Ratto: Playoffs are 'players' time' to Sharks' Wilson

Ratto: Playoffs are 'players' time' to Sharks' Wilson
May 15, 2011, 2:07 am
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Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- This is the time of year when Doug Wilson likes to run silent and run deep. He likes to say, This is the players time, but he would also like to add under his breath, and I have better things to do than talk on the record about our historical profile for the 355th time.Which, as we all know from frequent retellings, is both very good, agonizing and cringe-worthy, depending on where your calendar opens after you throw it.
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It is then fortunate that their foes in this Western Conference final are the Vancouver Canucks, who have as much history with postseason windpipery as the Sharks, and a far greater distrust of the customer base that lives the history out loud every day.Put another way, if Wilson thinks being the general manager in San Jose can be claustrophobic, hed look like Alec Guiness in Bridge On The River Kwai after a few months in Vancouver.As it is, as he and the Sharks arrived in Vancouver for Sundays start of the Western Conference Finals, he is fine. Wary, maybe even weary, but fine. He, head coach Todd McLellan and six players held a pregame media slap-and-tickle at Rogers Arena Saturday, with the usual subject (Which team underachieves better?) front and center.
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I wouldnt think about that at all, he said, and I dont think Todd would bring it up to the players, either. Why would he have to?Whats underachieving anyway, head coach Todd McLellan said. Weve been in eight series in three years, so I wouldnt bring it up even if I thought it had any validity.This is also the time of year when Wilson, if pressed, will most aggressively defend his players, one and all. No hedging, no qualifiers, no quiet pensive moments seeking out the right phrase, and no accepting when the premises of questions even inch toward criticism.For lack of a better phrase, weve come to think of it as the Marleau Gambit, or the Thornton Defense to name the two biggest crit-magnets of the era.Some of this, of course, goes back to Wilsons own career in Chicago, where the constant bristlings of the Wirtz ownership and the creative tensions it liked to brook in the dressing room formed Wilsons own philosophy of what not to do and how not to do it.
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He also sees the criticisms of exceptional players as the brayings of philistines. He is like Al Davis in that he believes that in the end, talent must be honored and talent plus work will win out. That means that the coach at any given time is at least partially responsible for finding those buttons hit in those combinations to get consistent excellence from that talent as Todd McLellan has done with Thornton despite asking him to change his game yet again, and as he still struggles to do with Marleau.And the circle will whirl again with the next generation of Sharks the Ryane CloweJoe PavelskiLogan CoutureJason Demers group of homegrowns. Its just how the hockey world works, has worked, and always will work. Yes, even in the Bay Area, where the game is in bloom for only two months a year.In that way, Wilson has it ridiculously easy. The media following his team is small, fairly malleable, and in some cases out-and-out fanboyesque.But his players come from Canada, and their families read the Globe and Mail and Sun Papers and National Post and Province and Star and Le Devoir, so there is always some blowback to make Wilson grind down some tooth enamel.He never says so out loud, of course. He gets downright adamant when he says he doesnt pay attention to the media horde.But you dont get adamant by not paying attention, no matter how much he may protest. One way or another, he knows what is said and written, he knows who says and writes it, and he knows in many cases how those in question got the information that spurred them to say and write it.So in a series that will be defined by the masses in two ways by who wins, and who remains a group of choking, gagging, retching failing curs he grits his teeth. He is right when he says it is about the players, but thats only in the result sense. The bigger picture is about pride of identification between two cities whose hockey teams have nudged greatness without actually seizing it.RELATED: Canucks had edge over Sharks in regular season
Add to that being on the West Coast, which is the wrong coast for continental attention, and not being part of the Original Snob . . . er, Six, and you get inferiority complexes that Wilson, as someone who likes it to be about the players, can find silently vexing. He likes the cocoon of playoff hockey, but he knows it isnt air tight. Hell, hes always one curious investor with time to kill and an urge to chat from brushing up against the public.So well put it this way. Whatever may happen in this series, the players are their own and only salvations. If the Sharks are better than the Canucks, they should win. If they arent, they wont. Thats the only math that works, because over a series, the better team gets what it deserves almost every time.In other words, winning cures everything, and winning 16 times saves all souls and polishes all reputations. Everyone says and writes lovely things, everyone sings a happy tune, and Doug Wilson aw-shucks his way through the howdjadoit interviews with a definite afterglow that he never got to enjoy as a player or executive.Until then, its a skull-crushing nightmare in which too little can be controlled and too much is in the hands of fate. Both for San Jose, which is 0-for-20, and Vancouver, which is 0-for-40.With all the civic scars to prove it.