Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why Can't Doug Wilson Make a Decision and Stick with It?

San Jose Sharks fans have been taken through the wringer this last season or so. Ever since they were knocked out of the playoffs by their bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, in the first round, Joe Thornton being stripped of the captaincy, and very little done in terms of roster change, Sharks fans have been promised a "tomorrow team" that no one quite understands, including general manager Doug Wilson who coined the term. When Wilson first explained what he meant, he seemed to imply that he expected the team to make the playoffs but not win the Stanley Cup, he would focus on youth rather than the older original core, and that this was not really a rebuild. Ummm... what?

First, let's back up a bit. I want to say that I'm not even sure that any major changes were necessary in the first place. I know that San Jose Sharks fans were very disappointed with the first round exit. However, I still argue that it was not as bad as it seemed. The team that eliminated them went on to win the Stanley Cup, so it is not as though the Sharks faced an opponent who then got creamed in the second round. Yes, the series opened with the Sharks winning the first three games in a best of seven series. Should the Sharks have put it all out there and won the fourth game? Probably, yes, but the truth is, the Kings basically did not show up to play the first two games. By the third game, they had started to get their rhythm back, and that game was decided in sudden-death overtime. In the following games, they looked like that 2012 Stanley Cup winning team, and that sealed the Sharks fate. The LA Kings played like a championship team, and the Sharks did not. Yes, the Sharks went on to become the fourth team in NHL history to lose a three-game lead in the playoffs, but on the other side, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had been on the Philadelphia Flyers when they became the third-team to overcome a three-game deficit. Through their leadership and experience, I have no doubt that they knew how to get the team motivated and that's why they are on two of the four NHL teams to have ever rebounded after being down three games in a row.

But did the Sharks need a bit of a facelift? You bet. What that series really taught the Sharks was that to be the best, they needed something more. I do not believe they needed a crazy rebuild because had they drawn the the Dallas Stars, they most likely would have gone on to the second round. Had they drawn the Anaheim Ducks that year, they also may have made it another round. The 2013-14 Sharks were a competitive team. With a bit more depth and replacing Martin Havlat with a solid offensive player might have been enough. However, the knee-jerk reaction from Doug Wilson seems to really be what has lead into this season's disaster.

One of the biggest moves during the 2014 offseason was that there was a change in captaincy. It was announced that Joe Thornton would no longer be the captain, and three assistant captains were named. One of them is... Joe Thornton? Yes, the man who was not deemed good enough to be the captain is still fit to be an assistant captain. (Major facepalm action here.) The other two assistant captains are Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau. Technically, there is nothing wrong with having three assistants and no captain in hockey. This season the Montreal Canadiens do not have a captain. When Brian Gionta was not given an extension, the team opted to name four assistants: Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, and P.K. Subban. And not naming a captain has never been an issue off or on the ice. They currently sit atop the Atlantic Division and rank second in the Eastern Conference.

So why is it so different in Montreal than in San Jose? Well, it's all in how it happened. As opposed to Gionta who knew his contract was expiring and that this could be a possibility, Thornton first found out about no longer being the captain from the media after Wilson had informed them of the change. Clearly, nothing had been said to Thornton, and Thornton had not requested to not be the captain anymore. Wilson made that decision. I think this would be the end of the story, and everyone would have moved on had later in the summer Thornton, Marleau, and Pavelski been named assistant captains. If it had been decided that they would have focused on the younger players, because the Sharks were now a "tomorrow team," I think it would have resolved the situation. Instead, the issue festered and continued to grow as the season wore on because there was more than likely some resentment as to what happened. Thornton who had once worn the "C," now no longer had the same responsibilities, but I think it was still odd for everyone in the locker room as to who to turn to for leadership. Here is Wilson being indecisive. He chose to take away the captaincy but instead of deciding to follow through with his "tomorrow team" and instituting a captain like Joe Pavelski, he did not make a decision as to a captain and further confused Thornton's role on the team.

A couple nights ago, I read a blog by Kostadis Roussos who had dinner with Wilson who opened up about the Sharks. First, I thought it was interesting that Wilson actually referred to his actions as a rebuild because up until now he had been pretty careful about not using that word. Going back to the captaincy and Joe Thornton, Roussos writes, "Not making Thornton or Marleau captain really is about acknowledging that the future is not about them." Okay, I can understand that, which only further infuriates me to wonder why give them a letter at all? This just makes Wilson's indecision all the more frustrating. If stripping the captaincy was supposed to be about the future, then why make them assistant captains and a part of the leadership group in the first place? Veterans like Thornton and Marleau do not need a letter on their sweaters to be leaders. Guys who have played at the level that they do and for as long as they have already garner respect from younger players. There is no need to give them a letter. If this is about the future, then Wilson should have made it about the future. Give the "C" to Pavelski or a guy who is going to be a big part of the future. The "A" can go to Logan Couture or Marc-Eduard Vlasic or Brent Burns. Be consistent and make a decision.

