NEW PLAYERS 5
NEW RULES HELP
BETTER THAN '03-04? YES
Ron Wilson was a lost soul in May. "I had nothing to prepare for," says the Sharks coach, who normally would have been knee-deep in playoff strategy. "I had to keep myself from going insane." To satisfy his competitive urges Wilson, an avid golfer, entered a U.S. Open qualifier in Lake Mary, Fla. With the top six finishers moving on to sectional qualifying, Wilson shot a three-under-par 68 but failed to advance after making a seven-way playoff. "I almost lived my dream," says Wilson, who lives in Bluffton, S.C., in the off-season. "Well, the Number 1 dream is winning the Stanley Cup."
By emphasizing speed and puck possession in 2003--04, San Jose jumped from worst to first in the Pacific Division, set a franchise record with 104 points and reached the Western Conference finals, losing to the Flames in six games. With a young team, Sharks G.M. Doug Wilson saw no reason to overhaul his roster. "The biggest thing for us is continuity," he says. "Some teams have 11 or 12 new players. We kept all our players. We're coming into our prime, and we're ready to play."
No one is more ready than 26-year-old forward Patrick Marleau. At the beginning of '03--04, Ron Wilson experimented with naming a new captain every 10 games. After Alyn McCauley's stint, which ended with the 30th game, McCauley came back to the locker room, pointed at Marleau and said, "There's your captain." Marleau wore the C for the rest of the season.
The youngest member of Team Canada, which won gold at the 2004 World Cup and silver at the world championships in May, the 6'2", 220-pound Marleau did not play in Europe during the lockout, instead waiting impatiently for the league to resume business. He arrived at the HP Pavilion two weeks before the reporting date and rented ice time with All-Star goalie Evgeni Nabokov. When Doug Wilson ran into the typically reserved center at the rink, Marleau grabbed Wilson's hand, broke into a smile and said, "Can't wait." --Yi-Wyn Yen
Expect a big year from winger Milan Michalek.... Ron Wilson has made this the NHL's best-prepared team.
Milan Michalek [rookie]
Christian Ehrhoff [rookie]
• Italics denotes rookie
RICK STEWART/GETTY IMAGES (MARLEAU)
Logos Courtesy of the NHL