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Sharks Ready for Restart

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

In the past, GM Doug Wilson has used the phrase “refresh, reset” instead of “rebuild” to describe what he was trying to do with the San Jose Sharks. Last year, “rebuild” creapt into the sound bites, but there were no standout changes to go with it. Now, with a new coaching staff and new players in key roles, the team faces something akin to an operating system upgrade.

As with an upgrade, many little glitches may just go away, while some handy shortcuts will have to be put back in place. For a while at least, the system will seem cleaner simpler than previously. How much reward the Sharks will reap from the changes will depend on some very familiar factors, from individual player performance to the mental resilience of the group. This is the conundrum that has faced the Sharks for years: they have been good enough to expect that they could do more, but they haven’t. New Head Coach Peter DeBoer has said he won’t tear everything down because there is a lot of good in the team and the way they do things. How much of that good can he salvage without also preserving the bugs and glitches?

One of the familiar questions is leadership. Tommy Wingels was asked about the captaincy issue on the first day of camp. He said:

I think it’s important that someone does wear the C. That being said, that guy’s not going to be the only guy that’s a leader on this team. One guy wears the C but we’ve said around here that this is a team of leaders. If you have one guy doing it all, you’re not going to be great.

The leadership question carries over from last season. That captainless experiment did not exactly devolve into mob rule, but it was far from a well-organized attack unit. That DeBoer plans to put letters on leaders may just be a band-aid but it is a hole that needs to be plugged. It is an obvious first step to bringing the team into a semblance of order.

Joe Pavelski said that the changes to the team are palpable:

There’s a good energy in the room. When you walk into the building and you see the new hallway and the new locker room, it just adds that energy. Even when we were away in the summer and we added those pieces, there was an energy I could feel, excited to get back when I got back and see everybody and get on the ice. Like the signings we’ve had and the improvements and we’ll move forward from that and hopefully it will be positive.

The changes to the locker room decor are a strong visual signal: this is not the same as before. It was not a complete redesign, but changes in wall covering and paint colors are enough to make the room almost unrecognizable. It reminded me of the attention given to the dressing rooms at 49ers Stadium last year. Perhaps that experience drove home the importance of little things like color and texture, the effect they can have on the psyche. That particular game, played out of that particular room, may not be worth repeating, but the new look will be a daily reminder that this season is not last season or the one before that.

Ironically, a fresh start is what a team wants every season. In that regard, newness is not new. Tommy Wingels described the challenge of the clean slate goal:

I think that’s the mindset every player needs to have every year when training camp starts. I don’t think you can expect to be in a certain position based on the previous year. You got to re-earn it every single year, every practice, every exhibition game, into the start of the season. I think Pete has come in and made it clear that what you did in the past doesn’t matter, you’ve got to earn your opportunity this year.

Joe Thornton does not think it will take the team very long to adjust to the new systems under the new coach:

Hopefully just exhibition, hopefully Game One we’ll be ready to go. But who knows, I don’t think it’s going to take a long time to get used to his system. It’s relatively the same as Todd’s, but who knows? Hopefully the more we play games, get six or seven exhibition games under our belt, we’ll be ready to play his system.

This morning, who knows how long it will take? Once the Sharks play a couple of games, they will probably know.

The Sharks will play in Vancouver tonight, one of those exhibition games Thornton mentioned. If the changes are change enough, I would not expect a smooth performance right away. If they play well and win, great. If they play badly and lose, or even play badly and win, it could mean they are figuring out a new way of doing things. The only real failure possible would be if the team looks too much as they have always looked. Even then, they have a few more exhibition games to get their new act together.


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