Roussos also reveals that Wilson has essentially given up on the idea Thornton and Marleau will be a main part of Sharks team that will win a Cup. I agree with Roussos that it will be difficult for fans to accept, but I think to some degree Sharks fans already feel that way. While fans will be disappointed if this happens, I believe that they would understand, especially depending on the talent that is brought in to replace them. And here again is where Wilson is indecisive. So if he does not believe that Thornton and Marleau will be main fixtures on a Stanley Cup San Jose Sharks team, then why does he continue to insist that he will not ask either of them to waive their no-move clauses? Wilson is doing a disservice not only to the San Jose Sharks but also to Thornton and Marleau by keeping them in San Jose. If they're not going to be leaders on the team, let them go pursue a Stanley Cup with another team.

Clearly, stripping the captaincy was Wilson's passive-aggressive way of getting the two to sign a waiver. I believe Wilson does not want to ask outright because he anticipates a fan backlash. He would rather force Thornton and Marleau to come to him, so he can say that they asked to leave. At this point, I don't think fans would blame them considering what has happened as of late.

Furthermore, I think it says a lot that Roussos reports that Wilson revealed that he started this rebuild when he traded away Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray back in 2013. It was then that Wilson claims he continued to accumulate picks to build for a future. Again, a future that would not include Thornton and Marleau who he signed to extensions just last year. Wait, what? Yep. I can buy that Wilson wants to keep the two around to aid in the transition to the more youthful players as Roussos notes, but at some point I think he has to take a leap of faith. Wilson is going to have a make a radical move by trading one, if not both of them, at some point if he wants the Sharks to improve. He has come to a point at which that move needs to be made, and he is going to sink or swim with it. Trying something at this juncture is far better than doing nothing at all, which is pretty much what has happened. If Wilson wants to continue his post-playing career, he needs to make a bold move because people can respect that. Even if the move doesn't pan out the way he wants, at least he has tried something.

This summer is going to be an important one for the San Jose Sharks. Big changes should be expected, and hopefully, they will be changes for the better. Right now, there are a lot of questions starting with the general manager and head coaching positions. Once that is settled, there should be roster changes coming as well, and it will be interesting to see what types of moves will be made there.


  1. Great article!

    My guess is that the unspoken X-Factor here is that both Thornton's and Marleau's agents went directly to Ownership to push for the extensions last season with the expectation by both sides that the Sharks were going to go very deep in the playoffs last year. Ownership put pressure on Wilson to make the deals and perhaps somewhat reluctantly he agreed with an "Anything For A Cup" thought in the back of his mind.

    Now I believe that Ownership will not own up to this chain of events and neither will Wilson. The result is that they might scapegoat TMac for everything because I'm guessing that he had no knowledge or hand in those extensions last year and possibly even made it known to Ownership and Wilson that he was not happy about them making such a decision without his input. This could be the basis for a "mutual" parting of the ways.

    This is all theory and conjecture but it might logically explain why the Sharks find themselves in the situation that they are now in.

  2. Thank you for reading and responding! I really appreciate it!

    I can see the behind-the-scenes workings in that case. I hadn't thought of it, and I think you are on to something. I definitely feel that TMac is a scapegoat. I don't think that his coaching has been a problem, and Toronto is definitely waiting for him, if that's what he wants, as well as a lot of other NHL teams. After last season, I think Wilson (and ownership) decided to keep TMac to take the hit. TMac would not have any say in terms of contracts because that's really Wilson's job. When Hasso Plattner became owner of the Sharks, he basically admitted that he didn't have much hockey knowledge and would leave things to Wilson and company. He's extremely hands-off and spends most of his time in Europe from what I understand.

    This leaves a ton of power in Wilson's hands, so he would only keep TMac around to scapegoat and keep his job even if for only a few months or one more season. It's sad, but I get the impression that unless things really take a nosedive, I don't think Wilson will be held accountable for anything.

  3. It's me again, Jen. Glad you think I might be on to something. If you think about everything that's gone on in public, it can be explained by Jumbo and his agent (his brother) going over Wilson's head in January/February of 2014.

