They haven't been big players on the free-agent front or engineered any blockbuster trades. After leaving head coach Todd McLellan's fate up in the air for a couple of long months, they finally announced on June 18 that he would be back behind the Sharks bench for a fifth season.
But the Sharks did make one important change, and the subtle move made on Monday could pay off big for San Jose. The Sharks gave McLellan some help on the bench, bolstering their coaching staff with the addition of Larry Robinson as associate coach.
Robinson could be San Jose's most important addition this offseason, not that there's a lot of competition for that distinction. The Sharks brought back defenseman Brad Stuart, signing him to a three-year, $10.8 million deal after acquiring his rights from Detroit. Their only other significant foray into free agency was a four-year, $7.2 million deal for checking center Adam Burish.
It's been far from the complete overhaul some expected after the Sharks were ousted in the opening round of the playoffs, failing to win at least one series for just the second time since 2003. After back-to-back trip to the Western Conference Finals, they barely squeaked into the postseason at all, and managed just one win before St. Louis sent them packing after five games.
After the early departure, general manager Doug Wilson delayed announcing McLellan's return until June, and when he did confirm that McLellan would be back, Wilson noted that there would be other changes on the staff.
"What we'd like to add to our coaching staff is a presence -– somebody who has played the game can help with Todd's messaging," Wilson said at that news conference.
Enter Robinson. The Hall of Fame defenseman brings an impressive resume to San Jose. He has won nine Stanley Cups, six as a player in Montreal and three in various coaching roles with the Devils, including the head job when New Jersey won it all in 2000.
He was with the Devils again this past spring when New Jersey made a surprising run to the Cup Final before falling to the Kings. Now Robinson will try to help San Jose finally break through in the postseason and reach its first Cup Final.
Robinson, 61, is expected to run the defense and help a San Jose penalty kill that ranked 29th in the league last year at 76.9 percent. The Devils had the best PK in the NHL at 89.6 percent, and Robinson will try to work the same magic with the Sharks.
He'll have more to work with on the blue line in San Jose. Unlike New Jersey's Cup-winning squads in 1995, 2000 and 2003 that were led by defensive stalwarts like Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, Robinson had to help patch together a defense featuring the likes of veteran retreads Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene and Peter Harrold and youngsters Mark Fayne and Adam Larsson to get back to the Final this spring.
Now Robinson will be greeted by a group that on paper should be far stronger with Stuart, Dan Boyle, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglas Murray, Justin Braun and Jason Demers forming a formidable unit for the Sharks.
"I think the Sharks have a great team and they have some great defensemen who will be fun to work with," Robinson told Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette, which first broke the news of Robinson's hiring.
Robinson will also be in a role that appears to best suit him. While he's enjoyed great success as an assistant, his time as a head coach has been less spectacular. He was just 122-161-45 in four years as the Kings' head coach, making the playoffs just once, when Los Angeles was swept in the opening round by the Blues in 1998. He took over the Devils for a second time in 2005 when Pat Burns was sidelined by cancer, but Robinson resigned in December citing stress and his own health issues.
His most successful stint as a head coach came when he took over for Robbie Ftorek with just eight games left in the 1999-2000 season and he went on to guide the Devils to the Cup that spring and a return to the Final the following year before being fired in the 2001-02 season.
The Sharks have longed for such playoff success throughout their two decades of existence. They've knocked on the door with three conference finals appearances, but have never been able to take the next step.
That step will be harder than ever with the strength of the Western Conference these days and the Sharks' window may be closing quickly as the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Boyle enter the twilight of their careers. But if they are ever to make a run at a title, Robinson just might be the man to show them how to do it.
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