Doug Wilson doesn’t like questions about windows. He’s Home Depot-phobic that way.
But every year, the San Jose Sharks are confronted with the “is the window closing/is the window closed/how does the window stay propped open?” questions, because the Sharks are still defined in the greater portion of North America by its oldest players – Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle.
And Wilson wants to redefine the franchise in his own subtle way as Logan Couture’s team, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s team, and Joe Pavelski’s team, and on the way, Tomas Hertl’s team.
In a strange way, though, it's actually Doug Wilson’s team because all of the windows opening and shutting are on his watch, and his watch is now 10 full years old.
Seven NHL general managers have been on the job longer than he, and of those, three are like him – Cup-less. Darcy Regier in Buffalo, George McPhee in Washington and David Poile in Nashville. Of those, only Poile has never been considered as having built a Cup contender, and only Wilson and Ken Holland in Detroit has made the playoffs each and every year of his tenure.
In other words, each year brings not new hope to San Jose, but new pressure to reach a Cup final. The Sharks have reached three Western Conference finals and gone 3-12 in those games, which flies in the face of their regular season and early round records.
And there is a new owner, the multi-billionaire Hasso Plattner, who may or may not be itching for progress or change. But since he hasn’t made himself fully heard on that, we’ll assume until notified otherwise that he is content with his hockey team’s leadership as is.
But elsewhere, the impatience that comes with not closing grows, slowly but surely. San Jose has gone through its “this is their moment” moments, and are now regarded as being in that “bracket filler” stage – good enough to make the postseason, but not good enough to run deep into it.
Which is why this might be the stealthiest Sharks team since Wilson’s first one – the one that went to the 2004 conference final against Calgary a year after being fully wretched and borderline unwatchable.
Logan Couture is now fully formed as the working nucleus of this team, from which all other things emanate. Antti Niemi has grown into an elite goaltender. The most discordant notes in previous rosters have been smoothed over. This is exactly the kind of live underdog that Wilson could brag about, if he didn’t so much need the benefits of stealth.
These Sharks play in a larger but more generous division – shed of Dallas but inheritors of a Vancouver team in decline and flatliners in Calgary and Edmonton. Detroit is now in the Eastern Conference. They still must be considered inferior to Chicago, Los Angeles and St. Louis, but against two of those three, they have the counter-puncher’s chance, and the 82-game prequel could just as well set them up for an easy road through the postseason as it could a first-round gut-punch.
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They are, in short, positioned as well as any team to finally fulfill the fantasies of their customer base – to do something they have never done before.
But they are underdogs in that quest yet again. They’ll need good health, bad health for their foes, and the benefits of timing, which is the truest measure of playoff runs now. Teams have to be best at the right moment, and the first six months matter only for charting the course of the seventh and eighth.
San Jose ought to be one those in play for months seven and eight, but it would have to come from off the pack. Their days with the wide-open window are behind them, and they have long ago stopped being the trendy pick of the smartypants and tastemakers who live in Toronto and all the suburbs of Toronto.
And that may be right where Doug Wilson, the scourge of home improvement fans everywhere, wants them.