Just how bad are the Sharks?
Twenty-four points. That’s the (low) bar that the 2023-24 San Jose Sharks have to clear to ensure they are not the worst version of the franchise in the team’s history. For now, that dubious honor goes to the 1992-93 Sharks, who registered a measly 24 total points that season, allowing a whopping 414 goals against (including a 13-1 loss against the Calgary Flames), and finished with a 11-71-1 record.
The 2023-24 Sharks might not be in quite the same dire straits as their predecessors, but at writing they have just six wins and 14 points through 25 games. They’ve lost 19 contests, including two in overtime. This puts them on pace for about 45 points this season – a far cry from the brutal ‘92-93 campaign, but hardly one anybody likely wants to remember. But that’s not to say there haven’t been memorable moments already:
Speaking of getting scored on, as of Monday night, the Sharks have a minus-55 goal differential, nearly double that of the next-worst team on that metric, the Chicago Blackhawks (who have, it should be noted, only one more win than the Sharks do). Goals allowed has been a calling-card of this Sharks team – they allow an average of four per game. By comparison, Pacific division peers the LA Kings, the stingiest team in the league, allow an average of only 2.29 goals per game. The Sharks, like that ‘92-93 squad, keep getting blown out, including back-to-back losses in early November in which they allowed 10 goals: a 10-1 loss to the Canucks, followed by a 10-2 loss to the Penguins. On the eve of Thanksgiving, the Sharks lost 7-1 to the Kraken, a game in which they allowed four goals in just over 18 minutes in the first period. “Embarrassing,” San Jose head coach David Quinn said after that game. “We weren’t ready to play. … Just absolutely freaking embarrassing.”
At even strength, the Sharks are spending nearly half their time (45.7%) in their own defensive zone. Even when on the power play, the Sharks still struggle to create chances, finding themselves stuck in their own zone for over a third (31%) of their time with the man advantage. The New Jersey Devils, who retain the best power play in the league, spend just over 24% of their time with the man advantage in their own zone.
All that said, the Sharks have had moments of good hockey. In fact, through the Sharks’ last 10 games through the weekend, they’ve gone 4-5-1. Not bad, especially considering one of those four wins was against the Vancouver Canucks. And in their loss in New York Sunday evening, the Sharks managed to put up five goals against Jonathan Quick, who owns a .918 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average so far this year. Had it not been for a hat-trick from the Rangers’ Artemi Panarin, the Sharks might have walked out of Manhattan with a win that night. After that game, Quinn’s tune was, rightfully, more positive. “Our mental resolve was impressive. … But we have to finish checking and back checking. You can’t leave anything to chance and we left too much to chance.”
Minnesota Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury commissioned a new mask to mark Native American Heritage Night on November 24. Designed by Cole Redhorse Taylor, a Mdewakanton Dakota artist, the new mask featured floral designs and Dakota language. Fleury, whose wife is Indigenous, did something similar while in Chicago in 2021 when he wore a mask designed by an Ojibwe artist from Northern Ontario.
But this time the NHL said no. The league threatened Fleury with a fine if he wore it, and followed with the threat of a “significant” fine against the Wild as well (according to Fleury’s agent). Fleury reportedly called the decision “stupid” and wore the mask anyway. The league never followed-through on the fine.
The NHL is clearly struggling when it comes to drawing lines around how and where it will allow its players to advocate for causes. No doubt this won’t be the last time something like this comes up – it was just a few weeks ago that the league had to issue a climbdown on its short-lived Pride tape ban under similar circumstances. As the NHL blunders along, it is duly noted that the threats of fines have so far been directed only at players advocating for a more open and diverse hockey family. Nobody who refused the Pride jersey ever had to make the same choice that Fleury did.
A familiar crowd still dominates the list of top contenders for the Cup. Boston and the New York Rangers still sit atop the East, while Vegas and Colorado still hold divisional leads in the West. But there’s a crowd gathering now as some more clubs find their groove.
