Fans of the San Jose Sharks did not react well to the latest words of Hasso Plattner addressed by Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy Saturday, May 9. One fan website accused the owner of being critical of fans when CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz only quoted him referring only to an “overreaction” on Friday.
The German founder of SAP that now has official naming rights to the Shark Tank was in town to announce an extension in that building through the 2024-25 NHL season. Plattner made it very clear to both journalists that he is very involved in the team.
Many fans think the solution is as easy as firing general manager Doug Wilson. This attitude backs Plattner’s view for reasons examined further below.
First and foremost, Wilson told everyone the team would have to take a step back to take two steps forward. How would anything better than missing the Stanley Cup playoffs be less than being knocked out in the first round like two of the previous three postseasons? In one of those, the Sharks were out in five games, and there would be just as many calling for a new general manager if the team was swept out of the first round.
This is the plan. Calling for a change one year into a rebuild because of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs once is definitely impatient. Especially when there were nine San Jose skaters under the age of 25 on the ice at the end of the 2014-15 NHL season that were not there before it.
Wilson also cited why the Sharks would be employing that strategy, outlining the success of the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings that could very well raise their combined captured Stanley Cups to six over the past seven seasons. Both suffered periods of missing the postseason to build their teams.
One postseason absence is going to bring San Jose the ninth pick in the 2015 NHL entry draft that Wilson has long been trumpeting as the most talented he has seen. He will have two of the top-40 players on the board to add to the young talent the team is already developing even as most of the players dressing every night getting better as they near 30 rather than declining on the other side of it—something that could also combat struggles during past Stanley Cup playoffs leaning on an aging core.
If Plattner was going to dismiss Wilson for trading away the team’s talent for failed Stanley Cup runs, signing too many marginal role-playing veterans and giving no-movement clauses to aging re-signed core players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, that ship has sailed. It is not right to fire an employee for something that was done a year ago.
Supposed bad reserve signings from last summer were better than most think: John Scott was absolutely worth a veteran minimum and would have played even less had it not been for injuries, while Scott Hannan would have been the perfect seventh man on the blue-line depth chart had it not been for head coach Todd McLellan’s affinity for veterans and Mike Brown is a typical fourth-line forward in terms of numbers but the team won when he dressed.
Meanwhile, Wilson has definitely changed direction from the other mistakes. It is illogical to put Stanley Cup-playoff failures on him and not the players on the ice.
Only one year of Rob Blake separates those two from being the only captains the Sharks have had in the past 11-plus years, and a team’s highest-paid leaders are supposed to be the best players at least most of the time when it is most important. When the team consistently does badly in critical situations, that should reflect poorly on leadership.
Remember it was Thornton who said the players had higher expectations than Wilson, then went scoreless in seven consecutive key games as the Sharks finished backing themselves into a corner they could not get out of. Marleau had a terrible 2014-15 NHL season. Not many would argue otherwise, including San Jose’s all-time leader in almost everything.
Thornton played well almost all season even if he did have a ridiculous goal-scoring pad of five empty-net goals. However, Marleau was not the only teammate performing under expected levels: San Jose was plagued with net-minding inconsistency and the young blue line had many lapses in defensive responsibility but appeared to be learning by the end of the 2014-15 NHL season.
Some of this is the nature of focusing on youth for role-playing positions and of any rebuild. The previous 10 seasons, Wilson always put a great product on the ice. The Sharks had the second-best regular-season record in the NHL over that time and no team won more division titles.
Before Wilson, San Jose had one Pacific Division title, seven trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs and four series wins in 12 seasons. Since, there have been five, 10 and 10 respectively while getting its only three conference finals appearances.
Wilson does deserve blame for his angry reaction after becoming the fourth team in Stanley Cup-playoff history to blow a 3-0 series lead. It may have been understandable, but it did not help since it did not work to get the no-movement clauses waived.
That should earn him a little patience in more than just Plattner’s eyes to see if his young team that was still in the Stanley Cup race at the beginning of April can improve the three games needed to return after the 2015-16 NHL season. That seems likely given Wilson should be able to retain most of last season’s talent and so many of them are likely to continue improving.