August prediction No. 6 for the 2016-17 San Jose Sharks examines the team’s continuity and the role of general manager Doug Wilson…
The San Jose Sharks flew in the face of criticism following their epic 2014 Stanley Cup choke. They resolved to take a step back to take two steps forward and general manager Doug Wilson took a great deal of heat from fans.
Brent Burns answered the only more frequent criticism of Wilson by showing that putting the Wookie on the blue line was the right move. That leaves just two camps of criticism—those that think the Sharks should not have taken a step back and those that think they should have taken two.
San Jose’s first Stanley Cup finals appearance left few in the latter camp. Even if Wilson did have the chance to move Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau or someone else to make a more drastic change to the team, it is hard to think that would have allowed the team to be better than it was last spring.
It is also hard to think that accomplishment will not be something the Sharks build on. It changed their narrative. That is why the few Wilson critics left almost all feel he should not have taken that step back.
He confronted the team’s repeated failures, revealed there were some problems in the dressing room and particularly questioned leadership that is always an issue on such a team. San Jose reeled for a year under coach Todd McLellan after losing his players, including almost certainly Thornton.
Those things were necessary for the Sharks to root them out even if they were handled poorly. They moved on from McLellan and hired a coach with a system more befitting the roster, Peter DeBoer.
San Jose also added a key player to all three units over the summer and again at the trade deadline. That leaves the door open for the criticism that all of that could have been done a year sooner.
Firing McLellan then would have put the blame on him. The dressing room had to take responsibility.
A team is not close because it almost beat the eventual Stanley Cup champion. The same holds true for putting faith in reaching the Western Conference finals three times.
The Sharks earned a total of three wins in those three trips to the third round. Marleau is the only player remaining from the team that won two of them. They kept falling short because while they had talent, they could not make that one extra play needed in May.
That was the root of the problem. Players needed to be challenged.
Prediction No. 6: Doug Wilson silences almost all remaining critics by May. Another strong showing (spoiler for future predictions) will deepen the case that San Jose should not have taken more steps back nor fired Wilson. There will also be a more compelling reason to convert those still questioning the step back.
The Sharks were in position for the ninth pick in every round of the richest draft in over a decade because they missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in Wilson’s tenure. It landed them Timo Meier.
Meier is already likely to make the team 15 months after being drafted. Drafting him could continue to pay dividends past 2030.
That will be Wilson’s salve for fans stinging from that postseason absence. Combined with the foundation established as defending Western Conference champions, it could also be a tonic should San Jose fail to win a Stanley Cup with Marleau and Thornton.