    I imagine Jumbo and Patty's agents agitating for an extension. Wilson tells them "No, not until the end of the season." Worried about possibly being traded right after winning a Cup, Jumbo & Patty's agents go over Wilson's head. Wilson is forced to put contract extensions together that he doesn't want to do until the end of the season. They get their extensions before the playoffs. Now remember two things. One, it was reported publicly that Plattner assured Jumbo he would be able to retire as a Shark. Two, Jumbo is stripped of his "C" after the reverse sweep against the Kings in the first round. Wilson comes up with some cockamayme story about why, but it's really because he was forced to give Jumbo and Patty extensions before the trade deadline. Jumbo is livid and Patty is just exasperated at the beginning of this season. TMac is annoyed because he didn't know about any of this until after the fact and perhaps blames Wilson and even the ownership for doing the deal. Then, as has been made public, TMac did not want to put Burns back on D. TMac was forced to do this. And also it has been made public that TMac did not want to strip Jumbo of the "C". The players didn't seem to want it either the way they have all publicly supported Jumbo. Hence the comment by Jumbo that Wilson needs to stop lying.

    Then there's the fiasco throughout this whole season about both Jumbo and Patty waiving their no trade clauses. This would piss both of them off even more. Wilson wanted to piss them off to try to get them to waive. But they stick to their NTC guns.

    Now all of the sudden Patty has his worst year in what, a decade? Is this a coincidence? I don't think it is. I think it's Patty's way of sticking it to Wilson.

    And I think TMac finally went off on Wilson and said enough is enough. I think he's had it with Wilson making decisions which TMac believes are coaching decisions that are causing TMac to not be able to field the best team he knows he can, and that includes being forced to keep Burns on D even though all of his major defensive stats were awful all season.

    This all culminates in TMac realizing he has been scapegoated so he threatens Wlson to publicly air all of Wilson's dirty laundry if he's fired. Wilson back's down enough to make it a mutually agreed separation so TMac can save some face.

    If TMac goes today, it's going to be because TMac decided he couldn't stomach Wilson any longer. I'm convinced of it. And I'm convinced that unless Wilson is moved out of his GM role to somewhere else, both Jumbo and Patty will continue to resist Wilson and make his life miserable until their contracts are up, at which point they'll both retire.

    I can't wait to see what happens later today.

  4. I did not hear that Plattner assured Thornton he could retire as a Shark, so thank you for including that juicy tidbit! What an absolute idiot. For a guy who has publicly acknowledged that he knows little about hockey and would leave those decisions to others, what a bone-headed thing to do. It is one thing if Thornton were 40 and facing free agency, and Plattner gives him a one-year deal to have that honor.

    I can see why TMac would be mad about the Burns situation. Everyone knows he's better at forward, and it is entirely Wilson's fault that he is on D. He completely and utterly failed to bring in a defenseman to take his place. Not sure if he doesn't want to admit a mistake or what, but I don't see why he can't just admit that it didn't work. Honestly, I get the feeling form fans that they wouldn't hold it against Wilson if he had been able to admit the mistake and address it.

    In terms of the Marleau and Thornton no-move clauses, I hope I was clear. I can see why they want to stay, but this is where I think Wilson needs to grow a pair and just execute a move. He already stripped them of letters to force their hand. These no-move and no-trade clauses can be waived all the time. We see it all the time. Look at Rick Nash or David Clarkson. There are ways to get around that, but Wilson is hiding behind it.

    And to add to your points on Wilson and TMac creating this blame culture, I think this has started from the last few years and is coming to a head now. When you think about the Sharks in the playoffs the last few years, there has been some lackluster chemistry. From a media member I talked to, I found out that Martin Havlat is one of the least liked guys in the locker room. He would not say exactly why, but he did say that it was a problem. In terms of Havlat's performance or lack of performance, I can't blame Wilson entirely because that leg injury was really flukey. However, I would question why he would bring in a guy who has a known personality problem, especially in a locker room that has a questionable chemistry. I think bringing in a player who might not have as great numbers but can be a motivator or a glue-guy would have been a much better move for the club. When you look at the Kings the past few years, you get the sense that they all get along and actually play for one another. I think that type of relationship is missing for the Sharks. And all this is probably spilling out now because it's so much harder to keep frustrations in when you're losing and it's been held in for so long.

    And I agree with you on TMac. He has to know he's been scapegoated. I really feel sorry for him. I would be so pissed at Wilson for all this. I don't blame TMac for leaving, and it might be better for the team if he left. You can't succeed if there's going to be this much animosity. There are going to be a lot of available top coaches this summer. However, if Wilson is still at the helm, I'm not sure if the top guys would necessarily be interested in San Jose given what has happened.

    The real X-factor is going to be Plattner because he will have the last say. I think everyone is waiting to see how all this shakes out.