The 2014-15 San Jose Sharks and Austin Powers have something in common, they each lost their mojo. Unfortunately for Sharks fans, Team Teal didn’t save the world and get the Stanley Cup in the end. They didn’t have their mojo all along because their GM Doug Wilson stole it and crushed it.
Not “Close Enough”
The much less talked about offseason comment from Wilson about 10 months ago was his stating that he doesn’t think his club is “close enough with where other teams are at.” Oh really? So 111 points, a top-3 possession team, and nearly beating the Stanley Cup Champions two years in a row isn’t close enough? That is an absurd take. The Sharks in 2013 and 2014 couldn’t have been any closer without winning the Stanley Cup. Losing in the first round versus any other doesn’t matter. Every year great teams get knocked out in the first round, that doesn’t mean they weren’t close enough, it is just that 16 teams get in and only half can move on. When you face a Stanley Cup final worthy matchup in the first round because of the new playoff format, losing that series doesn’t mean you weren’t good enough to make a deep run. The 2012-13 Sharks were much better than the 2010-11 Sharks that went one round further. Just because their season ended a round shorter doesn’t mean they were worse. The 2013 Antti Niemi was by far superior to his 2011 playoff self. This is a game of bounces, and sometimes you play great hockey and lose. It happens.
By stating he thinks his team isn’t close enough to with where the other teams are at, Wilson might as well said “we’re not good enough to win the Stanley Cup” because that is essentially what he said. And when, do you ever hear anyone else say such a thing? Every offseason each team should be renewing confidence that with the right moves, this could be the year they put it all together. Instead, Wilson took a team that has always had a high level of confidence and mojo and he did the worst possible thing he could do, he crushed their confidence.
Somber Dressing Room
Those of us around the Sharks players and coaches will tell you that the word confidence gets mentioned time and time again in the dressing room. A large majority of the time when players or coaches are asked to praise certain players, they often will mention something about a high confidence level. Confidence is huge in hockey. And regardless of whether a team hoisted the Cup or finished dead last in the league the year before, the confidence level should always be high during the offseason. The goal and the expectation should always be to win the Stanley Cup. Certainly struggling teams may focus on simply making the playoffs, but you definitely don’t hear someone like Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis saying “we’re not close enough” with other teams.
Perhaps it is my bias clouding my recollection but even when the Sharks were in the middle of winning stretches this season, the vibe in the dressing room wasn’t the same. Maybe because the Sharks actually lost more home games than they won this season the general feel after games was somber because of the increase in losses. Regardless, largely because of Wilson’s bizarre offseason that lacked any sense of direction, the Sharks dressing room didn’t have the same feel whatsoever. One can only wonder what this Sharks season could have been if Wilson had instead said something like this after last season ended: “We’re all incredibly disappointed and pissed off about the finish to our season. Every single one of us takes responsibility for not finding a way to get the job done. That said, we will be back next season stronger than ever, we will re-tool, reload, get better, and be a top tier team yet again.”
Even if Wilson still made the majority of the same questionable personnel moves like Burns to defense and signing John Scott, had he kept confidence and expectations high, that could have been the difference between playoffs and no playoffs. Of course by keeping confidence high, that would have included leaving the captaincy with Thornton and not having made comments about players wanting to play here and not just live here. Had he stayed away from all that negativity, that would have been a significant boost to this team’s performance. It certainly wouldn’t boost the performance as much as adding a top-four defenseman would have, but confidence both individually and collectively for the team is crucial to sustaining success. There is no room for self-doubt or feeling sorry for themselves. And that is basically what Wilson allowed the Sharks to do this past season. He allowed the team as a whole to stop believing they were capable of more. And that is not what you want from your sports team. You always want to believe your team is capable of more.