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San Jose Sharks: Grading Doug Wilson's Tenure as GM

Simon Cherin-GordonContributor IIIMarch 9, 2012

San Jose Sharks: Grading Doug Wilson's Tenure as GM

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    Doug Wilson took over as the San Jose Sharks' General Manager on May 13, 2003. He replaced Dean Lombardi.

    Patrick Marleau is the only player on the Sharks currently who was also in San Jose when Wilson began. Therefore, it is safe to say that the Sharks as they look right now are truly Doug Wilson's team.

    Despite all the turnover, two things have remained constant (besides Patrick Marleau) over these past seven years. Firstly, the Sharks have dominated under Wilson from October through April, making the playoffs seven times, advancing to the second round six times, and the third round three times.

    The second constant has been failure come May; the Sharks have never played a game in June. The combination of this and current struggles have made many question Doug Wilson's job security.

    But a GM should be held accountable for roster moves, not end results. Hindsight is 20/20. Firing Doug Wilson will not light a fire under the team's belly, and a new GM won't change the clubhouse atmosphere. The only reason to fire Doug Wilson is if his personnel moves warrant it.

    With that, let's take a look at Wilson's run as Sharks' GM.

Draft & Prospect Management

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    One of Doug Wilson's biggest criticisms is his willingness to trade draft picks and prospects for proven NHL talent. But let's look at the facts.

     

    2003: Sharks draft Milan Michalek, Joe Pavelski

    2004: Sharks draft Thomas Greiss, Torrey Mitchell

    2005: Sharks draft Devin Setoguchi, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

    2006: Sharks draft Jamie McGInn

    2007: Sharks draft Logan Couture, Justin Braun

    2008: Sharks draft Tommy Wingels, Jason Demers

     

    Looking at that group alone, its clear that San Jose has done a fine job drafting under Wilson. Almost every year, San Jose has added two quality assets through the draft.

    The amazing thing, however, is that Pavelski, Braun, and Demers were all seventh round picks. San Jose's scouting team has a rich history of mining the late rounds, as Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray, Christian Ehrhoff, and Mikael Samuelsson were all picked between rounds four through eight.

    Wilson has made his high picks count (Michalek, Setoguchi, Couture). He has also taken advantage of his team's rare ability to mine late rounds, and thus turned many early round picks and prospects into trade chips.

    You cannot build a team as good as the Sharks solely through drafting. It doesn't work roster-wise or financially. Therefore moving some variety of picks for NHL talent is necessary for all clubs. Wilson's ability to move higher value picks and still enhance his team through the draft is elite.

    Grade: Excellent

Trading

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    Trading has been Doug Wilson's weapon of choice for improving his club. He's made no shortage of major moves as Sharks' GM:

     

    2003: Traded Mikka Kiprusoff for 2nd round pick (Marc-Edouard Vlasic)

    2005: Traded Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm for Joe Thornton

    2007: Traded Josh Gorges and 1st round pick for Craig Rivet and 5th round pick

    2007: Traded Ville Nieminen, Jay Barriball and 1st round pick for Bill Guerin

    2008: Traded Steve Bernier and 1st round pick for Brian Campbell and 7th round pick

    2008: Traded Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, 1st round pick and 4th round pick for Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich 

    2009: Traded Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and 2nd round pick for Dany Heatley and 5th round pick

    2011: Traded Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and 1st round pick for Brent Burns

    2011: Traded Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat

    2012: Traded Jamie McGinn, Michael Sgarbossa and Mike Connolly for T.J. Galiardi, Daniel Winnik and 7th round pick

     

    The Mikka Kiprusoff trade hurt early as Kipper eliminated San Jose from the Playoffs the next spring. But after a decade of great goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov and Marc-Edouard Vlasic becoming an elite young defenseman, that trade is a plus.

    Joe Thornton came into San Jose in 2005 and won the MVP, making him the best midseason acquisition in NHL history by default. He has been one of hockey's best centermen since, while the only loss that hurt at all was Brad Stuart. Huge plus.

