The psychological wounds from his team's historic collapse against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs were still raw in late June when San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson held his annual press conference before the NHL Draft.
A few weeks after saying the Sharks needed to take "one step backwards to be in a position to go two steps forward," Wilson said they were fully committed to "rebuilding" and were braced for the "pain" that goes with that process. He said the Sharks "now become a tomorrow team," after making 10 straight trips to the postseason.
Despite those dire warnings, San Jose approaches training camp with largely the same team that finished second in the powerful Pacific Division with 111 points.
The Sharks bought out forward Marty Havlat's contract, traded defenseman Brad Stuart to the Colorado Avalanche and traded defenseman Dan Boyle's rights to the New York Islanders. The Islanders did not sign Boyle and he inked a free-agent deal with the New York Rangers.
2013-14 record: 51-22-9, 111 points, 2nd in Pacific Division, 4th in Western Conference
2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lost in Western Conference First Round to Los Angeles Kings in seven games
Additions: LW John Scott, F Tye McGinn, C Micheal Haley, LW Bryan Lerg, D Taylor Fedun.
Subtractions: D Dan Boyle, D Brad Stuart, RW Marty Havlat
Pending free agents: LW Bracken Kearns (UFA), RW Matt Pelech (UFA)
Promotion candidates: D Mirco Mueller, D Matt Tennyson, D Taylor Doherty, C Freddie Hamilton, RW Eriah Hayes, F Tye McGinn, F Chris Tierney, D Taylor Fedun, C Micheal Haley, LW Bryan Lerg
Top 2014 NHL Draft picks: F Nikolay Goldobin (No. 27); D Julius Bergman (No. 46); F Noah Rod (No. 53)
Every other key player is back, including Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Former Buffalo Sabres forward John Scott, a 6-foot-8, 259-pound physical presence, was the only veteran free-agent addition.
Wilson said in August that the Sharks remain committed to rebuilding through the draft and giving their prospects every opportunity to make the team, but he softened his warnings of near-term pain. He said the Sharks will be "very competitive" this season and compared this team to the one in 2003-04, his first season as general manager.
"We did this in '03-04, repeated the same approach," Wilson said. "The only player we really added in '03-04 was Scotty Parker to bring that sheriff, that physicality and deterrent, so the young players could play, and we went to the third round and had 104 points. You can have a very good young team, be going through this phase and still compete in this League, and that's our belief."
Couture, for one, expects to Sharks to make the playoffs and contend for the Stanley Cup. He said they'll use last season's bitter ending, which saw them blow a 3-0 series lead to the rival Kings, as motivational fuel.
"We have to," Couture said. "There's no other way to deal with something like this. You can't sulk about it anymore. You got to build off it. Individually it has to make you stronger and as a team it has to make you stronger and as an organization it has to make you stronger as well. I think we've got the right people in San Jose to build from this, and I believe we will."
"We want to win the Stanley Cup, so those are my expectations. Those are my expectations going into every season so far with the Sharks. We have a good enough team to win the Stanley Cup."
Wilson survived that meltdown, as did coach Todd McLellan and his entire staff. But changes are coming to the Sharks' leadership group. Earlier in the offseason, McLellan said he hoped to "reset the hierarchy and culture in the organization." He hinted that Thornton, who served as captain for the past four seasons, and Marleau, a former captain and long-time alternate, might lose those roles to younger players. In late August, McLellan announced that the Sharks would open camp without a captain or any alternates and that he'd fill those jobs based on merit and performance.
Although McLellan said Thornton and Marleau, like every other Shark, would be considered for those jobs, it's hard to believe those roles won't go to younger players such as Pavelski, Couture and Vlasic.
"That is a clean slate," Wilson said. "There are no letters on anybody's shoulders. Those will be discussed and earned and decided in training camp on performance and how people come back."
Some of the biggest training-camp battles are expected to come on the blue line after the departure of Boyle and Stuart. Burns is returning to defense after playing forward almost two full seasons, and some promising young defensemen are pushing to make the team. That group includes Mirco Mueller, San Jose's top draft pick in 2013, as well as Taylor Doherty, a second-round pick in 2009, and Matt Tennyson.
Raffi Torres' setback from last September's reconstructive surgery on his right knee could open the door for a young forward. Torres, who missed most of last season, will have a second major operation to repair his ACL and will likely miss much of this season.
Freddie Hamilton and Eriah Hayes each played double-digit games for the Sharks last season and could make the team out of camp. Tye McGinn, acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for a third-round draft pick, is another candidate; the younger brother of former Sharks forward Jamie McGinn, had four goals and one assist in 18 games for the Flyers last season. Chris Tierney, a second-round draft pick in 2012, could also make a strong push.
"There should always be jobs available for someone to come in and take them, take them from someone," Couture said. "Guys are going to need to be ready from the start. It is going to be a competitive camp."
Author: Eric Gilmore | NHL.com Correspondent