Recently, Doug Wilson has been known as a wheeler and dealer at the trade deadline:
- In 2007, he added second-line talent and got what was considered the key missing ingredient, grit, by trading away first-round picks for both Craig Rivet and Bill Guerin. Rivet performed well enough to be re-signed, but the two combined for just seven points and a minus-eight rating in that year's playoffs.
- In 2008, he got the "prize" of the trade deadline in elite blueline talent Brian Campbell in exchange for a first round draft pick and Steve Bernier. While a lot of Sharks fans consider this a bust, Campbell was plus-three on a team that went 6-7 in the playoffs and led the blueline in scoring with seven points.
- Last season, Wilson looked only to add role-playing talent to the top team in the league, getting Stanley Cup and penalty killing experience in Kent Huskins and Travis Moen. While Huskins did not play because of injury, Moen was quite effective as a penalty killer and checking line forward. Still, this move did not have the desired effect, as the Sharks lost their third series in four years to a lower-seeded team.
So you can see that Wilson has gone after three different things and all have failed. In 2006, he did basically nothing and that failed, too.
At this point, the Sharks have the reputation as the league's biggest playoff chokers, and tend to play with less emotion than their opponents. But this business-like approach works for Detroit, so that is not the problem.
What the Sharks have always lacked is mental toughness and focus. As soon as the other team gets over on them, they are done.
- In 2006, when Milan Michalek was taken out by a Raffi Torres elbow and the Sharks gave up an overtime goal to Edmonton, they never recovered, losing the next three games in the second-round series.
- In 2007, when Robert Lang scored to tie the game with 35 seconds left and Detroit scored the game-winner in overtime, the Sharks once again dropped the next two games in the second-round series.
- In 2008, their focus was instead missing in the beginning of the second round. They dropped their first two games at home to the sixth-seeded Dallas Stars, a hole they could not dig out of.
- In 2009, they did not even wait for the second round, dropping their first two playoff games at home and playing very poorly in games four and six.
The problem for this team is the nucleus lacks the heart, focus, and mindset to win when it really counts. The question that raises is can any trade fix that?
Only time will tell, but there is a hard reality facing this team: 13 of its top 25 players will be free agents at the end of the season, including ten of the 20 that are dressed on a nightly basis.
In other words, if this team does not win this year, it will have a significantly different makeup for 2010-11. It is also likely to have substantially less talent, as the salary cap is not expected to increase noticeably and yet a number of the free agents will receive increases, meaning the money used to replace any unsigned will fetch less return.
Moreover, there are two teams in the division that are young and improving fast, leaving even a division title tough to earn, much less being on the short list of top teams in the league.
This leaves Wilson in a precarious position: San Jose could go all-in to add talent in a trade that would deplete what little corps personnel would be left after an offseason upheaval, or do nothing even though that corps that will be in part lost anyway has shown an inability to win in May.
With so many young teams in the West, the good news is San Jose has a better chance of getting past the second round than in previous years. The bad news is there is not likely to be anyone to knock off Chicago, and that includes a Sharks team that shown this year it is not in Chicago's league, being outplayed in all four games head-to-head.
Moreover, Chicago has added talent to a blueline that was already superior to the San Jose's at the deadline, has more secondary scoring than the Sharks, and a much stronger backup goaltender. They showed last year that they can rise up and go deep in the playoffs.
At my companion site, Shark-Infested Blogger , I will examine the team's biggest needs, the best players available to address them, and whether I would pull the trigger if I were using Wilson's phone.