The quiet dynamic of this fresh new era in San Jose Sharks history -- the one where they don’t get snickered at by strangers -- is what it takes to rebuild a shambles.
And let’s not smooth this over in these days when casual fans everywhere are grafting themselves on to this hastily constructed bandwagon with claims like “I’ve loved them since 1998,” “I’ve loved them since 1991,” and the new “I’ve loved them since 1967.”
Yes, we know the Sharks didn’t begin in 1967, but Bob Cole, the Canadian hockey announcer and part-time demigod, referred to the Sharks as “North Stars” during the Canadian broadcast of Wednesday night’s Western Conference Final victory over St. Louis, and if Bob Cole says the Sharks are the Minnesota North Stars, they will damned well be the Minnesota North Stars.
Anyway, the North Stars -- er, Sharks -- were what we hockey experts call a hot mess on a cold plate. They had not only undone the good will of a decade’s worth of good hockey, but looked like they might enter a decade of hot mess-itude.
Without getting into our usual tedious detail, the Sharks had reached that stage in their development in which everyone needed to be fired, swiftly, cruelly and in such a way that none of them would ever find gainful employment again. They’d vomited up a 3-0 series lead and been driven from yet another playoffs, doubled down by finishing a misery-soaked 14th-place finish the following year, and if there had been relegation in the National Hockey League, they’d be developing a rivalry with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Instead, a decision to do what they had always been criticized for -- holding on to their core for yet another year -- and making seemingly minor changes at the fringes made the Sharks something they had never been before.
A team that is actually greater than the sum of its parts.
General manager Doug Wilson, who had been rancorously drilled for mangling the Joe Thornton captaincy issue and losing a coherent relationship with now ex-coach Todd McLellan, was retained to the dismay of a fair percentage of the customer base.
But in what can only fairly be called his best offseason ever, he replaced McLellan with Peter DeBoer, who said most of the things McLellan had been saying but with a different voice and tone and with none of the burdensome history and preconceptions.
Wilson then doubled down by fixing his seemingly perpetual goaltending problem by signing former King Martin Jones, repaired his ongoing hole in the third and fourth lines by seizing former Capital Joel Ward, and then figured out how to defend his seemingly tenuous position on Brent Burns as a defenseman by signing Paul Martin, who appears to be the one man that can let Burns be Burns and handle the issues that Burns occasionally leaves undone.
Much was made of the triage of the team’s other gaping wound, the captaincy, which had been taken from Thornton, turned into a rotational honorific and then awarded to Joe Pavelski. But as it turns out, the dressing room dynamics didn’t change all that much, but everyone was satisfied with the decision and its recipient. The “C” didn’t matter so much, but the restoration of peace and removal of tension within the room did.
And after a stuttery start that lasted until the first week of January, the Sharks took all these grafted alterations within the context of the greater commitments to the past and went on the run that has led them here. They are 40-18-4 since losing successive home games to Winnipeg and Detroit on Jan. 2 and 7, a 111-point pace over a full season.
By that extrapolation, they would have been the best team in the Western Conference, making their boatracing of Los Angeles, their survival of Nashville, and their non-glamorous but comprehensive suppression of St. Louis more explicable.
And since victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan (former Boston Bruins coach John F. Kennedy), all those moves now seem prescient and even inspired by the ghost of Sam Pollock, the most successful general manager in the sport’s history.
In sum, owner Hasso Plattner did not fire Wilson, who in turn brought in DeBoer and did some carefully targeted shopping to tidy up the roster disarray, and left DeBoer to work with what had been retained and introduced. His expertise earned with a limited team in Florida and a once-proud team in New Jersey that he led to a Cup final in 2012 caused him to look old problems with new eyes, and address them with a fresh voice.
Thus, he found fresh value in Burns, very slightly adjusted roles for Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and most of the rest of the core group, introduced new faces to the old tapestry, and through the alchemy that happens rarely to once-good teams that too often hit their sell-by date, they are now That Team.
In other words, today everyone is a genius, and the Minnesota North Stars are at last the team of which the entire Bay Area can be proud.