The San Jose Sharks are challenging the Chicago Blackhawks for the NHL's best record in part because of their GM and in part because of their balance.
If you see enough NHL game day morning skates, you’ll see teams simply going through the motions of what they think a hockey practice ought to look like; lots of thousand-yard-stares and pantomimed effort, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
That wasn't the case Tuesday morning with the San Jose Sharks at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre: the visitors were active, energetic, engaged. They looked like they wanted to be there and they had every reason to: they’ve won five straight games and trail the Blackhawks by only three points (with two games in hand on Chicago) for the league’s best record. And like the Blackhawks, San Jose’s strength comes from its balance: the rink rat veterans (who just happen to be their best players) and younger talents push each other to raise their games in practice and when it really counts.
“When you’ve got Joe Thornton, and Patty (Marleau) and Danny Boyle, veterans who just love to play the game, and then you’ve the energy of guys like Logan (Couture) and (Joe) Pav(elski) and (Brent) 'Burnsie' (Burns), it’s a group that I think really enjoys each other and enjoys the opportunity to compete,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said after practice. “The younger players have such great respect for the veteran guys, and the veteran guys really provide the younger guys with such good support on and off the ice for what they need to be successful.”
After a five-game losing skid that began in late October, the Sharks have won eight of their past nine. That’s due in part to Wilson’s guidance. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more supportive team architect in the league than 56-year-old former star defenseman. In the way he speaks about the organization, in the way he stands by cornerstones like Marleau and Thornton over the long haul, and in the way he manages expectations of his young players, the Sharks GM exudes a level-headedness and consistency his team is known for on the ice. And although he's aware the Sharks have yet to play even one-third of their regular season, Wilson feels good about what he's seeing right now. In practice, in application and in attitude.
“There seems to be a lot of energy as we’ve gone through this reset and refresh and guys seem to really enjoy being around each other.” Wilson said. “It’s a group that really cares for each other.”