SAN JOSE – Doug Wilson’s primary goal in the days and weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline wasn’t any different from his fellow general managers of clubs that consider themselves Stanley Cup contenders. He wanted to add some needed pieces to a group that has put itself in a position to make a deep playoff run.
He was able to do that. Roman Polak, Nick Spaling and James Reimer are established NHL players that add the kind of depth that has been lacking for several years. The Sharks are a better team than they were two weeks ago, and deeper than they have been since making back-to-back appearances in the Western Conference Finals in 2010 and 2011.
Still, Wilson had to walk the line of trying to add to his team without upsetting the locker room dynamic, something that was identified as a problem following the playoff collapse of 2014.
The subsequent resetting of the leadership structure seems to be working so far, and messing with that too much would have been a risky proposition.
“We always have to be on top of the chemistry and dynamic of the group, but I think our players and coaches will look and say we’re a better team now, more equipped going down the stretch with those ingredients that we all identified that we wanted to add,” Wilson said.
As he often does, Wilson indicated that the trade deadline was the culmination of a plan that was put in place months earlier. To him, Polak, Spaling and Reimer are essentially in the same boat as Martin Jones, Paul Martin and Joel Ward. All of those players fit into the culture that he’s been trying to create ever since that low point in franchise history was followed by a disastrous 2014-15 campaign.
The Sharks have shown a type of resiliency and compete level on a nightly basis that just hasn’t been seen here in years. Their NHL-best road record despite some grueling trips, and the fact they’ve been able to take care of business against weaker opponents are reflective of that new attitude that Wilson, Pete DeBoer and the veterans in the dressing room have all had a hand in creating.
“It’s really a tight, tight group,” Wilson said. “They’re open and honest with each other.”
“We knew that we wanted to make sure we brought in people that really enhanced our culture. You watch how our team plays on the road, you watch a game [Sunday night in Vancouver, a 4-1 win] where they are running on empty and find a way as a group. … It started with identifying the right type of people.”
It was also vital to Wilson that he was able to keep all of the organization’s prized prospects. He’s already down a first and a third round pick in the 2016 draft, so it will be important for the current youngsters on the Barracuda and other places to develop into everyday NHL players over the next few years. Nikolay Goldobin, Mirco Mueller, Timo Meier and Jeremy Roy – all first and second round picks – remain in the organization.
Further, Wilson has said more than once that the second round picks he surrendered in 2017 and 2018 to acquire Polak and Spaling could be restocked at some point. A Patrick Marleau trade in the offseason, something Wilson naturally wouldn’t comment on when asked about Marleau’s future, is one potential scenario.
“I can’t say enough about the guys we drafted the last two years. For us not to have to move any of them in the deals was crucial to us, and giving up picks 2-3 years out, we feel we’ll be able to replenish that,” Wilson said. “We feel we stuck to our plan.”
That plan, of course, is to win. Now.
“We think our hockey team – the way they’ve played have certainly earned these additions – we feel pretty good going into the stretch run,” Wilson said.