With Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole leaving town, Pittsburgh needs new sports celebrities to step up for the endorsement business. There are still several great athletes to choose, but why not give the 25-year-old Conor Sheary a shot at the television business.
After all, he might be perfect for those Direct TV commercials with the NFL stars that ran a few years ago.
“I’m Conor Sheary, and I have Direct TV.” And right next to him would be Conor “Sherry” and he’d have cable.
Yes, there have been two very different versions of Sheary on the ice during his NHL career, and it began this season just about when he revealed everyone had been mispronouncing his name for two years. The 2017-18 season is at the midway point, and still, he hasn’t turned it around yet.
Every player goes through slumps, but they typically don’t last months at a time. Will “Sherry” ever return to being “Sheary?”
Conor Sheary’s Extended Struggles
Actually, his slump began before his sudden name pronunciation change this fall. After recording just two assists against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, Sheary scored one point in the next 10 playoffs games. He went from playing on the top line with Sidney Crosby to sitting in the press box in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Sheary did rebound, scoring twice in the Stanley Cup Finals, and then six goals in the first 14 games of this season, but since then, he’s gone through a terrible dry spell.
The 25-year-old has five goals and 10 points with a minus-3 rating in the last 32 games. Once again, Sheary lost his spot playing alongside Crosby, and he’s receiving much less ice time.
Sheary missed more than a month because of injury last spring, so it’s possible the playoff slump was due to something still ailing him. The problem with that theory, though, is he played well upon returning during the regular season last March.
It’s much more likely that Sheary’s body just wore down at the end of last season. Standing at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds soaking wet, many have argued Sheary doesn’t have the mass to sustain through an 80-game NHL schedule. Even with his injury, he played 83 games last season including the playoffs.
Physical series against Columbus, Washington and then Ottawa took their toll on the young winger and possibly laid a blueprint for how to handle him during the regular season.
Law of Averages
However, it’s also entirely possible that Sheary is just running into a little bit of bad luck. In the first 14 games this season, he posted a 21.4 percent shooting percentage, which is more than 7.0 percent higher than his career norm. Since then, his shooting percentage is sitting at 8.8 percent, which is almost 6.0 percent lower than usual.
At some point, Sheary is going to connect on more of his shots. It’s happening to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin right now. Sheary recorded a 14.9 shooting percentage last season, and in 2017-18, he owns a mark 2.0 percent below that. There’s room for improvement.
However, there’s a flaw in that logic. Sheary’s shots on goal per game are down from the beginning of the season. And even when he did well in a small sample size in October, he wasn’t averaging as many shots as he did all of last season.
In 2016-17, he posted 2.52 shots on goal per game. This season, that number is down to 1.84.
Fresh Start on Third Line
Sheary is no longer one of the “kids” in town and apparently has been replaced on the “Sid and the Kids” line. Crosby has found his game alongside Daniel Sprong and Dominik Simon in the last couple weeks.
Malkin has also heated up with Carl Hagelin on his wing with a mix of Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel (Read Dan Kingerski’s breakdown). If this chemistry continues, Sheary doesn’t fit in the top six.
On the third line, Sheary must log more physical minutes, which is not a strength. Without playing alongside a superstar center, it’s fair to wonder if Sheary will find his game again this season.
There is room for hope, though, on the newly constructed Penguins third line. Coach Mike Sullivan is trying out Jake Guentzel at center on that unit, and Sheary has been on his left wing the past handful of games. Sheary picked up an assist on the Kessel goal Sunday night against the Rangers.
Perhaps Sheary can solve his issues on the third line while working alongside Guentzel, who is also currently ice cold.
It would undoubtedly help the Pittsburgh cause if he could. The Penguins top players are filling the net right now, and this is an even better team when Sheary is readily contributing and an option to be placed on Crosby’s wing.