San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson performs his daily duties just as he did during his 16-season NHL career. He doesn’t wear a helmet. Just like those days on the blue line with the Chicago Blackhawks and Sharks, that’s not always a good thing. The Sharks had been the trendy pick the last few seasons to win the Stanley Cup, although the franchise has been hammered for their shortcomings come playoff time. The Sharks, who went to the Western Conference finals for the second time in franchise history a season ago, are surging of late and begin the week atop of the Pacific Division by four points over the Phoenix Coyotes. Wilson spoke with CBSSports.com’s A.J. Perez about visors, possibly the toughest division in hockey and the headshot rule that led to the suspension of two of his star players.
Q: The Dallas Stars (currently two points out of eighth place) are the only Pacific Division team without a playoff spot. Do you think the Pacific -- which has a shot to become the first division to get all of its teams into the postseason -- is the toughest in hockey?
Wilson: “Points are tough to get, for sure. There are no easy games in the division or the Western Conference. That includes Edmonton, which has a lot of good young players. The Pacific is arguably the most competitive in the league. We knew that coming into the year that it would be difficult and it’d be hard to win as many games as we wanted to.”
Q: With so many teams having a shot at the playoffs this late in the season, how much is that a nod to the salary cap?
Wilson: “We knew the environment we live and operate in. We’re competing at a high level of hockey. There are a lot of really good teams and each is trying to get better. It’s more competitive now than just a few years ago. I think everybody has elevated their level of play. There’s parity. You can’t look at the game schedule and assume anything. It’s quite a change and it’s been great for the fans.
“There are so many one-goal games. There is just so much talent in this league and with the rules, I think it’s pretty exciting hockey. The game is really never over. There are so many great young players that I think we sometimes forget how this good of a game this is. The (salary cap) gets dissected, but the game also hasn’t had this many talented players.”
Q: Last offseason, the league made regulation and overtime wins the first tiebreaker. (Under the old system, shootout wins were counted.) The move lessened the importance of shootout victories, although that extra point is still meaningful this time of the season. Do you like the change?
Wilson: “That’s what we all agreed upon. I would like to see more and more games decided in overtime. I think that’s something we’d all like to see. A tiebreaker for shootout wins is just not exciting for fans. This is the stretch run. I think in many cases the extra shootout point will still determine if a team makes the playoffs.”
Q: Two of your top forwards, Joe Thornton (Nov. 5) and Dany Heatley (March 16), were each suspended two games this season for blindside hits to the head of an opponent. Do you think the league’s players get the dangers of such collisions and has Rule 48 helped?
“The majority of players got it fairly quickly. What we’re trying to do is make the game as safe as possible. This is a fast game with big players and injuries are going to take place. We just have to find a balance. We aren’t going to eliminate all injuries or take away hitting, which is a big part of the game. A few players crossed the line and that had to be addressed.”
Q: You were grandfathered into the league’s helmet requirement since you were already in the league when the rule came into being in 1979. Would you wear one now even if you weren’t required?
Wilson: “I would and it would be one with a shield, too. The speed of the game has changed and everybody can shoot the puck. Player safety is concern for all of us. We want the players to play as hard as they can. At the same time, it’s tough to see the injuries like the one to (Vancouver Canucks center) Manny Malhotra. We recommend and encourage our players to wear shields. I wish they all would. All parties involved should be looking out for the players’ best interests.”
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