In the West, the Kings are fighting with the Canucks for second spot in the Pacific. Notably, the Kings’ recent rise up the standings has included a win in early November against the Golden Knights – that is, LA could be for real. Meanwhile, in the Central division, Dallas and Winnipeg are jockeying, with the Jets putting up a strong string of wins through November to pull themselves away from the Blues and Predators. But keep your eye on the Coyotes, who’ve won five straight.
While Boston’s hot start helped propel them to the top of the Atlantic, in recent weeks, the Panthers and Red Wings have begun to look like more serious contenders. Meanwhile, the Leafs dropped back, taking losses in both Chicago and Pittsburgh around Thanksgiving, undoing the progress they’d made in Sweden during the Global Series. With the Rangers still somewhat alone up top the Metro, Carolina’s past month moved them into second place, ahead of, wait, the Philadelphia Flyers? Okay!
At the other end of the scale, not a lot has changed since October other than the fall of the New Jersey Devils from Metro contenders to bottom-dwellers. The Devils are scoring (mostly from in tight), particularly on the power play (a league-best 37.5%), but they’re also being scored on a lot, registering 3.6 goals against per game, which puts them among the league’s worst (somewhere around the Blackhawks and Oilers).
The Bedard-Hughes show
Bedard still has his doubters, but there’s no really no rational denial of his talents. Bedard posted a couple multi-point nights in November, including in Florida, where he scored two goals, one of which will almost certainly make any best-of-season highlight reel. Honestly, this is nuts:
But Bedard wasn’t alone in November. Vancouver captain Quinn Hughes continued his strong start by becoming only the fifth defenceman in NHL history to record five three-point games within the first 16 games of a season – a record he shares with Bobby Orr (who did it twice), Denis Potvin, and Dennis Wilson.
Defencemen in NHL history with 5 three-point games within the first 16 games of a season
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 16, 2023
And on the 25th, Hughes set a Canucks franchise record with the most points by a defenceman in a single month – 22. At month’s end, Hughes sat third in the league with 35 points, behind teammate JT Miller and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov.
Elsewhere in the hockey world
Chicago – The curious case of Corey Perry began when he was a healthy scratch for two games in the second-to-last week of November, on the 22nd and 24th. That weekend, Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson said that Perry would be out for the “foreseeable future” but offered no details as to why. A trade? A family issue? No player knew. No coach had any details. But speculation online was rife (and vile) and the Blackhawks made no attempt to quell it for days. Finally, on the 28th, Chicago placed Perry on waivers, effectively cutting him loose from the team entirely. As it made that move, the Blackhawks released a statement saying that an internal investigation revealed that Perry had “engaged in conduct that was unacceptable, and in violation of both the terms of his Standard Players’ Contract and the Blackhawks’ internal policies to promote professional and safe work environments”. According to sources that spoke to ESPN, Perry had traveled with the Blackhawks to Columbus on the 21st – ahead of their game on the 22nd – “and an incident occurred that day involving a team employee”. Perry was pulled from the lineup and the Blackhawks started an investigation.
Detroit – The Perry drama slightly overshadowed the other big news that landed the same day: Patrick Kane signed a one-year $2.75 million with the Red Wings. Daniel Sprong, who currently wears No 88 for the Wings, has apparently offered it to Kane.
Boston – Bruins’ forward Milan Lucic was arrested early on the 18th by police responding to a domestic incident at Lucic’s home. Lucic was arraigned in a Boston court three days later on a charge of assault and battery against a family member. The night he was arrested, Lucic’s wife called police saying that he had attempted to choke her. The police report noted that she later reneged on that claim, but that Lucic had pulled her hair and that the cops “observed redness on the victim’s chest area”. Lucic entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program the day after his arraignment.
Belfast – Former Chelsea FC goaltender, Petr Čech made his pro hockey debut with the Belfast Giants of the Elite Ice Hockey League on November 25. Čech wears number 39 in homage to dominant former NHL goalie, and fellow Czech, Dominik Hašek, whose photos were among those Čech used to scrapbook as a child.
New York City – In November the NHL introduced its own series of NFTs. ¯_(ツ)_/¯