With the NHL’s postseason closing in the on Stanley Cup Finals, Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson looked back on the events that kept the Sharks from advancing, and is now looking toward how they can bounce back in 2007-08.
The Sharks top hockey executive notes that blame for the season ending series in Round 2 falls to the entire organization.
“When we lost to Detroit, we got out GM’d, out coached and out played,” said Wilson. “We’re all accountable and it starts with me. At this point, my heart still says we beat ourselves.”
Wilson knows mistakes will happen in hockey and that rough times will come, but where last year he knew he need more grit in his lineup, this year he was more concerned with how the club responded mentally.
“Anaheim got their (butts) kicked in Game 3,” said Wilson. “(Chris) Pronger was suspended and they showed up for Game 4. We didn’t do it against Detroit (after San Jose lost Game 4).”
San Jose lost due to physical play three and two years ago against Calgary and Edmonton, but that was not the case this year.
“It was not a physical series,” said Wilson. “It anything, we played the way they wanted to play.”
Wilson has had player and coach meetings continuously since the season ending loss and has been looking at himself as well.
“I probably spent the first 10 days analyzing myself,” said Wilson. “The guys are upset, but we’ll find out to what degree.”
Wilson says the pieces are in place to fix everything internally.
“As an organization, it is not always about getting better players,” said Wilson. “We have to make our players better.”
That does not mean there won’t be changes to the Sharks roster when September roles around.
“We will be looking at changes,” said Wilson. “When you win the Stanley Cup, there are changes. Can we get, five more Mike Griers? No. (New players) will be explored, but we’re seeing what we can do better.”
Wilson had a 12-hour meeting with his head coach Ron Wilson, along with Sharks Director of Scouting Tim Burke, to ask the hard questions that need to be answered, to figure out ways to improve the current players and to make the final leaps toward a championship. The Wilsons will meet again to further discuss the matters at hand.
“He asked for a couple of extra days, by Monday it’s the start of moving forward,” said Wilson. “There is a decision for all of us. We’re in the process of reviewing everything. I get all the buzz going on outside (websites and blogs), but I don’t worry about that. Ninety percent of our meeting was great stuff. If you’re going to accomplish your goal, you can’t be afraid of asking tough questions.”
Currently, Ron Wilson and Assistant Coaches Tim Hunter and Rob Zettler are all under contract. In keeping with club policy, Doug Wilson declined to comment on each individual’s contract status.
One area the Sharks can perform at a higher level is the little details to the game.
“If you do the right thing every single day, it happens automatically in the playoffs,” said Wilson.
As for the coach basically calling out the Sharks captain during the postseason, similar situations have worked out for Stanley Cup winning franchises. John Tortorella and Vincent Lecavalier had some run-ins as did Ken Hitchcock and Mike Modano. This year Daniel Alfredsson is in the Finals after being seen as a playoff underperformer for several previous campaigns.
“I would be more concerned if it was a pattern,” said Wilson. “Patrick (Marleau) is one of the leading playoff goal scorers in the last few years.”
In the end, the Sharks had a successful season by the judgment of most NHL franchises, but Wilson and his crew won’t stop until they grab the ultimate prize.
“We had a good year, but consistency was an issue,” said Wilson. “It’s not about a great year and entertaining our fans. We’re here to win a championship. We’re going to get there.”
Right now, the Ottawa Senators are in a position the Sharks hope to be in next year, that of a team who didn’t reach their goal, but persevered the following season.
Ottawa is proving that age is not a major factor as they are younger than the Sharks. Buffalo averages 26.7 years, Ottawa averages 27.1 years and San Jose averages 27.6 years.
Wilson has both Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala under contract for more time, but doesn’t see both being around next season.
“I don’t think many could do what they did,” said Wilson of both handling the rotating netminder situation with such a professional level. “A lot was to honor Warren and both wanted to win the Cup. We will hold conversations, but it is highly unlikely both will be back.”
San Jose has four unrestricted free agents in Craig Rivet, Bill Guerin, Scott Hannan and Mark Smith and Wilson has had several conversations, but there is no guarantee who will be back.
“The teams and players have choices,” said Wilson. “I’ve had conversations with three of the four. I will have conversations with all four.”
Most injuries are revealed when the playoffs conclude, as what happened with Marleau’s shoulder, but others that came to light were sports hernias with Guerin, Smith, Vesa Toskala and Jonathan Cheechoo (a double).
“Vesa could have played,” said Wilson. “(With Cheechoo), they were shocked he was still playing. It is a simple procedure to fix.”
TOUGH YEAR FOR BELL
Wilson did discuss the difficult season for Mark Bell who was talented offseason pickup, who then had some off-ice issues and then found himself a healthy scratch in the playoffs.
“Mark got off on the wrong foot,” said Wilson. “He didn’t play the way he wanted and we didn’t get what we wanted for him. We’re looking forward to getting back the hockey player he was before. I think he can be a really good hockey player (for us).”