Last season when Doug Wilson traded away Douglas Murray, Michal Handzus and Ryan Clowe, many believed that the San Jose Sharks were throwing in the towel in an effort to start the rebuilding process. Wilson’s intentions however, were completely the opposite.
Getting rid of those players was a sign that he was trying to improve the current roster, rather than simply piling up draft picks for the future. The trades made them younger, faster, and more offensive minded, and marked a turning point for the team’s strategy. The Sharks no longer put players on the ice simply because they are enforcers or crafty veterans. They’ve realized that niche players like Handzus and Murray are not good enough to play with a fast paced offense. Wilson also knew that the mini makeover would not affect their current ability to compete because the Sharks had players who could fit the team’s style of play. In addition to the star players, guys like Andrew Desjardins, Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard had enough time in the NHL to start taking on more responsibility, and this year they have all taken advantage of their increased roles. Desjardins and Sheppard are playing great on the fourth line, and Wingels is adding offensive support for Joe Pavelski on the third line.
Looking at the Sharks current roster, the age of the Sharks newest players is a huge surprise. Most off-seasons the team adds veteran guys who have proven themselves on other teams. This year they brought guys up to the NHL who have proven themselves within the Sharks developmental system. Many fans believed that the Sharks had a weak farm system and that Wilson would need to sign free agents to compliment the team’s star players. Based on the beginning of this season, that perception is apparently not true. Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto and Matt Pelech have all scored their first NHL goals and have added a spark to the lineup which many veteran players lack. These young guys are hungry to not only win hockey games, but also prove that they belong in the NHL.
Hertl obviously has a ton of potential, and Nieto’s upside may be higher than originally thought. Even Pelech, who is regarded as an enforcer, has the ability to wreak havoc in the offensive zone and contribute well enough for a fourth liner. Last year this was not the case with Sharks. They had six forwards who could score, and that was it. This year almost every player on the ice, including the defensemen, can put the puck in the back of the net. Not to mention, all of this success comes in the absence of injured forwards Raffi Torres and Martin Havlat. If these two scoring threats are healthy come playoff time, it could improve an offense that is already scoring at a high rate.
In less than a year Wilson has transformed the Sharks from a slow, grind it out type offense, to a fast paced and aggressive team. The greatest part about it is that no one expected this transformation to happen. The Sharks were sputtering and all signs pointed to the “inevitable” dismantling of the current core group of players. Not only did Wilson rebuild the team, but he did so without losing any members of this group. He gave the Sharks a spark that they desperately needed, and so far it’s paying off big time.