like Kakko and Necas fit into their big plans. Kakko was the second overall pick in 2019, so it’s way too early to say he’s not working out even if, well, he’s not working out. The problem for the Rangers is that they are ahead of the Cup development curve and have a plethora of other young stars like Alexis Lafreniere, K’Andre Miller, Filip Chytil and Braden Schneider to keep in the fold and critical holes to fill in the forward corps via trade or free agency. Those dynamics might make Kakko expendable and our feeling is, wherever he lands, he’s going to show why he was the No. 2 pick.
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton
The ups and downs in Puljujarvi’s short career arc with the Oilers have been crazy, but the fact is Puljujarvi is still just a kid at 24. And he’s big, moves pretty well, plays both sides of the puck well and while he has shown maddeningly brief flashes of elite offensive skills, he’s still a player that has the potential to go somewhere else and become a very productive top-nine if not top-six forward (like in Carolina maybe?). That’s if he doesn’t stay in Edmonton and do just that for the team that selected him fourth overall in 2016. For a team that has made a hash out of drafting, developing and keeping its young talent, it seems like Puljujarvi, a restricted free agent, is poised to be another one that fell through the cracks in Edmonton.
Nicolas Hague, Vegas
The Golden Knights have mismanaged their way into the middle of salary cap hell, and while they’d prefer not to, one way of alleviating the cap crunch might be in moving the 23-year-old Hague. The kid has impressed, especially when injuries along the Vegas blueline forced him into more complex situations. He’s got size at 6-foot-6, he can shoot the puck, and while he’s a restricted free agent he’s not going to break the bank. He’s the kind of player who can easily grow from a 4-5-6 guy into a top-four role.
List-O-Mania Part II: Way too early picks for teams on the rise
Los Angeles Kings
Love the Kevin Fiala deal really for both the Kings and the Wild. But there is something solid and real about the way the Kings have pushed themselves back into the discussion in the Western Conference. Love the competition that looms for the Kings’ many promising young forwards.
We won’t overstate things for the Sabres, who aren’t going to overtake Florida, Tampa or Toronto next season in the Atlantic Division. But is this an exciting, talented young team led by breakout star Tage Thompson (38 goals), capable of putting the heat on Boston for a look at fourth and maybe a shot at a wild card spot? If GM Kevyn Adams can find the right goaltending partner for Craig Anderson and the defense matures even a little bit, yes. And is there a fan base in the sporting world that deserves some good vibes more than long-suffering Sabre fans? Asked and answered.
The Canucks under Bruce Boudreau were playing at a playoff clip after he was brought in to replace Travis Green. Getting Brock Boeser under contract was key and you know the new management team led by Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin has some tricks up its sleeve come the draft and free agency. Guaranteed. The Pacific Division remains in a state of flux and we’re expecting the Canucks to be very much in the playoff discussion next spring.
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