Wilson re-establishes Sharks as one of NHL's elite


Wilson re-establishes Sharks as one of NHL's elite

SAN JOSE -- It was, quite possibly, a make-or-break year for general manager Doug Wilson, who took the brunt of the criticism from the fan base for a number of different reasons after the Sharks 10-year playoff run ended last season. Another playoff-free spring amid mounting attendance problems might have spelled the end.

Instead, Wilson had perhaps his best 12 months of his front office career, overseeing the organization’s resurgence and first-ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Nearly every move he made worked out.

Consider: Martin Jones looks like the next franchise goalie. Paul Martin and Joel Ward provided depth and experience on the blue line and at forward, respectively. Free agent rookie Joonas Donskoi could be a future 25-goal, 50-point scorer. Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling were upgrades over young players not yet ready for the NHL. Roman Polak struggled in the Final, but was an important piece down the stretch and in the first three rounds in a heavy Western Conference.

All of the key cogs are locked up or under team control for at least another season, too.

Wilson, of course, infamously dubbed the Sharks as a “tomorrow team” after the playoff collapse to the Kings in 2014. “The rebuild is committed to,” he said that June. What happened over those following 12 months wasn’t a rebuild so much as it was a dysfunctional mess, with the general manager, head coach Todd McLellan, and franchise center Joe Thornton and other players all trading barbs – either publicly or privately – as the team finished in 12th of 14th place in the Western Conference.

Did Wilson ever imagine that it could turn around so quickly?

"I don't think there was any doubt that we were going to bounce back because of the players in this room, and the character,” he said on Monday, the day after the Sharks lost to the Penguins. “You're a product of experiential learning. I don't think anybody in life that I know that's successful hasn't skinned their knees, built a little scar tissue, and built off of it.

“This group showed what they're made of. We had some people come in that certainly enhanced and added to it, both players and coaching staff, throughout the organization.”

That includes coach Pete DeBoer, who was maybe the best acquisition Wilson made last summer. Although it took about three months for the Sharks to truly adapt to DeBoer’s preferred style, while dealing with the significant loss of Logan Couture, DeBoer gained the respect of the veteran players while making young players earn their playing time.

DeBoer also clearly had a hand in shaping the Sharks’ roster, something that McLellan was never afforded. Nearly all of the moves the Sharks made after DeBoer’s hiring can be traced back to DeBoer or a member of his staff in some way, shape or form.

It’s not difficult to imagine DeBoer and McLellan at the World Championship last spring, as part of Team Canada’s coaching staff, having discussions about Wilson’s managerial style. Saying Wilson and McLellan weren’t on the same page at the end of last season is an understatement, as McLellan was frustrated with the tremendous deficiency of depth that Wilson and the front office had saddled him with for years.

To Wilson’s credit, though, indications are he changed his modus operandi after he hired DeBoer, and the organization was better off because of it. DeBoer himself was quick to credit Wilson and team owner Hasso Plattner for all being on that proverbial same page.

“It starts with your ownership, right? Hasso has been fantastic,” DeBoer said. “It’s: ‘what do you need?’ There’s no questions asked.

“Doug and his staff I thought had a great list as far as acquisitions go to help us. That was supplemented by some of the information [from] talking to the coaches about some guys that we’ve had before. It worked well.”

For the record, Plattner, during his rare public appearances, always backed Wilson, including on Jan. 19 at the Sharks’ 25th anniversary celebration. Although, he did quantify his support then by telling the media with a chuckle that if he was unhappy with Wilson, he “would tell him that. Not you, but him.”

He stood by Wilson as the general manager stumbled his way through last season’s unpleasantness, and this year supported him financially, too, as the Sharks decided to load up.

“Doug asked me for basically the right to go for it, and he went, he found reinforcements,” Plattner told CSN after Sunday’s loss. “There’s nothing to complain about, except to be sorry that we just didn’t make it.”

The dynamic brings hope for next season and beyond, as the Sharks have reestablished themselves among the NHL’s elite. The coach and the general manager have a solid working relationship, and the owner is there to open his wallet.

That brief rebuild, or whatever you want to call it, may simply go down as an unpleasant blip on the radar that fortunately didn’t end up being an incoming missile.

“Where we came from, the terrible loss against the Kings, then not making the playoffs, to reaching the Stanley Cup Final – we can all be very proud of this team,” Plattner said.

NHL expansion draft: Sharks must decide which goalies to protect, expose


NHL expansion draft: Sharks must decide which goalies to protect, expose

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will look ahead to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, at which time the Seattle franchise officially will join the league as its 32nd team. Every team in the league will be affected, as players from (nearly) every roster will be made available to Seattle for its inaugural roster. We continue with an examination of which goalies the Sharks likely are to protect and expose.

Two summers from now, the Sharks will have a new Pacific Division rival.

The expansion franchise in Seattle is set to officially join the NHL for the 2021-22 regular season, but before it can take the ice, it needs players to do so.

As described in the rules that will govern the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, the rest of the teams in the league (except for the Vegas Golden Knights) will be forced to expose a certain number of players, making them eligible to be selected by Seattle. Each team has the ability to protect a limited number of players on its roster, making those players exempt from selection in the expansion draft.

