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Gut-check time as Sharks come off disappointment

by Eric Stephens
This is the 25th installment of our 30 Teams in 30 Days feature, focusing on the San Jose Sharks franchise. In it, we look at the franchise as a whole in the State of the Union section, focus on the team's up-and-coming reinforcements in the Prospect Roundup section and recap this season's selections in the Draft Recap section. NHL Network also gets in on the fun with a block of Sharks programming Tuesday night from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.


Rarely is there a moment when Doug Wilson looks as if he's rattled.

The picture of class and decorum in any setting, the dapper San Jose Sharks general manager is as cool and collected now in a gray suit or a polo shirt as he was in a sweater on the ice as an eight-time All-Star defenseman.

In the few instances that the eternally youthful-looking executive is worked up, there's usually a darn good reason. His team provided one this past April.

A six-game loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs ruined a record-breaking season for the Sharks, whose 53 wins and 117 points earned them a Presidents' Trophy banner, but not the flag they were expected to hang in the rafters of HP Pavilion.

The latest and greatest postseason disappointment left the normally unflappable Wilson fuming, and he didn't contain his displeasure after the shocking result.

"The frustration is overwhelming," Wilson told reporters days after a 4-1 elimination loss to the Ducks. "We owe an apology to our fans and our ownership. … Everything will be evaluated. There's nothing that's off the table. This is going to be a tough, painful summer, and it should be."

As he continued the interview session in his office, Wilson referred to the coming weeks as a time where he would "conduct the autopsy" on his team. Changes would be made, though he wasn't specific in terms of how many he would make or their magnitude.

In the months that have passed, Wilson has opted to move some complementary pieces around, but not break up the core that has brought the Sharks two straight Pacific Division titles, three straight 100-point seasons and four years in which they've averaged 49 wins.

Checking forwards Marcel Goc, Tomas Pilhal and Lukas Kaspar were not tendered qualifying offers. Wingers Mike Grier and Travis Moen were allowed to leave via free agency. Grizzled veterans Jeremy Roenick and Claude Lemieux officially ended their fine careers.

"The frustration is overwhelming. We owe an apology to our fans and our ownership. … Everything will be evaluated. There's nothing that's off the table. This is going to be a tough, painful summer, and it should be."
-- Sharks GM, Doug Wilson

What it means is the Sharks will enter 2009-10 with a largely new group within the bottom six up front. The most significant addition Wilson made was signing former Nashville grinder Scott Nichol, though up-and-coming, energetic center Torrey Mitchell figures to anchor the third line after missing the entire 2008-09 regular season because of a broken leg.

Given that San Jose figured to be perched near the salary cap ceiling to start the season, it figures to look within to fill some of the supporting roles. Logan Couture, the team's top pick in 2007, is already working out in the Bay Area and could get his first real chance to crack the lineup.

But fans that were calling for a major renovation this summer were left disappointed. Neither Joe Thornton nor Patrick Marleau, the franchise's two biggest stars, were traded. The duo, which has received much of the criticism for the Sharks' recent playoff failures, did pay a price as Marleau has been stripped of the captaincy and Thornton of assistant captain status by coach Todd McLellan -- at least entering training camp.

Wilson did re-sign restricted free agent Ryane Clowe to a four-year deal worth $3.5 million per season. But the big move that the buttoned-down exec is reportedly contemplating hasn't moved past the rumor stage.

Two-time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley recently reiterated his desire to be dealt out of Ottawa and San Jose has been speculated as the likely landing spot. Unsigned Boston winger Phil Kessel, a restricted free agent coming off a 36-goal season, has also reportedly been targeted by the Sharks, though Wilson has refused comment on either player. But he has been angered by the names of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and winger Jonathan Cheechoo coming up in rumored deals.

To those who believe he should dismantle the Sharks, Wilson offered up this retort:

"I get the idea of instant gratification and people not understanding why we're not doing everything today," the GM told the San Jose Mercury News. "But this team only needs to be built by the trade deadline. Big deals take time and patience. You have to wait for the moons to align.

"Are we done? No."

Change may still be on the way. Or it may not. Wilson doesn't mind if there are those feeling a bit unsettled as another training camp is on the horizon.

"Every one of us should be uncomfortable," he said in April. "There comes a time when this group needs to grow up and deal with what's in front of them."


For the most part, the Sharks are returning a veteran-laden lineup, and with good reason given they were the NHL's top team during the regular season.

