The San Jose Sharks saw enough from Bob Boughner behind their bench last season to be confident he’s the coach to lead them back to the top.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson formally retained Boughner as San Jose’s coach Tuesday, removing the interim tag to make him the ninth full-time head coach in franchise history.
The Sharks announced their full coaching staffs for the NHL and American Hockey League levels along with the widely expected return of Boughner, who rejoined the Sharks as an assistant to Peter DeBoer in the summer of 2019.
Boughner took over as interim coach after DeBoer and the rest of his assistants were fired Dec. 11. San Jose went 14-20-3 with Boughner behind the bench and missed the playoffs for only the second time since 2003, but Wilson saw enough progress to stick with his coach.
Wilson interviewed other coaches for the full-time job, but said Boughner was “the frontrunner.”
“Last year, I put him in a very difficult situation,” Wilson said. “[He was promoted at] midseason, not having his own staff, and obviously having some key players out. How he handled that revealed a lot to me. He integrated everybody. He’s very open-minded in looking to find solutions.”
Boughner also hired Rocky Thompson as his associate coach and John Madden as an assistant coach. Dan Darrow will stay on staff as an assistant, and longtime Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov was retained as goaltending coach.
On bench for 2016 Cup run
“I think you’re going to see a different kind of identity on the ice, a different compete,” Boughner said. “We’re going to be real connected. I think the players are going to see that. It’s going to be very infectious in the room, and I know the players are already excited about that.”
Boughner initially spent two seasons on DeBoer’s staff from 2015-17, including the Sharks’ run to their only Stanley Cup final appearance in 2016. He was then hired as the head coach of the Florida Panthers in June 2017, but rejoined the Sharks last year when he was fired following two straight non-playoff seasons.
Boughner’s Sharks still finished with the franchise’s worst point total from a full season since 1997, but they were the NHL’s best penalty killing team during his tenure while significantly improving their overall defensive play.
“We’ve all learned a valuable lesson, coaches and players,” Boughner said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations, and they all have a bad taste in their mouth about what slipped through the cracks last year and what needs to improve. We’ve got players that are hungry. They want to come back and prove that last year was not the San Jose Sharks.”
The Sharks have made 14 playoff appearances during Wilson’s 16 seasons in charge of the front office, winning 16 playoff rounds without claiming the Stanley Cup. Wilson has acquired numerous big-name players including Erik Karlsson, Evander Kane and Brent Burns, but last season’s team collapsed after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2019.
“We’re not used to having a blip or a bump in the road like we did last season,” Wilson said. “That is on us. We did not meet our expectations.”
Wilson believes he’s following a strong template by retaining Boughner, noting three of the league’s top current coaches — St. Louis’ Craig Berube, Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan and Boston’s Bruce Cassidy — are all second-time NHL head coaches who were promoted from an assistant role within their organization and went on to great success.
Ricci named development coach
“I think if you asked every one of them, they would say that they did things a little differently” in their second head coaching jobs, Wilson said. “They used some of the knowledge that they had from the first time, and also they came from within the organization, so they knew a lot of the younger players.”
Roy Sommer, the Sharks’ associate coach under Boughner last season, will return to be the head coach of their AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda. Mike Ricci, the former Sharks forward who became an assistant under Boughner, will be an NHL development coach.
Boughner spent 10 years with six teams as a tough NHL defenceman.
He coached the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires for eight seasons after his retirement as a player, winning two Memorial Cups.
Thompson, a hard-nosed enforcer during his playing career, just like Boughner, spent the past three seasons as the head coach of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, the top affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. Thompson succeeded Boughner as the head coach at Windsor in 2015, and he won the Memorial Cup in 2017.
Madden is a three-time Stanley Cup champion forward with New Jersey and Chicago who won the Selke Trophy in 2001 as the league’s top defensive forward. He spent the past three seasons as head coach of the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters, Columbus’ top affiliate.