    The Rivet and Guerin trades were both enormous busts, although it should be noted that San Jose had an extra first round pick that year, which they used on Logan Couture. So while the trades were busts, they weren't crippling.

    Dan Boyle has been the best defenseman to ever play for San Jose, and arguably the best playoff performer in franchise history. Huge plus.

    Dany Heatley did improve the Sharks' offense, but did not show up in his two postseasons in San Jose. Michalek has continued to get better and was an all-star in Ottawa this year, but his playoff track record since is limited and weak. Wash.

    The Brent Burns, Martin Havlat and T.J. Galiardi trades are too early to evaluate, as they were all made to help this team in the postseason.

    Grade: Above Average

Free Agent Signings

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    Free Agency has never been Doug Wilson's method of choice for building his team. Given that, he has of course made his share of significant signings:

     

    2007: Jeremy Roenick

    2008: Rob Blake

    2009: Scott Nichol, Manny Malhotra

    2010: Antti Niemi

     

    Every other signing Doug Wilson has made has either been a re-signing or insignificant. When looking at this list of significant signings, three things stand out.

    First of all, the list is tiny. Wilson has not made much of a splash in free agency. This is partially due to his commitment to consistency and cap-management strategy, but it is also partially due to timidness.

    Secondly, the players on this list were all low-risk signings. When you consider that each one of these players were signed to one-year deals—small ones at that.

    Finally, when you consider the shortness of this list and the modestness of these contracts, it's pretty amazing how much Wilson's moves have benefited the team. Roenick, Nichol, and Malhotra all helped this team in the regualr and postseason. Blake led the team to the Conference Finals as captain in 2010, and Antti Niemi led the team back in 2011.

    Grade: Very Good

Cap Management

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    Doug Wilson's first priority is to win a Stanley Cup. But winning a Cup requires the perfect balance of patience and aggression.

    While Wilson has not won a Cup yet, he has proven to be a master of this balance.

    In seven years under Wilson, the Sharks have constantly re-tooled their roster. And almost every year, they've been one of the best teams in the NHL. Three times they've gone to the Conference Finals, and six times they've gone to the second round.

    To do this year after year takes, more than anything else, excellent salary cap management. Having a winning team is going to cost money. Either you have to spend a ton of money bringing in great players, or you have to spend a ton of money keeping them.

    Because of this, the NHL is a constantly changing landscape. Most teams get good for a few years, and then fade away. Only a select few—or couple—can maintain talent while staying under the cap.

    Wilson is one of those select few. He has done so through moving big contracts for slightly smaller ones (Heatley for Havlat), allowing the cap to shrink while keeping talent on the roster. He has done so through extending players rather than re-signing them (Thornton, Pavelski)—moves that have panned out. He has done so through letting players walk (Nabokov), or trading away big contracts (Ehrhoff).

    Wilson will continue to make bold trades, turn draft picks into stars, stars into other stars, and other stars into cap space. He may even break up the core of this team altogether. But there are two things Wilson will not do: Mortgage this team's future, or stop pushing for a Cup.

    Grade: Excellent

Conclusion

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    Doug Wilson has not brought a Cup to a Cup-hungry fanbase. For that reason, it's worth taking a look at what he's done as a GM and if he should keep his job.

    Wilson has used the draft to his advantage, both through moving high picks and prospects for established talent and through late-round finds.

    He has done more good than bad through trading, and the bad he has done has not cost this team too much established talent. The good he's done, however, has netted this team arguably its two best players.

    He's made smart moves free-agency without taking huge financial risks.

    No, Doug Wilson has not built a Stanley Cup winner yet. But if this was reason to fire him, there are GM's all over the league that should be out of a job. The fact is that San Jose is on a level playing field with the rest of the NHL, and has made the playoffs in seven straight seasons under Wilson. There aren't enough championships to go around for everyone in seven years, but the best way to increase your odds of eventually getting one is through fielding dangerous, re-tooled teams every season.

    Wilson has done this as well as anyone and has shown no signs of losing his ability.

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