We’ve used the terms “clean slate” and “fresh start” an awful lot in reference to how Peter DeBoer and the San Jose Sharks would enter their 2015-16 campaign.
Now, with training camp officially underway, we can finally start seeing those terms get implemented into the team’s psyche. Even in light of this being training camp, where every team in the NHL has some sort of a clean whiteboard to work with.
“I think that’s the mindset every player has to have every year when training camp starts,” Tommy Wingels explained when asked about entering the season with a new head coach, and new play-makers working for a roster spot. “I don’t think you can expect to be in a certain position based on the previous year. You’ve got to re-earn it every single year.”
Sure, any player or coach will tell you that every camp gives a new start. But even after just one full team practice, the effects of DeBoer and his new coaching staff are already noticeable.
“I think Pete has come in and made it clear that what you did in the past doesn’t matter,” Wingels continued. “You’ve got to earn your opportunity this year. And that’s kind of where this organization is at.”
That’s big praise. Never mind coming into a brand new season where the sky’s the limit. The players who served under Todd McLellan for multiple seasons are also learning a new brand of hockey on top of that.
“There are differences,” Joe Thornton admitted, before adding, “but it’s still hockey. You still have to go out there and play.”
Not to say that there isn’t pressure, even with the Sharks’ most familiar faces. “We’re all starting fresh,” Patrick Marleau admitted. “You have to build relationships.”
It’s not just about establishing a good rapport with the new head honcho — there’s some give-and-take. Signs point to DeBoer already adding attributes to the organization that the players are eager to implement. The word “aggressive” was used frequently throughout Day 1 of camp to describe DeBoer’s coaching style. Marleau called the first full team practice “high-tempo.” Joe Pavelski said DeBoer brought “an intensity, and a focus.”
Joel Ward, who played against DeBoer plenty of times in the Eastern Conference, had an interesting perspective on playing for a “gritty” coach after years of facing his teams.
“It’s a tough team to play against. They get pucks out of their zone fast,” the newly-acquired forward recalled. “It’s a lot of getting pucks out of your own zone, as fast as you can. I remember that from Pete’s teams. They don’t give you a whole lot.”
Before anyone gets too hopped up on that “everything is changing” hype, keep this in mind: DeBoer has no intention of doing a complete overhaul of Team Teal’s dynamic. This was evident right from the first day of practice, when we saw similar line combinations during drills. Wingels was seen skating on Chris Tierney’s wing along with Matt Nieto — resembling one of the many third line combos we saw San Jose roll out last season. There was even a shadow of a top line from season’s past, when Pavelski and Thornton skated together.
If it ain’t broke …
Despite putting his own spin on the Sharks, DeBoer isn’t going to “fix” something for no reason, and that includes good chemistry.
“Not everything here is broken,” he explained. “ We are going to concentrate on the areas that we think need fixing right away. And there are some things that are really good here, and that includes the chemistry.”
It’s true, acknowledging where chemistry already exists allows the team to add depth. For example: One glaring hole in San Jose’s game last season was on defense. By adding Paul Martin to pair with Brent Burns on the blue line, that allows Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun to work together more fluidly.
“It’s nice as a d-man, and d-partners to have the same partner for most of the year,” Vlasic said. “I’ve been very fortunate to play with Braun for the last couple of years. The other four have been rotating quite often. But if (Burns) and (Martin) get to play together throughout the year that will be good for them, and good for me and Braun, and good for the next pair as well.”
Again, it’s early. There’s only been one practice. Heck, final roster cuts haven’t been made yet. (Can you tell I don’t want to feed too much hype into one day of practice?) All that being said, these new components seem to be gelling with San Jose’s core.
“The pieces we added, everybody’s excited about having them on the team,” Marleau said. “And the players that we are bringing back are really good players. So we’re excited.”