After an epic choke by the San Jose Sharks in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, general manager Doug Wilson promised big changes. Those seem nothing more than hollow threats after David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News aptly outlined the GM “redefining” comments in the Working the Corners blog Sunday, July 13.
Sometimes, it is okay to admit changing one’s mind. San Jose’s pictured list of backtracking includes the public relations spin on the Ice Team story reaching television evening news coverage that NBC Bay Area even promoted during prime time Monday.
The Sharks would like everyone to focus on the fact that women’s attire is more modest than most of the 20 American cities (only the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings do not employ “ice girls”) and men are also on the team. This is another redefinition that may be true but is not in line with the original message sent.
It is clear there is more focus on the women—they are listed first in sign-ups, with a photo of an attractive pair with exposed midriffs featured above a lone man in a jacket. It is still a step toward objectification in the most progressive American (if not any) NHL market.
Perhaps that could be solved by making the team an even split of men and women with more similar clothing for both. In a region with one of the most active LGBT communities among NHL markets and the league pushing for more female fans, having attractive men on the ice also has some of the benefits of ice girls.
Either way, the clothing can be modestly and equally attractive for both—perhaps form-fitting pants and a flattering, non-revealing tee? That would show that San Jose is receptive to fans in a year it needs to be grateful to them given the Stanley Cup was hoisted by the rival Los Angeles Kings that could have been swept in the 2014 Pacific Division semifinal.
Admitting to changing one’s mind has not been an approach Wilson could afford thus far. Pollak points out more plausible explanations for three statement revisions and makes a strong case for them only being necessary because the general manager’s confrontational tone was not enough to push veterans out the door.
Speculation some comments were directed at Joe Thornton and maybe even Patrick Marleau is sound. So is speculating that neither will be leaving the Sharks, and if one assumes both it is certain that Wilson indirectly calling them out has led to some diminished trust.
It also could be enough to shake things up and put them on the right course. It may not be the course Wilson wanted, but it is the right one given San Jose’s current situation.
Thornton and Marleau are effectively blocking any rebuild simply by refusing to waive their no-movement clauses (at least for trading partners with deals acceptable to Wilson). It is nearly impossible for a team to turn the page if it keeps its two longest-standing and oldest stars with the most cache.
Thornton is a likely Hall of Fame player—good on both ends of the ice and among the generation’s best passers. He has been with the team since 2005.
Marleau might be enshrined one day since he is still good enough to be a gold medalist with Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He is also the face of the franchise, joining the team weeks after being the second pick of the 1997 NHL draft.
Wilson does not seem to want to part with San Jose’s other core players: Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joe Pavelski and probably Brent Burns, Justin Braun or even Tommy Wingels are part of that rebuild. That leaves no available changes.
Pollak also makes a strong case for the team’s need to soften language to bolster what appear to be lagging ticket sales. As the Sharks seek to retain those season-ticket holders, they may be finding that the rebuild is too hard to swallow for fans accustomed to contention.
Wilson has to do what is in the best interests of the team, not the fans. Nevertheless, it would be irresponsible not to be sensitive to those fans after another playoff letdown.
When one’s options to make those unpopular choices are limited, scrapping that plan is good business. Wilson would do well to still make the future his priority, at least until the stretch run from the NHL trade deadline and Stanley Cup playoffs.
Adding Scott Hannan suggests he has entirely scrapped the rebuild. There is little the 35-year old can mentor for younger defensemen that blue-line greats the Sharks can already offer: Larry Robinson is in the Hall of Fame, Wilson has won a Norris Trophy and Jim Johnson played 13 seasons on NHL blue lines.
Hannan’s roster space and ice time will inhibit the development of great young talent: Matt Irwin, Matt Tennyson, Taylor Fedun and/or Taylor Doherty might even be as good by season’s end with enough NHL playing time.
Wilson should not be adding veterans until he sees a team-wide, 60-minute, season-long commitment. Neither Thornton nor Marleau are above criticism for these problems or San Jose’s overriding Stanley Cup playoff failings, so they can take any heat or leadership changes for the new 2014-15 NHL season.
If things go south, they may be willing to move on. If the team plays well enough to make the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, everyone can be glad the first two picks of the 1997 NHL draft overcame the off-season adversity…as long as they overcome more post-season adversity, that is.