Sharks living up to at least one pundit's prediction

December, 26, 2008
We've got more on the San Jose Sharks here that we didn't fit into our main story. One thing that interested us was Dan Boyle's answer when asked why he thinks the Sharks have been so successful so far this season. We expected some sort of X's-and-O's explanation and instead got this:

"I really think -- and I don't want to sound too cheesy or corny -- but this is really a team," Boyle said. "I'm not making comparisons to teams from the past, but I can tell you there's no division within the team. There's no cliques off the ice. It's really 20 guys that go out together, will have dinner together the night before a game.

"There's a lot of team unity off the ice, and I think that carries [onto] the ice. When everyone gets along so well, there's just something special about that."

That carries into the front office as well. Spend a few minutes in conversation with GM Doug Wilson and count the amount of times he uses "I" in a sentence. Hardly ever. He starts all his thoughts or comments with "we." Believe me, that filters down to the dressing room.

The coach
Todd McLellan, 41, comes across as a humble, hard-working guy. He doesn't profess to have reinvented the wheel. So when his players express an opinion, he listens.

"I'm very open," McLellan said. "We don't profess that we're smarter than the players, by any means. They're on the ice, and they often see it before we do. They have some very good ideas. They have very creative minds. I also think if they have the ability to voice an opinion, as long as it's for everybody and not for themselves, they take more ownership of the team. So I try to encourage that, and we meet a lot one-on-one and I try to get their input."

McLellan was also quick to credit former coach Ron Wilson and his staff for the work they did in developing the Sharks' core of players.

"Ron and his former staff did a tremendous job here. They won 50 games or so for a few years. That's pretty darn good. I wasn't naive enough to come in and think that the coaching staff was going to be the savior. There was some real good talent here to begin with."

Recently the Sharks were pummeled 6-0 by the Cup champion Red Wings, McLellan's old team. The coach said it was an important reminder, despite San Jose's success this season.

"I'm definitely of the opinion that the Stanley Cup goes through red and white this year, regardless of who gets to compete for it," McLellan said. "It has to go through that red and white team in Detroit."

His coaching philosophy? "I would like our team to be passionate," McLellan said. "I like us to be a fast, aggressive team, I like us to have the puck. Are we offensive? I'd like to think we are. But that's not at the expense of our goaltender or our own zone. That's still a work in progress as well."

The general manager
Doug Wilson isn't getting too carried away about his team's fast start. "We don't write a final report card based on what our start is," he said.

But he does get some satisfaction from the fact that opposing teams are gunning for them.

"We think it's a good thing that teams use us as a measuring stick," Wilson said. "Teams get up to play us, and we think that's a great compliment. I think it makes you better having to bring your best every night and having to try and find different ways to win hockey games."

Yes, there have been playoff hiccups over the past few seasons, but the best is yet to come.

"This group has gone through a lot together," Wilson said. "And they're just entering this phase where we think it's an exciting time for Sharks fans and for this organization. We've worked hard to get to this point, and we'll go from there."

The captain
Patrick Marleau admitted that while he had a feeling this team was in for a big year, its record at the Christmas break is something else.

"You expect to get off to a good start and play well, but I don't think anybody expected us to be doing as well as we're doing," Marleau said. "It's very exciting. What we've done so far, we can build off of. But we know we still have a long road ahead of us and a lot of work to be done. There can only be one championship team. That being said, it's good to have those expectations."

A final thought
We picked the Sharks back in September to win the Cup this season. It wasn't a trendy pick at the time. Many hockey pundits were tired of getting burned by the Sharks after picking them the past few years. But we went back to the well again. The additions of Rob Blake, Dan Boyle, Brad Lukowich and McLellan can't be overstated. They bring four Cup rings into a dressing room where there had been none. And we think that's the difference-maker.

Still, questions will remain until June rolls around.

"The reality is, who knows how this team is going to react if they win the President's Trophy and the whole world says they're the team to beat?" said one NHL source. "Will they freeze up when the bull's-eye is on them or not?"

We believe their time has arrived. We'll see.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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