Takes and trash talk from both ALL sides of the NHL's most obscure PATHETIC* rivalry

* Thanks, Kevin Lowe!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Search Begins

Well, that was fast. I mean, didn't Doug Wilson say that he was going to do his customary cooling-off period before making any key personnel decisions? Was that all lip service or was that his honest opinion -- and if it was his honest opinion, what made him change his mind?

Whatever the case, Ron Wilson's gone (though as of now, Tim Hunter and Rob Zettler remain). I'd posted my thoughts on the situation on my blog last week, and I haven't particularly changed in that regard -- I'm still thinking that the right situation is a player's coach. That is, a motivator instead of a disciplinarian.

How is this going to affect things? Whoever Doug Wilson hires, it's absolutely imperative that he doesn't turn this speed/skating-based team into a trapping machine a la Minnesota. That means trap-enthusiasts should be out of the question; however, if someone with a history of trapping (such as Paul Maurice) approaches the Sharks with a little bit of sensibility to understand what assets he'll be working with, then that's ok.

I think Doug Wilson's got two things he needs in his new coach. First, he's gotta be a brilliant leader. Leaders don't necessarily have to be buddy-buddy with everyone, but they've got to generate that level of inspiration that forces teams to want to go through the wall for them. Countless players under Ted Nolan talk about him with that kind of reverence, and it's unfortunate that Nolan has another year under his contract with the Islanders. A leader like this not only binds a team together, but inspires them to try to elevate their game -- and when you have sheer talent that doesn't always seem harnessed, tapping into that can be rocket fuel for success.

The second key trait is that he's got to be a brilliant tactician. And that goes far beyond writing down X's and O's on a white board. While I always thought Darryl Sutter was too stubborn for his own good, one of the most brilliant lineup moves I can remember was replacing Jeff Friesen (back when he was good) on the Owen Nolan-Vincent Damphousse line with grinder Dave Lowry. Why did he do that? Because Sutter knew that going against the powerhouse St. Louis Blues, one of the keys to success was getting then-captain Chris Pronger agitated and off his game. Since Pronger was going to be matched against Nolan, Sutter placed Lowry on the with the sole mission of hitting Pronger every chance he got, wearing him down until he started taking dumb penalties.

That sort of adjustment is different from the way Ron Wilson's "If it ain't broke..." mentality. While I understand you should go with something that's working, that simply doesn't always work in a playoff series. Different teams have different specialties and strengths, and if you can't properly adjust to those -- either by proactively shifting lines or changing defensive schemes -- you'll wind up shooting yourself in the foot. That doesn't mean you can't play to your own strengths or stick with your own system; it just means that it's better to be proactive and augment things in anticipation of your opponent rather than reacting to what they throw at you.

Unfortunately, the best person at combining those two traits is the one unemployed guy who probably would be impossible to coax into coming to Silicon Valley and that's Scotty Bowman. After that? Well, if you'll recall my last piece for FoxSports, recent history shows that a long NHL coaching record isn't eactly necessary to find success. We'll see.


RudyKelly said...

Okay, so all you need to find is a player's coach that is not afraid to challenge his players, while also being a brilliant tactician that isn't afraid to adjust things on the fly, although not Wilson's method of adjusting things on the fly? Oh, and he has to be a defensive coach, but not a trap guy.

Sounds simple enough.

Washington said...

Two words: Avery Johnson.

Ok wrong sport, but was a player's coach, great rapport with team (he was their teammate after all), was able to instill some more defensive discipline, while not inhibiting their offensive abilities. And he dresses as well, if not better than RW.

Just find a hockey version of that.

RudyKelly said...

I think his name is Ron Wilson.

PJ Swenson said...

I thought one of Darryl Sutter's best moves was his use of Matteau/Sutter/Stern. As 4th lines go, they added energy and could shut down opposing forwards very well.

But when the Sharks were in critical situations, or when they needed a lift, those 3 guys would bring it. You were not going to have defensive breakdowns, unhindered lanes to the crease, or wide open slapshots on a regular basis.

Earl Sleek said...

I'm already feeling some pity for the next coach of the Sharks; he's already got to have some feeling of a "short leash", as it's tough to point to something tangibly wrong with Ron Wilson's tenure other than the general complaint "no cups".

Somehow I get the feeling that the new coach's job will be to get a better result from a lesser team, with little overall patience and a pretty high comparison point in RW. Hope the new guy comes with some thick skin.

Ian said...

...as it's tough to point to something tangibly wrong with Ron Wilson's tenure other than the general complaint "no cups".

Yeah, except for the fact that the Sharks played consistently worse in the playoffs than they did during the regular season*. "Consistently" is the operative word here.

Also, the Sharks weren't even in hand-waving distance of a Cup in Ron's tenure. People make fun of Ottawa a lot, and compare the Sharks to them, but they've been to the Finals. If they didn't screw up by firing Muckler and making Murray the GM, requiring a new coach, in the off-season, they'd probably have had a better season, too.

* With the exception of the 2004 playoffs, where they played well until imploding against Calgary.

Earl Sleek said...

Also, the Sharks weren't even in hand-waving distance of a Cup in Ron's tenure.

I disagree a bit here--the playoffs are a crapshoot, and I think the Sharks could have won a cup in the past couple of years with a few more bounces, etc.

They did lead their round two series 2-0 two years ago and 2-1 last year, and even though they got "pasted" in this year's 2nd round, the games were generally toss-ups.

It's a lot of disappointment, sure, but get through that 2nd round and I think there's a cup somewhere in there. Especially probably in 2006, when they would have gone up against the likes of the pre-Pronger Ducks and the Hurricanes.