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Pro: Wilson's Offseason Paying Dividends for Sharks
State of the Sharks
11/4/15 - By Zach Bodenstein -

It was nearly four months ago that the Sharks made wholesale changes that had many very skeptical about the team that could not secure a playoff berth for the first time in over 11 years. A new coaching staff, goaltender, forward, and defenseman, while departing with some anchors from the previous year now has the Sharks in line for success.

After coaching the Sharks for seven seasons, winning a President's Trophy and setting a ton of Sharks coaching records, Todd McLellan and Doug Wilson cut ties. Peter DeBoer, famously known for coaching a weaker New Jersey Devils team in 2012 to an Eastern Conference Championship, was brought in. His defense-first style fits to a Sharks team that was lacking that mentality a year ago. Along with DeBoer came Bob Boughner, Steve Spott, and Johan Hedberg, bringing a significant surplus to the defensive game, specifically the ailing penalty kill, as well. If it weren't enough to bring in coaches that specialized in defense, Wilson was also active in the free agent market, bringing in guys that have definitely helped both the offensive and defensive game thus far.

After the Los Angeles Kings traded Martin Jones to the Boston Bruins with the intent of keeping him out of the Pacific Division, Doug Wilson pounced on him just two days later. He surrendered a first-round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly, who has yet to make a significant step towards becoming a pro. So far, Jones has been one of the stories in the NHL. With limited prior experience, the hockey world was shocked that the Sharks were set to have Jones as their number one to start the season, but now, they are shocked that it is working out very well.

Antti Niemi was never able to find consistency with the Sharks after being their number one for five seasons, and Wilson decided it was not working out. Jones is only 25 years of age and is looking better with each game. He is able to bail out the defense much more than Niemi could, looking composed, calm, and quick in between the pipes. Jones has put together a 6-3-0 record with a 1.88 GAA and a .932 save percentage with two shutouts after a terrific preseason as well. This has all come with the inconsistent play of the team in front of him. Jones has been impressive and looks to be the first stable starting goaltender the team has had since Evgeni Nabokov.

34 year-old Joel Ward sees himself leading the offense-filled Sharks in goals and points (7-4-11) after the team's first 11 games. He has found immediate chemistry with Patrick Marleau and putting up these numbers despite playing with Logan Couture, who was his centerman before he broke his leg a few games into the season. Ward signed a three-year deal with the Sharks on July 3rd, another questionable move for Wilson on behalf of the hockey world.

However, the Sharks were lacking a winger like Ward for quite some time. His versatility gives DeBoer options on the penalty kill and on faceoffs, and his surging offense is just a big bonus. A year prior, Wilson announced that his team would go through a rebuilding process where we would see younger players such as Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and others take on a bigger role. While they have, Wilson decided that he has the team to win now, signing the veteran forward along with a veteran stud defenseman, making his critics look like the clueless ones.

Paul Martin may have been the signing of the summer. A team that was lacking a great two-way defenseman that could play on the second powerplay unit and a stable partner for Brent Burns found their perfect fit. Wilson signed one of the top names on the market to a four-year deal on July 1st. He has stabilized the defense with Mirco Mueller still needing development. The Sharks can now ice a solid top-six on the back end that can kill penalties, provide offense, and move the puck quickly to improve their transition game, an absolute home run for Doug Wilson. A move that once again was questioned due to Martin's age, but his fit with the team is tremendous. It is already evident how much more stable the Sharks' defense is with Martin's presence, as it was a disaster during his injury that saw him miss three games.

Wilson also signed Joonas Donskoi after he was named the MVP of his league in Finland and impressed at the IIHF world championships this past spring. He has been a good fit on the top line and penalty kill, specializing in his play in the defensive zone.

Sharks fans have critiqued Doug Wilson for years, but he drastically improved this team in a matter of days. Although it is still early, the Sharks have been showing signs of being a much better team even without Logan Couture in the lineup. The summer that Doug Wilson had is a major factor towards that.


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