As we move forward to the current NHL season, I wanted to take a look at the history of our favorite hockey team. This will be a multi-part series of articles that will include a look back on the Sharks’ main coaches, General Managers, big trades, and anything else interesting in the 21-year history of the franchise.
There is no doubt that the Sharks have left their mark on the NHL, from introducing the league to the teal color palette, to providing big playoff upsets, to being one of the model franchises in the league. There have been many memorable stops on this Sharks ride for the last 21 years, but the one stop we haven’t visited yet is the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m thinking that this will be the year, so get prepared for this great ride by reading on and remembering where the Sharks have been!
1) The very first bench boss: George Kingston (1991-93)
Record: 164 Games, 28-129-7
Born August 20, 1939 in Biggar, Saskatchewan. Before he coached the Sharks he coached the University of Calgary’s Men’s Hockey team. He was given the task of leading the expansion San Jose Sharks into action in 1991. The Sharks’ roster in the earliest years was made up of NHL journeyman players rather than notable stars (except for former Norris Trophy winner and current GM Doug Wilson), and the team struggled under Kingston. His record reflects the growing pains of a new NHL franchise, and it goes without saying that the Sharks didn’t make the playoffs with him behind the bench.
2) Putting the NHL on notice – this is Sharks territory!: Kevin Constantine (1993-95)
Record: 157 Games, 55-78-24
Born December 7, 1958 in International Falls, Minnesota. Constantine is a former college hockey goaltender that made his mark in coaching amateur and semi-pro hockey hockey teams in the later 1980s and early 1990s. One of his great accomplishments was leading the 1991 US Mens Junior Hockey Team to its best ever showing at the tournament. Constantine immediately made an impact on the Sharks organization, leading the team to a 58 point improvement over the previous season. Also under Constantine the Sharks made their first ever playoff appearance in 1993-94. That year should go down as one of the brightest in team history as the 8th seeded Sharks shocked the hockey world by defeating the 1st seeded Detroit Red Wings in the first round. The Sharks then pushed their second round series to seven games against the Toronto Maple Leafs before being defeated. The sharks made their first steps toward being a respected NHL franchise.
3) In a tough position: Jim Wiley (1995-96)
Record: 57 Games, 17-37-3
Born April 28, 1950 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He was given the tough task of replacing the Sharks first successful head coach. Wiley coached the Sharks farm team, the Kansas City Blades, from 1993 up until he was promoted as the Sharks bench boss in 1995. He was promoted after Constantine’s message appeared to be lost on the team, as the Sharks struggled to a 3-18-4 start to the season. Wiley stepped in for the rest of the season before being reassigned to the Sharks farm team.
4) The coaching carousel continues: Al Sims (1996-97)
Record: 82 Games, 27-47-8
Born April 18, 1953 in Toronto, Ontario. Sims coached the IHL’s Fort Wayne Comets in the late 1980s and early 1990s before breaking into the NHL coaching scene as a member of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks staff in 1993-94. He stayed with the Mighty Ducks until he was given the chance to run the whole show with the Sharks in 1996-97. It was a tough year as the sharks failed to make the playoffs once again. Fans were disappointed that their team, which once showed so much promise under Constantine, was now stuck in a losing rut. All was not lost though, as the Sharks tough season allowed them to pick high in the next year’s NHL entry draft. That pick was Patrick Marleau.
5) A smart hockey man brings success: Darryl Sutter (1997-2002)
Record: 434 Games, 192-167-75
Born August 19, 1958 in Viking, Alberta. Sutter is one of the famous Sutter Brothers that played hockey in the NHL. Over his career he was known as a blue-collar, hard working player. He helped guide the Sharks back to the playoffs in his first season as head coach, although they lost in the first round. In 1999-2000 he guided the Sharks to their first ever above .500 record, and once again a shocking first round playoff victory over the 1st seeded St. Louis Blues. Sutter’s last bit of brilliance with the Sharks organization was coaching the team to their first ever Pacific Division Title in 2001-02. However, a bad start to the next season, combined with ownership instability and player-contract issues contributed to Sutter being fired. History sure is funny though, as Sutter would move on to coach the Calgary Flames, who would defeat San Jose in the semi-finals of the NHL Playoffs in 2003-04.
6) A new era, and an whiff of the Stanley Cup Finals: Ron Wilson (2002-08)
Record: 385 Games, 206-134-45
Born May 28, 1955 in Windsor, Ontario (dual-citizen for Canada and USA). Wilson is a former NHL player who started his coaching career as an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks in 1990. He then moved on in 1993 to be the head coach of the expansion Anaheim Mighty Ducks for 4 seasons. Then in 1996-97 Wilson guided the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final in his first year as head coach. Wilson is the longest serving head coach in Sharks franchise history, as well as the franchise’s all-time wins leader. He guided the Sharks to their first ever 100 point season in 2003-04 when the club finished with 104 points. The Sharks would go on to win two Pacific Division Championships under Wilson. Perhaps his brightest moment with the Sharks came in 2003-04, when he coached the Sharks to a game 6 in the NHL Playoff semi-finals against the Calgary Flames. That is as close as the Sharks ever came to making the Stanley Cup Final… two wins away.
7) The current man with the plan brings great success: Todd McLellan (2008-Present)
Record: 164 Games, 104-38-22
Born October 3, 1967 in Melville, Saskatchewan. McLellan was a former NHLer (1987-89) who began coaching in the early 1990s. His junior hockey head coaching and general managing success culminated with being awarded the WHL (Western Hockey League) Executive of the Year in 1997 and Coach of the Year in 2000, both with the Swift Current Broncos. In 2000-01 McLellan was hired to be the head coach of the Minnesota Wild’s farm team, then known as the Cleveland Lumberjacks, later known as the Houston Aeros. In 2002-03 McLellan coached the team to their first Calder Cup. This success led him to be hired as an assistant coach in Detroit. McLellan did not disappoint as his impact with the power-play led Detroit to become a lethal power-play team. He won the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2007-08.
McLellan’s success continues with the Sharks. The Sharks have won the Pacific Division Title in each of three seasons as head coach. He had a remarkable first year as head coach in 2008-09, as the team set records for wins with 53, and points with 117. That same year the Sharks won their first ever Presidents’ Trophy, for having the best regular season record in the NHL. The last two seasons McLellan has guided the Sharks to back-to-back NHL Semi-Finals appearances, which is also a first for the franchise.
Based on his past coaching success, I think that Todd McLellan is the man to guide the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. I will even go one step further: He will not only guide the Sharks to the Finals, but he will guide them to their first ever Stanley Cup Championship! I think this is the year for the Sharks!
Do you have any favorite memories of these head coaches? Share them in the comments section!
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