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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.