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San Jose Sharks: Is There Any Hope in 2024?

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

“Embarrassing. We weren’t ready to play. Just absolutely freaking embarrassing.”

These were the words spoken by San Jose Sharks’ head coach David Quinn after the Thanksgiving Eve 7-1 loss to the middling Seattle Kraken. The defeat at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, which saw the visitors score four goals in the first 18 minutes, has been described by some pundits as the low point in an already inauspicious San Jose season.

Was it the low point, though? Will the current Pacific Division bottom feeders improve in 2023-24? These are only two of the questions we’ll try to answer.

Rank Outsiders

When offshore sportsbooks released 2023/24’s NHL opening season odds for a Stanley Cup win, the +25000 on offer for a San Jose Sharks victory were the widest odds available for any franchise. Although the Anaheim Ducks and the Montreal Canadiens received the same odds, experts were more optimistic about their chances.

Lyle Fitzsimmons of Bleacher Report summed up the general feeling about San Jose’s chances among pundits and tipsters in the following way:

“Erik Karlsson is gone and so is the reason to watch the Sharks, who will be well-positioned to win the draft lottery but won’t see the Cup without a ticket.”

In short, bookmakers had written the Sharks off. With sports betting regulations in CA outlawing regulated betting, many Californian punters relying on this route for their wagering experiences were likely relieved! Of course, offshore options were still available to those brave bettors wanting to back San Jose, but would they want to use them?

0-10-1

After the NHL season started, oddsmakers were seemingly right. Perhaps they were even being conservative with their opening odds offered. The Sharks’ season began poorly, losing 4-1 to the Vegas Golden Knights at the SAP Center.

Three further home losses followed, including a creditable overtime defeat against the Colorado Avalanche and a 6-3 undoing by the Stanley Cup favorites, the Carolina Hurricanes. With five away games to come, a 0-3-1 start at home and a -9 goal differential would not likely change any critics’ minds about the state of the Sharks.

It didn’t get any better on their first road trip of the year, a five-gamer.

As anticipated, San Jose’s travels brought further distress, as the Sharks lost all five encounters away from home. The manner of the defeats against the Nashville Predators (5-1) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (6-0) were particularly concerning, and the Sharks returned home with a 0-8-1 record.

Clearly deflated by the season’s start, the San Jose franchise promptly suffered two more losses at the SAP Center, conceding double-figure goal counts in both. This was the first time since the 1965-66 Boston Bruins that a team had given up double-digit goals in back-to-back games.

If the opposition had been among the preseason favorites, these results, although not acceptable, could have been anticipated.

Yes, the Vancouver Canucks (10-1) are now displaying Western Conference-topping form, but the Pittsburgh Penguins (10-2) were, and are, far from a top team in the Eastern Conference. With the season barely into November, the San Jose Sharks had started 0-10-1, and pundits were beginning to draw comparisons with the nightmare 11-71-2 season back in 1992/93.

At this stage, the Sharks had hit rock bottom and, even considering the 7-1 Kraken reversal to come, were likely at the low point of their 2023-24 season. Any positive performance, result withstanding, would offer encouragement going forward.

Further Blues in November

Conceding 20 goals in two home games may have shocked the Sharks’ system, as the team followed up the heavy defeats with two much-needed positive performances. Consecutive single-goal home wins against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers even sparked talks of a mini-revival among some San Jose fans.

Both results were especially encouraging in context, as the Oilers were among the pre-season Stanley Cup favorites with odds of +1000, and the Flyers had started the season well, scoring 26 goals in the five preceding games. Could these results be the tonic the Sharks needed to improve its season?

Mid to late November results cooled fan enthusiasm somewhat as a solitary victory, against the St. Louis Blues, split six more defeats. The Sharks slipped to 3-15-2 with this poor run entrenching the San Jose franchise at the bottom of the Western Conference’s Pacific Division. Surely, offshore bookmakers were content with the opening season odds they’d offered.

A Mini-Revival?

Following the last of the six November defeats mentioned, an overtime reversal against an over-performing Montreal Canadiens unit, the San Jose Sharks’ goalscoring and results improved from late in the month.

Granted, the franchise didn’t string together any notable winning streaks, with only two consecutive positive results at any time, but the signs were more promising. San Jose’s early December form was an encouraging 4-1-1, with a positive goal ratio for a significant stretch for the first time in the season.

This promising period bettered the Sharks’ overall season record to a slightly healthier-looking 9-17-3. On this evidence, a mini-revival was taking place in San Jose. But then?

Back to the Beginning

A narrow defeat by the Arizona Coyotes on the road on Dec. 15 precipitated a streak of five losses, which, at the time of writing, continues. The early season habit of conceding goals has returned to the Sharks camp, with 22 finding the San Jose net in the four games since that Arizona whitewashing. Although the franchise is now scoring more, the defensive demons haunting it means finding solutions are needed. Fast.

With a 9-22-3 season record, the San Jose Sharks franchise desperately needs positive change. With the much healthier-positioned Ottawa Senators having recently parted ways with longtime head coach D.J. Smith, should questions be raised about the future of David Quinn?

Or maybe they’ll find some answers in the AHL, where prospects Danil Gushchin and Thomas Bordeleau and Shakir Mukhamadullin are flourishing.

Or maybe hope will be found in the Draft lottery, where the Sharks are hoping for a shot at presumptive first-overall pick Macklin Celebrini. Their NHL-worst record puts them in the driver’s seat there.

With the Sharks conceding more goals than any other NHL outfit in 2023-24, any change in fortune will likely require change somewhere else first.

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