• Elite Hockey Experience
 

San Jose Sharks 2018-19 Season Recap

2019-05-26

When the San Jose Sharks committed to a full-scale rebuild back in 2017, there were no promises that it would be a quick or enjoyable process. At the time, general manager Kyle Phillips was up front about his intentions, explaining that the path to a competitive future would require some bumps along the way.

And there were bumps, to be sure. The new GM and his staff wasted little time purging the roster of veteran players, accumulating all the youngsters, prospects, and draft picks they could muster. The result? A system full of good-but-not great future assets, and a team that finished seventh in the Pacific Division, 27th in the league, and a whopping 25 points out of a playoff spot. 

In a sense, then, Year 1 of the rebuild actually went according to the plan that had been laid out. Even still, the organization didn't get themselves off the hook just by being upfront in their messaging. Local fans and media showed patience through a trying season, but Year 2 would need to prove there were better days ahead.


Though the EHE Entry Draft takes place well before training camps open each year, the current Sharks regime refer to it as the unofficial start of their season, such is the importance they place on building through the draft. To that end, much of their first year had been devoted to acquiring draft picks, and with 9 selections over 5 rounds at the 2018 event, the organization was able to kick off its season by adding plenty of bodies to its prospect pool. And beyond just raw numbers, grabbing defenseman Quinn Hughes with the fifth overall pick gave the franchise a desperately-needed infusion of star potential.

Unfortunately, what came next that summer would cast serious doubt on the competence of the team's management group: Taking a bold but ill-considered dive into the restricted free agent market, the Sharks inadvertently cost themselves first and third-round picks in 2019 as compensation for successfully signing RFA winger Nikolay Goldobin. Given  that the Sharks were projected to once again finish near the bottom of the league standings, losing their own first rounder was a hammer blow.

Sticking to a philosophy of accountability to the fans, Phillips would later explain that he was personally responsible for misinterpreting the league's CBA; the resulting error in the wording of the offer sheet pushed the required compensation above the 2nd round pick he had been prepared to sacrifice.

This mea culpa was commendable, but the damage had been done. Most of the goodwill accumulated over Phillips's short tenure evaporated in an instant, and suddenly Year 2 of the rebuild looked like it might be nothing more than one big damage control operation. 


After the self-inflicted wound that was the Goldobin fiasco, Phillips spent the rest of the offseason making moves that seemed counterproductive for a rebuilding team. He dished out big money in unrestricted free agency, luring top-pairing defenseman Jared Spurgeon to the Bay Area, while Artem Anisimov and Ryan Miller were also added on surprisingly rich contracts to solidify the depth chart. That spending spree was followed up by a pair of trades that saw some picks and prospects shipped out for pending UFAs Kyle Okposo and Brenden Dillon.

To their credit, once the puck officially dropped on the 2018-19 campaign, the Sharks players looked unaffected by any inconsistencies at the SJSEE offices. Buoyed by all the new additions—and the routine brilliance of Sergei Bobrovsky—they jumped out to a 12-6-2 record through the first 20 games, and much like in the previous season, surprised many with their strong play in the early going.

Unlike in 2017-18, however, the team didn't fall into a coma immediately after the final verse of Auld Lang Syne had crossed their lips. As January rolled along and the halfway mark of the season arrived, Head Coach Dave Hakstol had guided his squad to a 21-16-4 record, good enough for third spot in the Pacific. Phillips, meanwhile, continued to wheel and deal, moving even more futures (including Nikolay Goldobin, ironically enough) to add Nino Niederreiter from the Winnipeg Jets in an attempt to boost his squad's mediocre offense. 

With the way things were going, fans had reason to believe their GM had accelerated the rebuild and decided to push for the postseason well ahead of schedule.

Sadly, they would soon learn otherwise.


As the schedule marched on, the Sharks were performing better than anyone could have expected. They were one of the league's stingiest defensive outfits, the new players were fitting in well, and, with a few exceptions, the group kept manufacturing just enough offense to stay competitive.

And yet, despite the team's strong play, and despite having traded away a fair number of future assets in an ostensible bid for the playoffs, in March the front office doubled down on the scorched earth approach that had been their calling card for nearly two years.

In a span of just 16 days, the team shipped out (or acquired and then flipped) a list of quality veterans that included Brady Skjei, Sami Vatanen, Derek Grant, and Chris Tanev, as well as offseason additions Anisimov, Okposo, and Miller. League insiders also confirmed that there were trade negotiations centered on Brenden Dillon, Mathieu Perreault, and virtually every low-end depth player on the roster.

Almost unbelievably, Bobrovsky's name also surfaced in the rumor mill, despite the fact he had been named to a third straight All-Star game and was in the midst of a Vezina-worthy season—to say nothing of his status as the long standing face of the franchise.

To the shock of no one, this flurry of moves and innuendo kicked off a horrible run of results, and the Sharks staggered through an 11-game winless stretch heading into the trade deadline. After such a promising few months, fans could only watch in horror as the team compiled a 13-26-2 record over the second half, plummeting out of the playoff picture and straight into the Draft Lottery conversation—a lottery in which their GM had already given away his only ticket.


And so, Year 2 of the San Jose Sharks rebuild ultimately looked an awful lot like Year 1. The team finished with a record of 34-42-6, leaving them 6th in the Pacific Division, 25th in the league, and 16 points out of the playoffs—all marginal improvements on the previous season, but still miles away from EHE relevance. Perhaps the worst thing, however, was the lingering sense that 2018-19 will be remembered as a missed opportunity, given how well things had gone over the first half.

Of course, there are some encouraging signs moving forward: the organization has built a critical mass of NHL talent down on the farm, which will have numerous knock-on benefits; holding seven picks at the 2019 Entry Draft can only be a positive, even if those picks fall in the later rounds; and the addition of youngsters Quinn Hughes, Christian Wolanin, and Travis Dermott augers well for the future of the blueline, especially in concert with the continued ascent of Josh Morrissey.

But no matter how one characterizes the Sharks' 2018-19 season as a whole, the simple fact is that it raised more questions than answers. Is the team actually improving? Will the front office gut the roster again at the next trade deadline? Will they continue to shop their superstar goalie? How will this franchise acquire star players without any first round picks in the next two drafts? And most important of all—is this management group even up to the monumental task they set out for themselves?

Unfortunately for Sharks fans, these questions and more can only hang in the air over another long offseason in San Jose.