But in watching Jeremy Roenick hang up his skates and having said goodbye to regulars like Mike Grier, Marcel Goc and Travis Moen, along with letting part-timers Tomas Plihal and Lukas Kaspar walk, San Jose should have a couple of job openings among its bottom-six group of forwards.

Given the Sharks' tight cap situation, it should create some opportunities for youngsters such as Jamie McGinn or Logan Couture to earn a roster spot -- and make the jump for good.
Here's a look at the top prospects in the Sharks' organization:
Logan Couture -- Taken ninth overall in 2007, the skilled center took a big step forward last season in juniors as he led the Ottawa 67s with 39 goals and 87 points. Just 20, Couture has a history of missing some games because of nagging injuries but he remains on track to vie for a roster spot this October or start the year in Worcester of the AHL.
Jamie McGinn -- Another product of the 67s, McGinn was good enough to earn a 35-game look with the Sharks in 2008-09, and it's likely time for this winger to grab a fourth-line spot and work his way up the pecking order. An energetic player who can skate like the wind, McGinn still finished in a tie for third at Worcester with 19 goals despite playing in only 47 games.
Thomas Greiss -- Now that Brian Boucher has moved back to Philadelphia, the backup job to longtime starter Evgeni Nabokov is open and figures to be Greiss' to lose. The German netminder has been the main man at Worcester for three seasons and bounced back in '08-09, going 30-24-2 with a 2.47 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
Nick Petrecki -- Selected late in the first round in 2007, the product of Schenectady, N.Y., has no problem throwing his 6-foot-3, 215-pound body around. He has racked up 263 penalty minutes in two seasons at Boston College, including an NCAA-leading 161 last season. Petrecki signed with San Jose in March and will play for Worcester.
Derek Joslin -- Because of his big shot, Joslin led Worcester defensemen with 11 goals last season and is seen as someone who could make an NHL roster as a second- or third- pairing type. He appeared in 12 games with San Jose last season and could continue to be an injury call-up in the coming campaign.


Having given up a 2009 first-round pick because of its acquisition of Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich, San Jose tried to maximize its value in the five selections it made back on June 26-27 in Montreal.

Due to the acumen of Tim Burke, the team's director of scouting, the Sharks have these homegrown players in their lineup: Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Nabokov, Douglas Murray, Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, Joe Pavelski, Christian Ehrhoff, Ryane Clowe, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell.

If that's not enough, there are former Burke picks littered on rosters around the League. The Sharks are hoping defenseman William Wrenn, a product of the United States National Team Developmental Program, is the scouting guru's latest find.

"We talked to all of his teammates and a lot of people about him -- the universal answer was that he's a great leader," Burke said. "We liked that he's going to Denver next fall. He's going to be a shutdown defender in our League, but I believe he can do more too.

"He has good hands and he really began to come on late in the year and just kept getting better as the season progressed. Above all he's a leader and a stopper."
Here's a look at the five players the Sharks selected at the Entry Draft in June:
William Wrenn -- Solidly built at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Wrenn has forged an identity as a stay-at-home type on the blue line whose main focus is to keep forwards from getting room to operate. After serving as captain of the U.S. National Under-18 team, the Anchorage native will take his game to the University of Denver, where the Sharks will watch the second-rounder develop.
Taylor Doherty -- Another selection who fits the mold of shutdown defenseman. The Sharks had to like when the 6-foot-7 Doherty said he patterns his game after Dion Phaneuf, his favorite player. Another second-round pick, Doherty will also throw his weight around as his 258 penalty minutes with the OHL's Kings attest.

Philip Varone -- Playing for a top-flight OHL organization, Varone put up 19 goals and 33 assists in 58 games last season for London. Likely slipped to the fifth round because he lacks a dominant skill, but Varone is a hard worker who will have to scratch and claw his way to the NHL. San Jose is hoping for a big year from Varone for London in 2009-10.

Marek Viedensky –- A big center who came from Slovakia to adapt to the North American game, Viedensky needs to put some more mass on his wiry 6-foot-4 frame. He had 16 goals and 24 assists in his first season with the WHL's Prince George Cougars.

Dominik Bielke -– A project pick for sure, Bielke has some natural gifts for a defenseman with a good shot and a long reach, but the 18-year-old teen from Berlin will have to refine his skating in order to advance past Deutsche Eishockey Liga, the top league in Germany.
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