If the San Jose Sharks never win a Stanley Cup in franchise history, don’t blame Doug Wilson.
You can’t say the general manager, who has been at the helm since 2003, hasn’t put together a championship-worthy roster. He has, several times, including last season.
You can’t say he hasn’t made trades designed to win now and add to a stacked roster. He did that last season, too.
And you can’t say he hasn’t been willing to break the bank to keep a contending roster intact.
He just did that last week when he re-upped star defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year deal worth more than $11 million per year. Karlsson is now the highest-paid defenseman in the league, the third largest contract in NHL history and San Jose’s largest contract ever.
This is exactly what Wilson envisioned when he acquired last offseason for four average players and draft picks. He fleeced Ottawa, brought in one of the best defensemen in the league and convinced him to spend the rest of his career in San Jose.
Moves like these provide the reasoning for why Wilson is the second longest-tenured GM in the NHL, despite never winning a Stanley Cup. It’s because he has constantly pulled off the right trades, drafted the right players, and made the right decisions to put his team in contention every single year.
That’s literally the job of a general manager, and all that you can ask for from your top executive in charge of personnel. Beyond that, what happens on the ice is more or less out of his control. It is up to the coach and the players to execute.
The Sharks have gone through a few head coaches the last decade-plus — Ron Wilson, Todd McLellan, Peter DeBoer. They have had a gauntlet of star players — Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns and now Karlsson. Their rosters have been consistently loaded. But for whatever reason, they just haven’t found the right combination to produce a championship.
The issue last season? Injuries at the wrong time. They lost Pavelski after he hit his head on the ice in Game 7 of the first round. They were without Karlsson and Tomas Hertl when they needed them most, and they were eliminated two wins shy of reaching the Stanley Cup Final without them.
Without them, the Sharks had no chance against a St. Louis Blues team that went on to win the trophy. With them, who knows? Those are three world-class talents. They are all capable of making game-changing plays. Perhaps they steal Game 6, and take it back home for Game 7.
But that’s just been life for the Sharks franchise. Simulate the rosters they’ve had on 2K and it’s a guarantee they would have a few championships to their name in the last decade. Reality, though, is not a video game. There are unforeseen developments, bad breaks, tough luck losses. The Sharks have had all of the above for too long.
However, in classic Doug Wilson fashion, the Sharks are once again primed to be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2020. They bring back Karlsson to a loaded roster, both offensively and defensively, where Karlsson, Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic lead an unbelievably stacked blue line. They have talent up the middle, talent on the wings, talent on the bottom two lines. Joe Thornton, who is returning next season, would presumably be their third line center. That is ridiculous.
Wilson had to bring Karlsson back. Otherwise, there was no point in trading for him. Moreover, the Sharks have to be in win-now mode again. If they don’t win a championship with the core they have right now — with or without free agent Joe Pavelski — they might never win it.
So if you’re all in, you need an Erik Karlsson. Never mind the injury risk. Never mind that he’ll be 37 when his contract ends. The Stanley Cup, even if it’s just one, will make it worth it.
Eric He is a freelance writer and a USC graduate currently interning at the Southern California News Group. He has been Sharks beat writer and covered a variety of Bay Area sports teams for SFBay. His column runs every Monday.