I find myself flip-flopping on the whole Ron Wilson debate, especially after listening to Washington GM George McPhee talk about how and why Glen Hanlon was fired. If you didn't know, Hanlon himself felt that the atmosphere in the room wasn't right and there was nothing further he could try to change it; he felt only some sort of shake up could do it and he offered his head to McPhee. McPhee told him to try one more game to see if he could get the team back; they lost and he was fired.
Now, I don't see Ron Wilson as the type to stick his neck out like that, but it does bear the question -- has he lost this team or are they merely going through an offensive slump?
I don't think anyone has the answer to that question.
Look, a team doesn't have to be perfect to win the Stanley Cup. However, few teams play inconsistent for the whole season before turning it on in the playoffs. Take the 2004 Lightning, for example. After a killer October, the Bolts had a decent November before an awful December that dropped the team to around .500 and created trade rumors around everyone on the team, as well as bringing up the idea of firing coach John Tortorella. Then in January, the team turned it on and kept it going for the rest of the season.
Now, let's look at these Sharks. If you look at their record, you'd think, "Hey, that's not bad." And if you look at Evgeni Nabokov's play, it's been the one consistent standout all season. And the defense? Well, we all thought it'd be a huge problem, but the team is paying attention to details for the most part, and players like Douglas Murray and Christian Ehrhoff are actually stepping up while Sandis Ozolinsh has been a nice surprise.
Ok, so now what? Ron Wilson points out that if he didn't have the ear of the team, they'd be terrible defensively, and he's probably got a point there. But is it possible for the offense to just be filled with bad luck from top to bottom, minus Joe Thornton?
For those people that say that Patrick Marleau's done and should be jettisoned in whatever manner possible, those folks haven't been watching the past few weeks. For whatever reason, Marleau's shown a marked difference from mid-November on; he's using his speed a lot more -- and a lot smarter -- and he's generating his share of scoring chances. Now, for whatever reason, they're just not going in. The same can't be said for Jonathan Cheechoo, who can't seem to get a shot off to save his life, though logically, if you think about coming off a double-sports hernia surgey (essentially ripping apart both your groins), it makes sense that his timing, speed, and strength are all off.
So, you have the best defensive team in the league and a bunch of underachieving superstars who are lucky to put up two or three goals per night. Are things really that bad? There's a fine line between winning and losing, and if you can trust your defense and goaltending, most of the time, you'll wind up on the better side of that. And if the offense wakes up, then you should be dominant in the league.
Would firing Ron Wilson change things up? I don't know. I do know that Marleau and Cheechoo are going through the proverbial "squeezing the stick too hard" thing while Devin Setoguchi's initial hot streak has cooled off (which is really to be expected), and I'm not sure if a shake up behind the bench is the answer to firing up the offense. Because really, the offense is the only inconsistent thing the team's dealing with; the numbers show that from the blueline in, the team's doing ok (sans last night against Buffalo).
But on the other hand, look at what happened in Atlanta -- the same group of guys started to catch fire right after Bob Hartley was fired. And it doesn't really mean that the right guy or wrong guy went in behind the bench for Atlanta, it just means from all accounts that Don Waddell went in with the attitude of "work hard, have fun" instead of Hartley's "work hard or else" tactics.
Maybe changes of scenery would help this team out. Maybe not. I think that's the problem; the issues are easy to point out on the surface (Marleau, Cheechoo), but what lies beneath that? I don't think anyone can pinpoint that exactly.