At the conclusion of the first round of last year’s playoffs, San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson easily could have jammed sticks of TNT in his team’s roster and made a mint by holding an auction to decide which fan got to strike the first flame.
Wilson could’ve traded stars Joe Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau and nobody would have faulted him for it. He could’ve cashiered coach Todd McLellan after just one year on the job.
He could’ve made a massive splash in the unrestricted free agent market by signing Martin Havlat or Marian Hossa. He could have hedged his bets by making a slew of veteran acquisitions at the NHL trade deadline in March.
Wilson didn’t do any of that, though. And his faith and patience is the reason the Sharks are in the Western Conference final for the first time in six agonizingly painful years.
In fact, Wilson has done a masterful job – not only in addressing the Sharks’ needs (for example, when he signed Manny Malhotra and Scott Nichol last off-season to boost the team’s grit level), but also in alleviating the stresses on his best players.
Rather than trading Marleau or Thornton, he removed the captaincy from the former and gave the latter a big-time teammate and pressure-sharer in the form of Dany Heatley. In doing so, Wilson was following a team-first philosophy that former Detroit superstar Steve Yzerman spoke about last fall.
“The best advice I got (when the Red Wings weren’t winning Stanley Cups and Yzerman was under constant and heavy criticism) was someone who told me, ‘Steve, it’s not all about you’,” Yzerman said in September. “A lot goes into a team winning or losing and in some ways it was kind of a relief to hear somebody say, ‘Stop thinking you’re that good to be the difference-maker.’
“It takes the whole team and I think that’s the approach guys have to take to win championships.”
Seen through that prism, San Jose’s struggles against Colorado in the first round might’ve been the best thing for their Cup hopes. Heatley, Marleau and Thornton combined for just a single goal in that series – which may have told those three stars, as well as the young players around them, that many different Sharks had to be difference-makers if they were going to make a run.
Now, none of San Jose’s accomplishments in these first two rounds will amount to much if the Sharks get trampled by Chicago or Vancouver in the conference final.
But Wilson’s success in doubling down on his cornerstones demonstrates that – contrary to the actions of teams and GMs that constantly remake their roster – sometimes cooler heads deserve to prevail.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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