The annual Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony recently got me thinking. What if there was such a thing as a San Jose Sharks Hall of Fame? Who would be the inaugural inductees?
First of all these would be my ground rules. Current NHLers wouldn’t be eligible in the player category and the basic rule of thumb would be that any player considered for induction would be judged solely on his contribution to the Sharks franchise during his time with the team no matter how many other clubs he eventually played for.
I’m going to go with three “SJSHOF" categories: Player, Coach and Builder.
1. Builder Category
This one was the easiest for me. It has to be George Gund, the founding majority owner of the San Jose Sharks. George saw the potential for a successful return of the NHL to the Bay Area back in the early 90’s when the City of San Jose decided to construct a new arena downtown. Gund was so bullish on San Jose that he brokered the sale of his Minnesota North Stars so that he could have exclusive hockey rights in the new building. The rest is history.
The Sharks have been one of the most successful of the NHL’s Sun Belt expansion franchises and for the better part of two decades, Gund was at the ownership helm. Already a member of the US Hockey Hall of Fame, George is a lover of the sport and the Sharks just wouldn’t be the same without him and his vision. Current GM Doug Wilson, the team's first captain, would be my runner up for his excellence in drafting and developing talent and consistently getting the franchise into the playoffs and deep into the postseason.
2. Coach Category
Ron Wilson has won more games as Sharks head coach than anyone else (206). Darryl Sutter has coached the most games (434). And Todd McLellan has the best winning percentage (.681). But my pick for first ever head coaching inductee is Kevin Constantine.
In 1993-94 Constantine, a NHL coaching rookie, took over a Sharks team that had gone 11-71-2 the prior year and transformed them into a playoff club. Not only that, but they shocked the top-seeded Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs and almost took down the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. A year later the Sharks would advance to the second round again ousting Calgary in a Game 7 double-overtime thriller. Under Constantine’s steady hand the Sharks experienced the biggest single season turnaround in NHL history that 93-94 year and he helped put the team on the NHL map in a big way.
3. Player category
Obviously this is the most difficult area in which to narrow the list down to just one player. Igor Larionov is in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Igor was a catalyst on that 93-94 Sharks team along with line mate Sergei Makarov. But Larionov is more remembered for his glory days with the Russian National Team and his three Stanley Cups with Detroit.
Mike Ricci might win the all-time fan popularity contest. Among some of the Sharks goaltenders, you could make a strong argument that Arturs Irbe, among others, is worthy of “SJ Hall” consideration. On the blueline, Sandis Ozolinsh still holds the franchise record for points by a defenseman in a season with 64.
But my first ever player inductee would be Owen Liam Nolan. “Buster” came to the Sharks early in 1995-96 from Colorado and played the best hockey of his career in teal. He was a fierce competitor and forceful leader and captain. Still a fan favorite to this day, Nolan was also a big game player. His Game 7 series-clinching goal in St. Louis in the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs is still one of the biggest postseason moments in franchise history. Owen still holds franchise records for the most power play goals (75) and shorthanded goals (14).
For SJSHARKS.com, I'm Randy Hahn.