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Wilson revamps Sharks' roster in a big way

by Roger Phillips /
San Jose Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson says he performs an autopsy at the end of every season. He says he analyzes what went right, what went wrong, which parts of the team are solid and which need revamping.

But it's probably safe to say that the postmortem following the 2008-09 season was a little bit more complicated than usual for the coolly analytical Wilson.

On the one hand, there was that 117-point season, which brought with it the Sharks' first Presidents' Trophy.

On the other hand, there was the not-so-small matter of those six games against the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round of the playoffs in April, when all the Sharks had worked for during the previous six months was rendered moot.

It was after that first-round bust that Wilson began tackling a difficult issue: What do you do when everything went so right, yet everything went so wrong?

"What was frustrating last year was just that we don't think we played up to our capabilities," Wilson said during training camp earlier this month, a few days after swinging the blockbuster trade with Ottawa that brought star left wing Dany Heatley to Northern California. "You can live with the results if you know that you've left everything out there. That was the frustrating thing."

The deal for Heatley -- the Sharks traded Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek to the Senators -- was merely the most visible move of Wilson's busy summer. But it was hardly the only one.

When the Sharks open the 2009-10 season at Colorado on Oct. 1, Heatley will be only one of numerous new faces on the roster. This is a team that has undergone almost a 50-percent makeover.

Gone from last year for one reason or another are Cheechoo, Michalek, Christian Ehrhoff, Marcel Goc, Travis Moen, Mike Grier, Jeremy Roenick, Brian Boucher, Brad Lukowich, Tomas Plihal, Alexei Semenov and Claude Lemieux. Those 12 players appeared in an average of 50 games for last season's Sharks, and nine of them appeared in the playoffs.

Replacing them will be Heatley, as well as gritty off-season additions like Scott Nichol, Jed Ortmeyer and Manny Malhotra, plus some younger players trying to break into the NHL. Wilson said the additions all share at least one important characteristic.

"What was frustrating last year was just that we don't think we played up to our capabilities. You can live with the results if you know that you've left everything out there. That was the frustrating thing."
-- Doug Wilson

"All the people that are going to be added to this group are guys that have high compete factors," he said. "It's the combination of skill and will."

What does Wilson want to see in his players?

"You walk out of the rink, you've got to look in the mirror in your teammate's eyes and say, 'I was there for you,'" Wilson said. "Results? They'll take care of themselves."

Wilson said he is finished talking about last season, but the question of what went wrong lingers. The Sharks, after all, seemed unbeatable last season for much of the first half of the season. But they were slowed by injuries down the stretch, and they also may have been victims of their own success. After all, while the Sharks were spending the second half of the season jockeying for the Presidents' Trophy, other teams were simply trying to stay alive.

As it turned out, the Sharks got what might have been the worst possible first-round match-up imaginable -- a series against a battle-tested opponent that had scratched its way into the postseason and had won the Stanley Cup only two years earlier.

"Playoff time is a different season," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "That's where guys really need to step up. That's where a little more attitude needs to be brought to the rink every night. ... We tried to have focus, we tried to shoot for the No. 1 overall, which was a focus. But I still to this day don't know. We didn't change anything system-wise. At the end of the day, (the Ducks) probably were working a little bit harder than we were."

Fellow veteran defenseman Rob Blake added, "The problem is we got in the playoffs and we played the same way we did in the regular season, which was good, but it wasn't the level needed to win in the playoffs. Hopefully we understand that to go far you have to raise to another level. We met Anaheim, who just got into the playoffs, but they took their game to another level. We need to accomplish that."

Of course, none of this is to say that the Sharks regret their dominating 2008-09 regular season. Six months from now if they once again have earned home-ice advantage throughout the postseason and have reached the playoffs with plenty of room to spare, they'll be willing to take their chances.

But Coach Todd McLellan wants to see something more from this year's version.

"Good teams, great teams play 82 games all the way through, they don't dip, they don't dive for long periods, and then they respond in the playoffs," McLellan said. "We were a very good team last year, but we didn't get to where we wanted to be. We've made some changes. We still believe in the way we play. This group will have to re-earn its equity with each other and with the rest of the teams in the league."

Center Patrick Marleau said the effects of last year's playoff meltdown linger.

"We took a really big blow to our stomach and maybe sometimes that needs to happen in order to reach that big goal," Marleau said. "Guys need to come in hungry and ready, ready to prove to ourselves that we can do it."

Will last season's crushing blow ultimately be the catalyst to ultimate success for the Sharks?

Said Marleau, "We'll soon find out."

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