PITTSBURGH - For 13 years, general manager Doug Wilson has been searching for the right mix to get the San Jose Sharks over the hump in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
Wilson put together some pretty good teams. Some looked good enough to win it all, yet always came up short.
This season, almost unexpectedly, the Sharks have broken through and reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 25-year history. With the finish line in sight, Wilson and the Sharks are being careful not to look past the Pittsburgh Penguins, their opponent in the Cup Final, which begins at Consol Energy Center Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
But there is some level of satisfaction in making it this far.
"I'm so happy for this organization, for our fan base, all the players and people that have worked for this organization." Wilson said Sunday. "Our focus is on [Monday] night's game. There will be a time to talk about it [later]."
Still, after closing out the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final last Wednesday, Wilson couldn't help thinking about late former owner George Gund, who helped bring the Sharks to San Jose as an expansion team in 1991 and current majority owner Hasso Plattner. Wilson, 58, was the captain of the inaugural Sharks team and has seen how far this organization has come.
"Mr. Gund brought us here, Mr. Plattner has kept us here," Wilson said. "We've had phenomenal ownership all the way across the years and the support of our fan base. But there will be another day to talk about all that in depth, a lot of people to thank for that journey."
It would be understandable if Wilson had doubted if the Sharks would ever reach this point. Through so many summers that followed disappointing springs, Wilson had searched in vain for what they were missing.
They had a core of stars many teams would envy. Wilson made some changes along the way with Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic joining the group; others such as Ryane Clowe and Dan Boyle departed. Remaining through it all were Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau.
Those three have taken their lumps, some of them from Wilson. Marleau and Thornton each served as team captain and were eventually stripped of the C.
Wilson and Thornton had a much-publicized rift last season. Marleau reportedly requested a trade at the start of this season.
The captaincy was taken from Thornton after the Sharks crumbled and blew a 3-0 lead in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If that wasn't rock bottom, then it was missing the playoffs for the first time during Wilson's tenure as GM in 2014-15.
"You look back and it was the first time we missed the playoffs in  years and we're not going to take that very lightly," Wilson said. "This team since '03 has made four conference finals and played 24 playoff rounds, so our players had some great accomplishments in this game, but we hadn't accomplished what we wanted to do."
At that point, no one would have questioned Wilson if he decided to break up his core and start over. Depending upon who you believe, he might have tried.
"We did feel that we had a very good team, and that's why we stayed on the course," Wilson said. "Everything was kind of a piece of the puzzle, but we never wanted to say that we were not going to try to compete again this year."
What happened was more of a retooling and, finally, all the pieces appear to have fit together. Wilson fired coach Todd McLellan and replaced him with Peter DeBoer. Last summer, he supplemented his defense by signing Paul Martin away from the Penguins, traded for No. 1 goaltender Martin Jones and added clutch playoff scorer Joel Ward up front.
Prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, Wilson acquired defenseman Roman Polak and forward Nick Spaling.
"Doug Wilson could have easily said, 'We're going to rebuild this year,'" Martin said. "He was like, 'We're going to go for it little more.'"
DeBoer, who reached a Stanley Cup Final with the New Jersey Devils in 2012, admitted he had some preconceived notions about the collection of players he inherited with the Sharks. He wasn't sure how they would stand up once the big games started in the playoffs.
They have more than proven their mettle.
"Coaches, we're like everybody else," DeBoer said. "We read the papers, we read the opinions and, unfortunately, sometimes we put too much stock in that until you see these guys firsthand. These guys are battled tested and they're mentally tough. They easily could have multiple Cup wins. Why they don't, I don't know. Sometimes it's luck, injuries at the wrong time or whatever. I think it's just a testament to how hard it is to win and they've finally put themselves in a spot where they've got a legitimate shot."
by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL
/ NHL.com Staff Writer