Sharks look like contenders again

Joel Ward was a big part of the puzzle in the playoffs for the Capitals. Patrick McDermott/NHLI/Getty Images

Let's be honest, it has been easy to wonder if San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson had lost his way the last couple of seasons.

After years of enjoying Stanley Cup contender status -- but not actual Stanley Cup championships -- Wilson's Sharks hit the skids.

His squad spit up a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2014 postseason, an epic collapse that threatened to tear the team apart.

Then there were the not so subtle attempts to try to dislodge core players Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, even taking the captaincy away from Thornton in a rather unseemly fashion before last season.

Then the Sharks went sideways in the second half of the 2014-15 season and missed the playoffs for the first time after 10 straight postseason appearances.

Coach Todd McLellan departed for the Edmonton Oilers and there was legitimate wonder if Wilson would survive.

But not only has the veteran GM held onto the job he has held since May 2003, Wilson has in less than two days made three significant moves that could see the Sharks quickly restored to prominence in the Western Conference.

The third of the moves came Friday afternoon as the Sharks swooped up arguably the last impact forward in the marketplace, signing former Washington Capitals winger Joel Ward to a three-year deal worth $9.825 million or $3.275 million annually against the salary cap.

What makes the move significant, apart from the manageable cap hit, is that the Sharks -- fairly or unfairly -- have generally been perceived as lacking the requisite amount of will and sand and grit to get it done in the playoffs. Friday afternoon they added a player who oozes will and grit and sand.

Ward isn't likely to light it up in the regular season -- he had a career-high 24 goals in 2013-14 for Washington but hasn't hit the 20-goal plateau in any other season -- but he simply brings it come playoff time.

He was a force for the Capitals this spring with nine points in 14 games, often playing with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and overall has an impressive 35 points in 53 postseason games.

Ward is 34 but durable and should fit nicely in San Jose, especially given Wilson's earlier moves signing top four defenseman Paul Martin to a four-year deal and acquiring Martin Jones to be their starting goaltender.

Martin has the ability to make defense partners rise to unknown heights, as was the case with Kris Letang this past season in Pittsburgh and will, like Ward, be an easy fit in the Sharks' locker room -- something that cannot be overstated given the turmoil that marked the team the last couple of seasons.

As for Jones, well, he's the wild card in the equation having played in only 34 NHL games, all with Los Angeles. But if the 25-year-old is as good as many hockey people believe, Wilson will have more than adequately replaced the departed Antti Niemi and emphatically put an end to any "rebuild" discussion in San Jose and replaced it once again with "contender" discussion.