Those protections are specific to position, and when it comes to goalies, each team will only be able to protect one on its roster. However, all players with no-movement clauses are automatically protected (unless they waive those clauses), and all first- and second-year players -- as well as all unsigned draft picks -- are exempt from inclusion in the expansion draft. 

Based on those restrictions, we can begin to zero in on who the Sharks might expose to the 2021 Expansion Draft, since they (and 28 other teams) will be obligated to expose at least one goalie who is either a) under contract in 2021-22, or b) will be a restricted free agent immediately prior to 2021-22.

Martin Jones enters next season as the unquestioned starter, and he's under contract through the 2023-24 season. He has a modified no-trade clause, but that doesn't afford the same automatic protections as a no-movement clause, so he is eligible to be exposed in the expansion draft. However, with very little in the way of tested netminders behind him in the organization, San Jose might be inclined to protect Jones, assuming he shows further evidence of 'Playoff Jones' between now and then.

Outside of Jones, Aaron Dell is the only other Sharks goalie currently signed to an NHL contract. However, Dell is entering the final year of his deal, and he's due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season. If the Sharks decide they want to expose Dell to the expansion draft, they must first re-sign him so that he fills the contract requirement.

In fact, in theory, any goalie who plays for the Sharks this coming season would be eligible to be exposed to the expansion draft, assuming they fulfill both the contract and experience requirements. 

[RELATED: Sharks will miss Pavelski's leadership more than his goals]

The Sharks have multiple netminders in lower levels of the organization that they're high on, and if they're thinking ahead and want to ensure that none of them are made available in the expansion draft, you could see some clever maneuvering on San Jose's part this coming season or next. For instance, they conceivably could sign a backup goaltender with NHL experience to a contract through at least the end of the 2020-21 season, and then expose that player.

If Jones regresses, he's a natural candidate to be exposed, considering he'll still be under contract at that time. Similarly, if Dell gets re-signed to a short-term deal, that's an obvious sign he's destined to be exposed. Regardless of how the Sharks approach their goaltending situation moving forward, clearly they will need to think long and hard about the ramifications of their decisions.

NHL expansion draft: How Sharks will be impacted by Seattle franchise


NHL expansion draft: How Sharks will be impacted by Seattle franchise

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will look ahead to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, at which time the Seattle franchise officially will join the league as its 32nd team. Every team in the league will be affected, as players from (nearly) every roster will be made available to Seattle for its inaugural roster. We begin with an explanation of the expansion draft rules.

Over the last two years, the Sharks have developed a budding rivalry with the Vegas Golden Knights, who joined the NHL as an expansion franchise prior to the 2017-18 season.

Two years from now, another expansion franchise -- this one in Seattle, Washington -- officially will join the league, and like Vegas, will slide right into the Pacific Division, with the Arizona Coyotes being displaced to the Central Division.

Before the currently unnamed Seattle franchise begins play in 2021-22, it has to acquire its inaugural roster by way of the expansion draft.

The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will operate under the same rules for Seattle as it did for the Golden Knights back in the summer of 2017. Seattle will select one player from each of the other teams in the league (excluding Vegas) for a grand total of 30. Specifically, those 30 players must include at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

Eventually, Seattle will whittle down those 30 players to a minimum of 20 under contract for the 2021-22 regular season, and that inaugural roster must have a cumulative salary that is between 60 and 100 percent of the 2020-21 salary cap's upper limit.

However, it's not as if Seattle can just handpick the best player from each roster. The other 30 teams can protect a limited number of their own players, making them ineligible for selection in the expansion draft.

Those teams have two options for protecting players: Either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or protect eight skaters (forwards or defensemen) and one goalie. Regardless of which option a team chooses, there are certain conditions it must abide by.

For instance, any player with a no-movement clause at the time of the expansion draft -- and who declines to waive that clause -- must be protected and will count toward their team's protected list. Additionally, all first- and second-year players, as well as all unsigned draft choices, are exempt from inclusion in the expansion draft, and won't count toward their team's protected list.

There are two sides to the protected/exempt coin, though. The other 30 teams can't simply scrape the bottom of their respective barrels and expose those remnants to the expansion draft. There are conditions that those teams must meet that ensure Seattle will receive legitimate NHL players, much like the Golden Knights did before making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their debut season.

Each of those 30 teams must expose at least one defensemen and at least two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season, or in at least 70 NHL games over the previous two seasons combined.

[RELATED: Sharks will miss Pavelski's leadership more than his goals]

Furthermore, those teams must also expose at least one goalie who is either under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to expose the latter option to the expansion draft, it must have already given that goalie a qualifying offer prior to submitting its protected list.

Lastly, any players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games heading into 2021-22, or who have been otherwise confirmed to have a career-threatening injury, cannot be exposed to the expansion draft unless approved by the league.

Traditionally, expansion franchises have taken a long time to find their footing in the NHL, but the Golden Knights bucked that trend and took the sports world by storm. Considering the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will have the exact same setup as the one that jumpstarted Vegas in 2017, it stands to reason that Seattle could do the same.