Mike Sullivan has so many connections to the San Jose Sharks.
Besides being the Pittsburgh Penguins head coach that defeated San Jose in their first-and-only Stanley Cup Final, Sullivan was an original Shark, from 1991 to 1994.
The center was part of the two worst teams in San Jose Sharks history, the expansion entry that won just 17 games and the sophomore squad that followed with just 11 victories.
So he knows something about what the current 0-10-1 Sharks, sporting a -43 Goal Differential after the Pens creamed them 10-2 on Saturday night, are going through.
“I just don’t think this game is for the faint of heart,” Sullivan said on Friday from Tech CU Arena, after Penguins practice. “I find it’s eye opening when you see how guys handle tough times. I think it’s revealing, right? I think it’s easy to be a good teammate when everything’s going well. I think when things don’t go the way you had hoped, that for me is an opportunity for people to step up and make a difference for their respective teams.”
Someone who stepped up for those expansion Sharks?
Doug Wilson, the first captain and All-Star in San Jose Sharks history, and GM of the franchise from 2003 to 2022. Wilson recently joined GM Kyle Dubas’s Pittsburgh front office as a senior advisor.
“Well, I was thrilled. I obviously have a personal relationship with Willie. He was my first captain when I played for the Sharks. What seems like a million years ago now, but he’s a great person. He’s a really smart guy,” Sullivan said. “He had a great run as a general manager here. When you look at what the Sharks have done here during his tenure, they were one of the more competitive teams in the league year in and year out. So I was thrilled when Kyle told me that he was going to add Doug to his staff.”
Sullivan was heartened by the fact that Wilson, 66, forced to step away from the Sharks for health reasons, appears to be back at full strength with the Pens.
“He’s really immersed himself in the process here with our team,” Sullivan revealed. He also shared that Wilson was not in SAP Center for the Penguins’ visit, but instead, was likely in Wilkes-Barre, watching their AHL affiliate. “He spent a fair amount of time around our team already in this early part of the season. He was here for a lot of training camp with us. He was with us right before we came out west.”
“He’s one of the smarter hockey guys that I’ve been around,” Sullivan said of the 2021 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. “He brings a wealth of experience to our front office and I think he brings a lot of perspective in a competitive environment. There isn’t too much that Doug hasn’t been through as a manager or as a player, for that matter. He’s a charismatic guy that has a way of making people feel comfortable and empowering people to feel comfortable in speaking their minds. He’s brought that to our hockey operations.”
And going further back than even his relationship with Wilson, Sullivan and San Jose Sharks head coach David Quinn were teammates at Boston University from 1986 to 1988.
Obviously, the Sharks aren’t likely for the playoffs this season, but Sullivan thinks that Quinn is the right man to rebuild with.
“He’s a very good teacher,” Sullivan said. “He has a good understanding of the game, a good command of the X’s and O’s, and not only that, he understands how to help players improve and grow and get better. I think his [coaching] experience in college hockey would really help them in that regard, just dealing with the younger generation and trying to help players grow and develop as people.”
That does sound like a fair way to judge this Sharks squad. Just for example, is a William Eklund growing and getting better?
And going back to Sullivan’s experience on the expansion Sharks, how is an Eklund handling tough times? Is he staying a good teammate?
“Gotta find ways to celebrate the small things along the way,” Sullivan said of playing for original Sharks, though he might as well have been talking about Quinn and the current Sharks too. “You got to dig in, you got to focus on the things that are within your control, to try to get the results.”
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