Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson met with the Bay Area media for the first time following the Sharks trip to the Western Conference Final. While Wilson would much rather be preparing his club for the Stanley Cup Final, he is very proud of what the team did this season.
“Right out of the gate, I’m damn proud of this hockey team and the coaching staff and the fan base with the support they gave us,” said Wilson. “It’s a different feeling than we’ve had. We made huge strides as an organization. I thank this group for that. This year was a success and it’s only a failure if we don’t build on it. We’re proud of what we accomplished, but we’re not done.”
San Jose’s top hockey executive gave all the credit for the step forward to his coaching staff and the players.
“This year they committed in the summer time,” said Wilson. “There are some guys that came in and added to it, but there was personal growth and they ran with it. They were motivated and found a way. Some of the guys probably said I’m tired of not getting there and others just approached things a certain way.”
Just like the club built on the postseason lessons of 2009, Wilson wants this club to learn from 2010.
“A lot of good things happened this year, a lot of success,” said Wilson. “The key is to build off that. We didn’t get to ultimately where we wanted to get to, but I do feel this organization is now in a (good) place. A lot of guys in that room set the standards. We’ll take a step back and look at it without emotions. We’ll look at it honestly and see where we need to grow.”
Many of the questions at the forefront simply don’t have answers now. Wilson is known for this thorough team evaluations after each season, whether the club was spot on, over performed or under performed. He will take his time and do the right thing. Had Wilson acted on the impulse of many others last year, key performers on the 2010 playoff team may not have been around.
“The first thing you do is decompress,” said Wilson. “We always give everybody a chance to be heard and review the season.”
The names who could test the unrestricted free agent market are Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau
, Rob Blake, Manny Malhotra, Scott Nichol, Niclas Wallin and Jed Ortmeyer. There are already guesses that one of two between Marleau and Nabokov wouldn’t stay, but Wilson should never be doubted when it comes to acquiring or keeping the talent he wants.
“We’re very proud of them,” said Wilson of Marleau and Nabokov. “People should not make premature conclusions. We will make those decisions going forward. They are people who have done tremendous jobs for this organization and both are outstanding hockey players. We’ll deal with that in the near future.”
Wilson will keep direct conversations close to the vest, but will touch base with all his potential free agents.
“Any negotiation we have we won’t talk publicly on. Will we talk with everyone? Yes,” said Wilson. “It starts with meeting the players.”
Wilson holds individual gatherings with the players and coaches every year before the team departs.
As captain of the team, Blake is of keen interest for his leadership role and as he also played top four minutes on the blueline. The bigger question, as Blake hinted he could be willing to come back at a different salary number, is whether Blake wants to return or retire. He says his decision is basically made up, but that he will give it a little time.
“We work hard to make this a place where players want to be,” said Wilson. “It’s that simple. Players have the ability to make choices. It’s teammate to teammate respect and self motivated people want to be with people that are like that. That is why the dressing room is so important.”
In short, there is no offseason for the hockey staff of the Sharks even though the games are over.
“Under this system there is always a lot of work,” said Wilson. “That’s the reality of this business.”
Wilson can’t make any promises on who will or won’t be back, but will continue to try and put the best team on the ice.
“I think it’s premature for anybody to assume anything. Every team under this system has decisions they have to make,” said Wilson. “It’s part of the business. We’ve got players that truly are coming into their prime. Twenty-nine to 30 years of age is key. Even Danny Boyle at 33 is (in) his prime. Then you look at the Pavelskis and Clowes and then the Setoguchis and Vlasics. We’re in an exciting phase to build upon. It will be based on what’s best for the organization.”
Wilson hinted he will once again have a strong roster heading into 2010-11.
“We have an ownership group that has allowed us to commit to doing things,” said Wilson. “We’ve moved draft picks. We’ve moved players. My job is to walk in and make sure those players and coaches have the tools they need to go compete. There are different ways to do it and I’m comfortable with how this organization does it.”
Even with all the talent they will dress next year, the Sharks will have to clear a big hurdle as they look to make it one round further in the postseason.
“It’s similar to golf, you’re not a 10 handicap anymore, you’re playing against the scratches, that makes a difference,” said Wilson. “If we learn from this and go forward, we are excited about it. It still hurts right now and it should.”
The expectations will be there as always though.
“We will not apologize for having high expectations and standards,” said Wilson.
Wilson said a complete list of injuries will come out and that will include torn groin suffered by Dany Heatley and a possible double sports hernia to Jed Ortmeyer.
“He had a torn groin muscle and I’m proud of him for pushing through it,” said Wilson of Heatley. “That’s the commitment players make to each other. We would have liked him to be healthy, but that is playoff hockey.”