Talk to San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson for even a half hour (which I had an opportunity to do Thursday afternoon) and two things become very clear very quickly: the man loves the sport of hockey and he loves his team.
In regards to the former, the reasoning is obvious. The sport is filled with people deserving of respect and admiration for their sacrifices and the 53-year-old Wilson beams with pride over those he's encountered during his 21 years as a player and manager in the NHL.
The latter would cause confusion, even bewilderment, among those who classify the Sharks as a failure because they’ve yet to achieve the ultimate goal and, in the minds of some, are moving further away from becoming a team that can get over the championship hump.
But Wilson takes serious umbrage with those perceptions.
“Our failures are higher than most teams’ successes,” Wilson said. “We don't really worry about the outside noise. We went to the final four last year and we played very well. We're going to build on that this upcoming year; last year is over and done with.
“Perception versus reality…how many teams have accomplished what we've accomplished the past six or seven years?”
One of the ways Wilson gauges success is by counting how many playoff rounds a team has played in recent years and since the end of the lockout, only Detroit, Pittsburgh and Anaheim have participated in as many post-season showdowns as San Jose. The Sharks are also one of only three teams (along with Detroit, 19, and New Jersey, 13) to have made the playoffs for six straight seasons.
And when he looks at his NHL roster and beyond, he sees a collection that's not only positioned very well for this season, but many campaigns to come.
The past I'll leave to the eye of the beholder, but you can't argue his position on the present and future. Thanks to shrewd drafting, signings and trades, San Jose is flush with current and future stars as well as the role players necessary for success. Even in goal, where Antero Niittymaki was signed to replace long-time Shark Evgeni Nabokov, Wilson is confident he got the right man for the job at the right price.
After looking at the goalies who've won Cups of late and the number of dollars allocated to the position by their teams, Wilson decided to look for a cost-conscious goaltender whose style would suit the Sharks system and who'd be suited to a role that would allow the team to utilize one or more of their puck-stopping prospects.
“When we contacted him on July 1, he was hoping we would call and we wrapped it up quickly,” Wilson said. “He's the guy we wanted to come in and complement the goalies we have in our system.”
And the dressing room void left by the retirement of former captain Rob Blake? Not an issue on a team chock full of players with leadership capabilities, says Wilson, especially in light of the fact the lessons Blake taught, consciously or not, will continue to resonate both on and off the ice.
“His impact will still be felt and we'll be a better team going forward because of him,” Wilson said. “Certainly by Danny Boyle, Dougie Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. And a kid who benefited in a really big way, and a kid who I think is going to be very good player, is Jason Demers, who was able to watch how Robbie Blake did things and learn through osmosis.”
As much as Wilson likes the current make-up of his team, however, he won't hesitate to pull the trigger now or any time during the season if the right opportunity to improve presents itself.
“We've got lots of (cap) room, lots of assets and all our picks,” said Wilson, who sits $5.5 million below the salary ceiling. “There's probably a long way to go before this team is ultimately built…There's a lot that can happen between now and the trade deadline, but we're positioned just like we were when we added Thornton, Boyle or Heatley, if the right player with the right type of contract comes along.”
Edward Fraser is the managing editor of The Hockey News. His blog appears weekly.
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