To the surprise of nobody, Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson decided to clean house with his assistant coach positions this offseason, hiring former New Jersey Devils assistant Larry Robinson and ex-Washington Capitals assistant Jim Johnson. Inconsistent specialty teams (including the “Please Not This Again Why Does God Hate Us” penalty kill), along with a general lack of focus on defense, led to McClellan’s right hand men getting a severe shuffle from the front office.
To the surprise of many, however, Sharks assistant coach and powerplay guru Matt Shaw was let go, while Jay Woodcroft, the main in charge of aforementioned God-awful penalty kill, was kept on board. The decision confused many Sharks fans, leaving us to wonder what underlying reasons there may have been behind the move.
First and foremost, it definitely wasn’t numbers. Matt Shaw’s power play consistently outperformed Woodcroft’s penalty kill system over their past three seasons together in San Jose, as detailed below:
Ouch. That pretty much sums it up.
Mclellan’s past working relationship with Woodcroft definitely factored into it. The two have spent six seasons, working alongside each other to create two equally competitive hockey clubs in San Jose and Detroit. I’m sure their history came into play during discussions, and a compromise was probably met.
I’m sure Mclellan had a say in the decision, and while he probably would have wanted to keep his coaching staff for another go, Wilson wasn’t willing (say that three times fast) to risk another repeat of the 2011-12 season.
That compromise likely involved Wilson allowing Woodcroft to stay on providing he is reassigned to video review, the same position he held when working with Mclellan in Detroit. New hires Robinson and Johnson will almost certainly be assigned onto defense and the penalty kill, to hopefully reestablish what was once a dominating system.
The question now remains, however, what will happen to the power play. Many will argue Matt Shaw was merely a placeholder for an elite power play that has effectively run itself the past seven seasons. However, Shaw took a good power play and made it nearly unstoppable. He disassembled the “dump and recover, crash the net until we score” play and made the players focus on passing and setting up plays in the zone. It may not have always worked, but it drastically improved the Sharks’ mediocre passing game. The Sharks’ power play is a primary part of the team’s success, and now runs the risk of lacking structure.
While I’m upset at seeing Shaw take his talents to the Eastern Conference, bringing in Robinson and Johnson to work on this team’s defense is one of Wilson’s best moves he’s made as the Sharks GM. By moving Woodcroft off of a system that isn’t working and bringing in some fresh blood, the Sharks will finally be forced to focus on an area they desperately need to work on. Their defense is in much better hands after this move.
As for their offense, only time will tell.
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