It’s no secret that the 2019-20 season didn’t go as planned for the San Jose Sharks. Starting out the season 16-17-2 under veteran head coach Peter DeBoer, general manager Doug Wilson relieved DeBoer of his duties and named assistant coach and former NHL defenseman Bob Boughner as interim head coach. The Sharks record under Boughner was just 14-20-3—not exactly an improvement on paper. Missing the playoffs for just the second time in 14 seasons, Wilson is left with a tough decision: is Boughner the right coach for the 2020-21 San Jose team?
Team Improvement Despite Missing Top Players
Boughner, nicknamed The Boogieman, did the best with what he had. Under his tenure, the Sharks’ defense saw significant improvement and the offense stayed practically stagnant despite being plagued by injuries to key offensive players like Tomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson, and Logan Couture. Missing Evander Kane for a three-game suspension and trading Brenden Dillon, Barclay Goodrow, and Patrick Marleau didn’t necessarily help, either.
Despite these setbacks, the Sharks improved defensively from allowing 3.42 five-on-five goals per hour to just 2.44. The team’s Fenwick, a statistic that measures shot attempt differential at even strength, also improved by 1.52% after DeBoer left. Offensively, despite missing much of the top two lines, the Sharks regressed just 0.11 goals per hour under Boughner and actually improved in expected goals-for percentage from 25th to 9th in the league. (from “Sharks interim coach Bob Boughner is ‘planning on being back’ next season,” The Athletic—03/19/2020) In other words, the Sharks actually improved statistically in many respects, regardless of their record under DeBoer, who had to make do with a handicapped team.
The Boogieman’s History in San Jose
Boughner also has the advantage of being an insider. In his first run as a defensive assistant coach from 2015-17, he was largely credited with helping Brent Burns transition from a good offensive defenseman into a Norris Trophy finalist in 2016 and winner in 2017 despite being a forward just a few years prior. (from ‘Bob Boughner’s return to the Sharks was a ‘no brainer’ move after his head-coaching tenure in Florida ended,’ The Athletic, 06/24/2019) With his stats taking a dip this year, giving Boughner a larger role may help reignite Burns’ offensive prowess as well as those of his two-time Norris winning peer, Erik Karlsson.
Related: Sharks With 100-Point Seasons
With the Sharks allowing the most goals against of any team not named the Detroit Red Wings, the team needs a defensive minded head coach like Boughner. Peter Laviolette, the former Nashville Predators head coach and another available name that meets these qualifications, could be another attractive option.
Boughner has one key advantage on coaches like Laviolette: rapport. He has been to the Stanley Cup Final with the majority of the roster, has been instrumental in some of their personal careers, and the players seem to adore him. After he was fired from the Florida Panthers, for example, Couture tweeted a desire for Boughner to return.
With the presupposition that Wilson isn’t entering the rebuilding phase and is instead opting to keep the core of the Sharks’ engine going as long as possible, Boughner is their best available option. Wilson has stated repeatedly that he thinks the core of this team is a serious contender; if that’s the case, he wouldn’t want to mess with it too much and that includes the coaching. A coach with rapport will give the team a better shot in the playoffs than bringing in a new coach with a whole new system and style.
The Expectations for the 2020-21 Season and How They Get There
The expectations for the Sharks are set pretty high. When the Sharks didn’t qualify for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they rebounded the next season and pushed to the Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. Hasso Plattner, the team’s owner, recently stated “Doug (Wilson) has a long history of leading our team to success. The last time we failed to meet our winning standards in the 2014-15 season, we were able to quickly rebound and re-establish a winning culture for the next several years… I am supportive of Doug’s plan to get our team back on track.”
Since Wilson’s plan maintains faith in the current roster and suggests that the 29-36-5 season was just a fluke, Boughner’s defensive-minded style, statistical improvements, and experience with the team suggest that he is the best coach to get them back to the Cup as soon as possible.