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Sharks Gameday: Ron Returns To The Scene Of The Crime

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San Jose Sharks vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

7:30 PM, Comcast Sportsnet

Sharks fans weren’t particularly nice to Brian Campbell when he returned to HP Pavilion. That’s to be expected, as Campbell came with a lot of potential and promise and he failed to deliver, then he said, "Screw you" to the team before cashing in.

So what happens when the guy who came with the most potential and promise returns? Perhaps Ron Wilson himself didn’t embody that potential but his roster – and regular season performance – certainly did, and as the guy who runs the show when it comes to motivating players, the combined lack of inspiration and toughness can fall on Wilson’s shoulders. If only to accentuate the point, Todd McLellan’s got this team doing those things, though it certainly helps that McLellan’s got a better set of defensemen.

Does Ron Wilson deserve a harsh greeting when he steps behind the bench as a visitor for the first time since the axe fell? In my opinion, no. In fact, as critical as I was of the guy, I think he deserves hearty recognition for what he accomplished with the team.

Put it this way: Wilson took a team that focused more on grit than skill and brought the best out of them, if only for a short time. Wilson seemingly has a penchant to make mediocre players good (see: Wayne Primeau) but when the roster become stronger and more skillful, Wilson couldn’t figure out the right combination.

There’s plenty to criticize with Wilson. His stubborn refusal to depart from his "five guys in formation" system gave the team an identity of a fast team that became so entrenched in their roles that they failed to truly use their natural skill and creativity. On the power play, rather than use movement and skill, Wilson’s system simply said, "Go to Joe Thornton on the half boards." And then there’s his whole public smiting of players, something that Toronto’s getting a taste of now. That sort of abrasiveness only goes so far.

Still, you can’t take away the 2003-04 conference finals away from Wilson, and when you look at a roster filled with the Nils Ekmans and Alex Korolyuks of the world, it’s hard to figure out how that particular squad was so awesome to watch. And you won’t hear me criticizing Wilson on the defensive side of things; the team’s goals-against were always strong and for the most part, the penalty kill was solid. It’s just that after the team moved past the overachieving 03-04 squad, something was always off about the team, be it passion or toughness or chemistry.

The bottom line is that despite the team’s post-season failures and inconsistencies, Wilson’s still got the best record in Sharks history – and he’s taken them farther than Darryl Sutter or Kevin Constantine. For that simple fact, Wilson should get a rousing ovation when he’s shown on the HP Pavilion jumbotron.