The San Jose Sharks want to make sure this season is not a glimpse into their future.
"We're not used to losing or having a losing season here," captain Logan Couture said Thursday. "It wasn't fun. As a group we know that every single person needs to be better next year. I think with this long break, it adds time for guys to get prepared.
"Motivation should be at an all-time high for everyone. When you have a year like this, you want to come back and prove to people that it was just a fluke."
The Sharks (29-36-5) were last in the Western Conference with a .450 points percentage when the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. They reached the conference final last season and will not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in 16 seasons. San Jose's season ended Tuesday when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveiled the Return to Play Plan with a 24-team format.
The Sharks started slowly this season, losing their first four games and 11 of their first 15. They were 15-16-2 when Pete DeBoer was fired as coach Dec. 11 and replaced by Bob Boughner, who general manager Doug Wilson said Tuesday is not guaranteed to return next season. The Sharks went 14-20-3 under Boughner.
Defenseman Erik Karlsson has experience dealing with disappointing seasons; he missed the playoffs four times in nine seasons with the Ottawa Senators.
"Every time you have a letdown year, when you don't feel that you've performed up to the standards that you would like, that gets to everybody on the team and everybody within the organization," Karlsson said. "You make sure that you come next year as prepared as you possibly can to make sure that the same thing doesn't repeat itself.
"I feel like ever since we found out the season was ending that everybody on the team is extremely motivated to come back for next year, even though this year was not by any means going the way we wanted."
The Sharks are taking solace in what happened in 2014-15, the last time they did not reach the playoffs. They made it to the Stanley Cup Final the following season, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
"I think a lot of guys went home and in the summer they made it a priority to be in better shape, to come back with some bite to their game," said Couture, a center who just finished his 11th season with San Jose. "Doug challenged a lot of us to step up our games and improve as players and come into next year, show people that we're still a good team here in San Jose.
"I believe that summer a lot of people wrote us off, said 'The window is closed, this team is done, stick a fork in them.' I think that lit a fire for a lot of us. And it's going to be the same thing this year.
"The only way that that can change is if we go out and make it change."
Couture said part of that will be having a better training camp than they did last season. The Sharks also were hampered by a lack of scoring -- they averaged 2.57 goals per game, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for 27th in the NHL -- the struggles of goalie Martin Jones (17-21-2, 3.00 goals-against average, .896 save percentage) and injury issues. Couture missed seven weeks after fracturing his Jan. 7, center Tomas Hertl sustained a season-ending knee injury Jan. 29, and Karlsson missed the final four weeks before the pause with a broken thumb.
"There's not a lot of positives you can take breaking from that, other than not wanting to go back there," defenseman Brent Burns said. "It's not fun. It's frustrating."
The plan is to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"We believe that we're a good team," Couture said. "We have all the pieces in that room to be successful. We just need to go out and do it."