When the Sharks finally made the move to dismiss Ron Wilson, my initial reaction was a shrug and a sigh. I knew it was likely, like most people did. But I think perhaps more than some people, I fear the unknown. There just doesn’t seem to be too many big-name candidates out there to lead the team.
As GM Doug Wilson pointed out at the State of the Sharks event last night, that shortcoming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He related that the last five teams to win the cup did so with first-time champion coaches at the helm.
Would a coach without a ring be a better, more driven, candidate? Not necessarily. I think more than anything, the team needs a leader who can instill his motivation and energy into the players.
My impression of Ron Wilson’s approach this season, while admittedly I am not intimately knowledgeable about the San Jose locker room, seemed to be more about accountability. He trusted the players to know what they needed to do, and he would come down on them if they didn't perform.
The Sharks blew their share of playoff leads this season—perhaps a coach that could rally and fire up a team that is doing well would be on order. Of course, needing to fire up a team to catch and take the lead is a given. But I think the Sharks bench has been a rather quiet spot on the ice, especially when the scoreboard reads in their favor.
So the question is, who is on the shortlist? And who on the list could fulfill the duties and do it well? One thing is sure, and that is that the list is in fact, not short. Doug Wilson threw out the nice round number of 40 potential coaches—without naming any, of course.
I’ll add a second sure thing: whoever heads up the team will have a lot to work with next year. JR will be back. Much of the talent will still be under contract, and there will be a good balance of veterans and younger players. As my esteemed BR colleague MJ Kasprzak has noted, it will be up to the players to make the real run next year. But as we can see in the removal of Ron Wilson, they aren’t always the ones to be held responsible.
Surely the coach for the 08-09 campaign will feel the burden of the team’s playoff baggage. It’s going to be a difficult job—this is not a team that needs new leadership because they finished last in the division or failed to make the second-season cut. This is not a team that is asking a new coach to just do better than the last guy and get a few more wins in the regular season. San Jose wants its first championship, and it is going to take a dedicated, motivating, and vocal coach to get there.
I can’t help but be apprehensive in advance of the decision. As others have already pointed out, the team will need help on defense. Will Campbell be back? In addition to ticket prices, will beer prices at HP go up? So many questions left unanswered. Who would have thought the off-season could produce such anxiety?