Wilson, now in his 15th year running the Sharks, was never really viewed as overly cautious among his peers, but he was certainly committed to a consistent draft-and-develop strategy and understandably conscious of the revenue and payroll restrictions of San Jose, which plays in one of the NHL’s smallest rinks.
In the past three years, however, Wilson has become increasingly bold, almost at the same time Nashville counterpart David Poile has become similarly aggressive when it comes to trades. In a theme that was to reappear, Wilson figured out a slightly diabolical way to get goalie Martin Jones out of divisional rival Los Angeles, involving Boston as a brief stopping point before bringing in the netminder to solidify the Sharks in the crease. Jones, in his first season, took San Jose all the way to the Stanley Cup final before losing to Pittsburgh.
Last winter, Wilson went after a player, Evander Kane, who had worn out his welcome in both Winnipeg and Buffalo, and also a player other GMs wouldn’t touch for reasons of salary, production and baggage. After paying a first-round pick, a conditional fourth and a prospect for Kane, the Sharks were delighted to see Kane score nine times in 17 regular-season games, then another four times in nine playoff games.
The second-round loss to Vegas was massively disappointing, but the Sharks liked what Kane had shown them enough to give him $49 million over seven years. That setback to the Golden Knights, meanwhile, only served to make Wilson more aggressive.
Aware, as was all of the hockey world, of the ugliness in Ottawa between Mike Hoffman and Karlsson, Wilson got Senators GM Pierre Dorion to trade Hoffman to him, unloading the salary of Mikkel Boedker in the process. Then, in a similar way to the Jones swaps three years ago, Wilson surprised everyone by flipping Hoffman to Florida, putting him right back in the same division as Ottawa and making Dorion look a little foolish for not putting a rider on the deal.