If you’re only as strong as your latest move, San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson may very well be the best in the game.
Labanc Technically Gets a Raise
Imagine being a fly on the wall during negotiations with Kevin Labanc, when the 23-year-old forward, fresh off a 56-point season, agreed to a $1 million, one-year contract. While no one outside the room can know exactly what was discussed, the only way to wrap your head around the end result is to assume Wilson is a master hypnotist.
Even some of hockey’s top analytical minds are confounded by Labanc’s new deal. Not only did Wilson convince him to agree to a “show-me” contract after increasing his point totals in each of the last two seasons following a 20-point 2016-17 rookie season (55 games), but Labanc will also remain a restricted free agent at the end of it.
As a result, Labanc will have close to no leverage other than being arbitration-eligible… and what one can only is presume is Wilson’s word he’ll eventually be compensated for helping the team out of a salary cap jam this summer. Speaking of which, even if that is case, most of the credit should go to Wilson, as the Sharks now boast a relatively healthy projected cap hit, with the most notable player he has to re-sign being an aging Joe Thornton… probably.
Revisiting the Thornton and Karlsson Deals
For the record, Thornton made a manageable $5 million last season. It’s very possible he signs for even less considering his declining production and 40 years of age. Plus, on the subject of Thornton, it was Wilson who pulled the trigger on the deal that brought the eventual Hart Memorial Trophy winner (2006) to the Sharks for Wayne Primeau, Brad Stuart and Marco Sturm, which amounts to one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.
It’s right up there with the Erik Karlsson acquisition via the Ottawa Senators, which is all the more impressive after Wilson was able to successfully extend the Swedish defenseman. Remember, as recently as early June, Karlsson was all but gone and in a Montreal Canadiens jersey.
True, a big reason the Sharks were between a rock and a hard place from a cap standpoint was Wilson’s relatively questionable eight-year, $92 million Karlsson deal. It may even come back to bite the Sharks, because of Karlsson’s injury history, but so could have a hypothetical decision to re-sign a 35-year-old Joe Pavelski at the $7 million per he got from the Dallas Stars.
Wilson didn’t, though. Instead, he re-upped 22-year-old Timo Meier, fresh off a break-out 66-point campaign, to an affordable four-year, $24 million deal, after which he’ll still be restricted. Combined with the Labanc deal, the Sharks’ depth is arguably little worse for wear. While that depth may not necessarily extend to the Sharks’ American Hockey League farm team, when you’re projected to have the likes of Meier, Labanc and a 26-year-old Tomas Hertl in the top six, the prospect pipeline shouldn’t be so much of a concern.
Wilson: NHL GM of the Decade
It would seem that, as the Charlotte Checkers are being celebrated as the latest Calder Cup champions, Wilson is playing chess instead of hockey. And, in an era where a relatively meaningless NHL General Manager of the Year Award is doled out based on an executive’s success over of a single season, Wilson is clearly playing the long game… even as his teams remain competitive year in, year out.
While Wilson has admittedly never won the Stanley Cup (including during a 16-year playing career), he’s still the NHL’s second-longest-serving GM, behind David Poile of the Nashville Predators for a reason. Taking over a 73-point team from predecessor Dean Lombardi heading into 2003-04, Wilson has led the Sharks to the playoffs in all but one season (2014-15). That’s obviously more success than Poile has had with the once-expansion Preds, who, coincidentally, first reached the playoffs during Wilson’s first season on the job.
Of note, it officially took the Sharks one less season than the Predators to reach the Stanley Cup Final (2015-16). Coincidentally again, both teams went on to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In any case, it’s hard to predict when or if the Sharks will get back there. Chances are good, as long as the team continues to be managed the way it has been for the last decade and a half, it will be sooner rather than later… and with Wilson still at the helm.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.