San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is about to preside over his 13th draft as Sharks general manager.
He has drafted roughly 90 players, but these 90 moves are just a modest fraction of the decisions Wilson has made in his job for the Sharks. In the last column, we looked at his worst moves; today we look at his best. Given the 10 consecutive playoff appearances during Wilson’s tenure, one expects plenty to select from.
Two notable trades just missed making the list. The trade that netted Brent Burns and the trade that netted Logan Couture. Both were superb deals. Wilson has mitigated the upside of the Burns deal to some extent by using him on defense instead of using him on the wing, where is among the very best in the league. Otherwise, it probably makes the top 5. In the prior column, three of the worst moves came when Wilson traded up for a player in round one of a draft. Trading up for Logan Couture, who was picked 9th overall, came very close to making the best list.
Wilson has made a numerous savvy moves over the years, parting with popular but declining players seems to be a strength of his. Dan Boyle, Brad Stuart, Douglas Murray and Ryane Clowe are relatively recent examples of this. These players garnered the Sharks several draft picks including multiple second rounders. Wilson also wisely declined to retain Evgeni Nabakov, as the goalie entered his latter playing years. While this strategy has worked, none of these moves, taken individually, would make the list. Similarly, Wilson has used a strategy where he does not give out lengthy, high-value contracts. This has largely proven successful, as it avoids the sort major mistakes that have hampered several other franchises. Still, this does not qualify as a move. And there is a flip side, Wilson’s successful free agent deals have been few and far between.
In the prior list, 3 of the 5 ‘worst’ moves involved trading up in the first round. On this ‘best’ moves list, 2 draft picks are included, neither selected in the first round. Trades involving veterans play a major role in the ‘best’ list, a much lesser role in the ‘worst’ list.
A few cynical sorts might point out that Wilson’s best moves seem to be reserved for the time he spends with Sharks owner Hasso Plattner. Plattner has chosen to retain Wilson despite some recent questionable decisions. Still, Wilson’s overall record has plenty of good work to select from. Here are his top 5 moves:
5. 2005 Draft: Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Wilson traded goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to Calgary and in return received the 35th overall pick in the 2005 draft. Sure, Kiprusoff helped Calgary win the conference finals in 2004 over the Sharks. Drafting Vlasic might rank higher if not for the painful memory associated with the deal. Vlasic is among the 5 best players taken in the 2005 draft and is among the elite defensive players in hockey. His career +110 rating is second among the players taken in that draft behind only Sidney Crosby. Further, Wilson managed to re-sign Vlasic to a $4.2million per year deal, making him one of the best bargains in the league. Vlasic’s modest offensive production limits his time in the highlights. Even without the highlights, hockey insiders know that when Vlasic is on the ice, good things tend to happen for the Sharks.
4. 2008 Offseason: Hiring of Todd McLellan
Doug Wilson made the right call to dismiss former Head Coach Ron Wilson and hire Todd McLellan to replace him. McLellan, by most any metric, is the most successful coach in Sharks history. He presided over two teams that made the conference finals and led a third to the President’s Trophy. And while it will not go down in any record book, McLellan’s openness and dignified presence represented the team and franchise extremely well. For a relatively young organization in a non-traditional hockey market, that matters. In addition to bringing in McLellan, Wilson was able to bring in hockey legend Larry Robinson to assist McLellan in the 2012 offseason, resulting in an immediate improvement to a problematic penalty kill.
3. 2008 Offseason: Dan Boyle Trade
Matt Carle, Ty Wishart and a late first round pick all went to Tampa Bay in exchange for Boyle and Brad Lukowich. Boyle is the best defenseman in Sharks team history, a quintessential puck-moving defenseman. He quarterbacked the Sharks usually potent power play and his grit seemed to elevate the play of those around him. He was also a workhorse, frequently finishing near the top of the league in minutes, even well into his 30’s. Boyle’s elite play with the Sharks came crashing to a premature end when he was severely concussed on a gruesome hit early in the 2013-14 season. Boyle departed San Jose for the Rangers after the season. While many fans accepted that it was time for him to move on, he remains very popular. As evidence, there was the long and well-deserved ovation upon his return to the Shark Tank last season.
2. 2003 Draft: Joe Pavelski
It is easy to talk about how good Joe Pavelski is. However, that conversation might take a while, because Pavelski excels in so many facets of the game. Goal scorer, passer and leader for starters. Then add in clutch play, face-offs and defense. Keep it going with tough, smart, and hard-working. The list goes on. Pavelski is one of the league’s ultimate chemistry players: he makes the players around him better. Pavelski was picked 205th overall in 2003, a long shot that turned into a great player. While it is rare to get a player of Pavelski’s quality so late in the draft, Pavelski actually has competition for the best player selected 205th overall. Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist was taken in that same spot in 2000 draft. Doug Wilson has drafted about 90 players in his dozen years running the draft for San Jose. Joe Pavelski is the best player Wilson has selected, regardless of draft position.
1. November 2005: Joe Thornton Trade
The best player in Sharks history came over from the Bruins early in the 2005-2006 season and immediately made a mark. For the record, the Sharks parted with Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeaux and Marco Sturm. Not a lot for Joe Thornton. In San Jose, the future Hall of Famer has been one of the best all-around players in hockey. While the albatross of postseason disappointment is often hung around his neck, most Shark fans recognize that he has not been the problem. Thornton is one of those rare players who makes everyone around him better. One of the great passers in league history, Thornton is a force in the face-off circle and one of the toughest players in the league to take the puck away from once he gains control. Ironically, Bruin fans also liked this trade, crediting it for creating cap space which allowed Boston to sign Zdeno Chara, a key part of their Cup run. Still, there is no doubt that this trade is Wilson’s signature move, no doubt that is has paid off for the last decade and absolutely no doubt that this deserves to be number one on the list.