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Sturm Gets Real About Sharks’ Season, Why It’s So Important To Be Better Next Year



Credit: San Jose Sharks

If you thought Nico Sturm was blunt in his exit interview last season… buckle up.

Exit Interview: Sturm Details Where He Can Improve, Excited To Play for Germany at Worlds

After setting career highs in goals and assists last season, Sturm—along with most of the San Jose Sharks’ roster—saw less production. In 63 games, the 28-year-old center scored five goals and 13 points, about half the totals he reached in 2022-23.

But, Sturm fits the determined and hard-to-play-against mold that Mike Grier wants from the Sharks. Even more so than last season, Sturm needed to remain a positive example for the youngsters that filled out the Sharks’ roster.

Sturm, bluntly, detailed how the players, coaching staff, and management can help the team improve next season. He also shared the mental toll that a 47-point season can have on a team, especially on himself and the younger players.

Plus, Sturm announced he will represent Germany at the World Championships again.

Sturm, on this San Jose Sharks’ season:

It was really bad.

The first thing we have to do in order to get better is be honest with ourselves. I thought last year, we obviously had a bad season, but I thought for the most part, at least up until the Trade Deadline, we were competitive.

After last season, my goal for this year was to stay in the playoff hunt as long as possible. I didn’t expect us to make playoffs, but I thought we’re going to be more competitive than last year. The reality is, we were worse than last year. So you gotta be honest about that.

I think there were too many nights where we were not competitive. We got blown out, double-digits twice at home in a row. On the road, give up nine in Edmonton. There was just way too many nights where we didn’t look like we belonged on the ice with the other team. And that’s the truth of it.

You have to address these things. You have to be honest with it. If you lie about it, if you think it wasn’t that bad. That’s not how it’s works. We’re never going to get better. It wasn’t nearly good enough. That’s the truth of it.

Sturm, on how the San Jose Sharks can get better:

At the end of the day, it’s like [Mike Grier] said earlier: We each as individuals have to look in the mirror and have to be honest with ourselves if we did the best job that we could do.

For management: It’s did they put the best roster together that they could afford? Coaching: Did they coach us in a way that gives us the most success? Were there things that they could have coached differently? Try a different system that may have worked better?

For us players: First of all, did I come to camp in the way that gave me the best opportunity for success? Did I do everything during the year to help out the team, or did it just collect my paycheck? Did I sleep right? Did I eat right? Did I come in on off days and do extra stuff? What about on the road: Did I go out the night before a game or did I prepare to play the game?

Obviously, the coaching staff stuff and the management stuff, I can’t influence that. But as a player, I can influence all the other stuff that I just mentioned.

Sturm, on remembering how he felt this season during the off-season:

There were nights where I felt embarrassed as a hockey player. Every NHL team over the course of an 82-game season, there’s a game or two where you get blown out. It’s normal, it happens to every team, even the best team in the league, there’s a night where they give up seven goals. That’s normal.

But when it happens on a weekly basis? You don’t feel particularly good about your own game. There’s not a lot of stuff you can take confidence from, so you don’t feel good about your own game anymore. There were too many days, probably… where guys felt like they didn’t want to put on their gear. Not that they were scared, [but] almost anticipating what was [going to happen]. You almost have to drag yourself into the rink at the next morning.

As a journalist, imagine you go to work every day and there’s a journalist across from you that writes a better article 82 days of the year, and they go, “Why don’t you come back tomorrow, try again?” It’s the same thing.

It’s so mentally draining once you get to January or February, there’s nothing to play for standings-wise. I hate that. Then it’s about creating a fake type of atmosphere to keep the spirits up and that’s not very authentic. You want to play for points, you want to play in big games. Detroit just had [their] last three games of the regular season [and] had a chance to squeeze into the playoffs. Those are the types of games you want to be in.

It was mentally draining. It was very hard even for me…I try to do my routine every day, but there were some days where I really had to force myself to come to the rink because it was hard playing for nothing.

Sturm, on the importance of setting a better example for the younger players:

What type of culture are they coming into, who are they going to learn from? Are they going to be coming into a losing culture where you get blown out every night and they see how guys react after games and it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose in this league? Or are they going to come into a group where it’s clear from day one that losing is not acceptable?

Sturm, on keeping a good environment for young players and potentially bringing in more experienced veterans:

You draft another top-three pick this year, when they come in…That’s why I tried to force myself to come to the rink everyday, because I didn’t want to give any of the young guys the impression that it’s okay to slip off.

It’s easy in September and October when everybody’s feeling good, the body is good, and the standings don’t matter so much. It’s much harder to do in January and February, especially when things are tough. Bringing in that type of player, that knows how to do that, with a little bit of experience, and knows how to attack these problems.

It’s hard to be an NHL player. It is. 82 games is long, September-to-April is very long. How do you deal with the ups and downs? How do you keep it even-keel and do it every single day? It’s very hard to do and that’s why I said I tried to force myself every day to be a good example for [William Eklund], for [Thomas Bordeleau], for [Fabian Zetterlund], for the young guys.

Sturm, on how things got harder after trading Tomas Hertl:

Tommy was our best player and that’s the truth of it. We’re not stupid, when you trade away your best player, players know what direction we’re going in. Players read that, they’re not oblivious to the fact that we’re probably not going to be great the rest of the year if you trade away your best player.

All these small things, they all add up and that’s what I mean with finding joy every single day. It gets harder and harder with every single day of the season. Obviously trading away Tommy, it was one of those things.

I understand why, I get why we did it. But it probably doesn’t help your outlook for the rest of the season when you see stuff like that happen.

Sturm, on if the coaching staff struck the balance between being hard on the team, but knowing when to lay off too:

I think they were. They probably have never been in a situation like this. I don’t really know their history, but I would assume they’ve probably never been on a team that struggled that much, so I’m sure it was a new experience for them as well. Just [like it was] for players.

As much as everything sucked, I think they learned a lot too. Not just the players, but I think the coaches did learn a lot too. Because, [this season was] probably the first for all of us and now you know how to handle [these] situations.

Hopefully it won’t get as bad as it was this year, but even if you have a good season–Vegas, I think there was a stretch where they lost eight games, six in a row. How do you address that when you are in a much better team? I think it’s a valuable learning experience even for coaching and the management, I think we all learn.

Sturm, on how much roster change he expects:

I mean, we need a lot of change. I think if you come back with the same constitution, [or] 90-percent same constitution, I don’t see how you would expect much different results.

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