Firing Wilson Not Enough For Sharks

Matthew CucuzzaContributor IMay 15, 2008

The San Jose Sharks initiated the winds of change Monday and ended their relationship with head coach Ron Wilson. He holds franchise marks in wins (206), winning percentage (.535) and postseason appearances as coach (52). He has also led Team Teal to their only two division championships. Though many around the NHL have called for this move, Wilson’s list of accomplishments makes the firing difficult to justify.

“Ron helped foster a new era in San Jose Sharks hockey with some record-setting regular season performances,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a press release. “However, ultimately we have decided that it is time for a different voice and a different approach to lead this team.”

Keyword: approach.

This means that a coaching change will not suffice. More must be done.

The key to the offseason for the Sharks is re-signing defenseman Brian Campbell. He turned down Sabres GM Darcy Regier’s three-year contract offer worth just under $6 million per season before landing in San Jose at the trade deadline. Campbell has publicly admitted he wants a contract close to that of Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov, who recently signed a five-year deal worth $5.75  million per season. Rumors around the league state that Campbell could bring in as much as $7 million per season if he were to test the free agent market. It’s up to Doug Wilson to convince Campbell to stay in San Jose. He must do this by acquiring two scorers: one on the bench and one behind the bench.

Doug Wilson loves his two-way players. Joe Pavelski. Curtis Brown. Jonathan Cheechoo. Joe Thornton. The list is extensive. But what about one-way players? What about a high-risk/high-reward offensive beast (Fabian Brunnstrom anyone)? Doug Wilson needs to change his approach to drafting and signing players. San Jose has enough two-way players. What they don’t have is someone who stickhandles their way to a goal consistently. DW needs to take risks on the Niklas Hagmans and Mike Ribeiros of the world. Of course, these players are defensive liabilities, but wouldn’t you like to see their soft hands streaking past the final defender and to the net? I think that reward is worth the risk, especially when I consider the long list of current Sharks who share the description “liability.”

The problem with Ron Wilson can be summarized in the following sentence: When Ron Wilson said something, not everyone would listen. The problem does not lie with his coaching philosophy; the problem lies within the players and their desire to work for their coach. Sadly, Ron Wilson got the axe for this reason.

If any proof is needed to justify Wilson’s coaching philosophy, one only needs to look back upon this past regular season. The Sharks won a lot of games. Wilson’s game plan works.

But in the postseason, the players need extra motivation to overcome the ever-so-popular playoff adversity. They need a coach that they want to impress, that they want to play for, that they want to win with. Ron Wilson did not hold that kind of relationship with his players.

But there is someone on the Sharks staff who does.

Mike Ricci, recently named to the new post of Advisor to Hockey Operations (a position made specifically for him), is my choice for new head coach. This may be a radical move due to Ricci’s lack of coaching experience, but a radical move is exactly what the Sharks need.

Ricci spent seven seasons in teal, winning the admiration of the Shark City faithful by doing anything it took to win. He bled. He got hit. He dove in front of flying pucks. He would step up and contribute when it mattered most. Most importantly, when he said something, the entire team listened and took it to heart. And let’s not forget: he knows what it takes to win hockey’s ultimate prize.

Consider the possibilities: players and fans, united in harmony under one coach. A team desperately wanting to succeed for their coach, and fans desperately cheering on their team for the same reason.

It’s the formula of champions.