SAN JOSE, California -- Not all playoff exits are equally devastating.
After losing in five games to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Quarterfinals last year, the fastest exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks were in turmoil and coach Todd McLellan's job was in jeopardy.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson waited nearly two months before publicly confirming McLellan would return.
This year, the Sharks swept the Vancouver Canucks in the conference quarterfinals and pushed the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings to seven games in the semifinals.
Two days after the Sharks suffered a 2-1 loss to the Kings in Game 7 at Staples Center, Wilson said Thursday that McLellan and his entire staff, including newcomers Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson, will be back next season.
"I think they did an excellent job. Very proud of the staff," Wilson said.
Wilson said his pride extended to the entire team and the way it responded down the stretch and in the playoffs after a long midseason slump.
"I'm disappointed we're not going forward, but, as I told this group, I could not be prouder of what they did and how they came together as a team and how it meshed with the identity of what we were looking for," Wilson said. "There was a moment in Game 3 that I think really epitomized that. We go down to 15 players. We lose [Scott] Hannan, [Martin] Havlat and [Logan] Couture and they just keep on playing for each other. And that's the thing we've been striving for. The coaching staff and the players deserve a lot of credit for playing the game the way it's supposed to be played."
McLellan pointed to the strides his team made, despite again not accomplishing the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
"That's a disappointment, but on the journey to that goal, I thought we became a grittier, faster, more supportive team," McLellan said as his players cleaned out their lockers. "We played toward our identity and grew our team in that fashion. We saw the emergence of some young players come through. We saw the older players be able to adjust to that. We think that we have a foundation set to move forward with the retooling or refresh, whatever we want to call it, of our organization."
Couture emerged as a true team leader and, most likely, a future captain. The loss in Game 7 hit him extremely hard.
"I hate losing, especially when I think we deserved better than what we got," Couture said. "Last year we deserved to lose. This year we didn't. It hurts.
"We had an up-and-down year, came together in the end, worked hard in the playoffs. We deserved better. We didn't deserve to lose to L.A. I thought we were the better team. It definitely hurts."
Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle said he had mixed feelings -- a combination of "frustration and pride" -- about the season.
"We were that close," Boyle said. "We were that close to moving on. That's frustrating. That being said, I think we've come a long way from where we were a couple of months ago. I've been here five years now and we have something really good going. The summer is going to change a few things, which always happens. It's frustration but also proud of the way we competed. We were that close."
San Jose played the final six games against Los Angeles without wing Raffi Torres, who was suspended for his hit in Game 1 that sidelined Kings center Jarret Stoll.
"I still feel like it was a clean hit," Torres said. "I didn't do anything that I don't think I'll do again. Obviously it's tough when he's kind of in a vulnerable position, but I feel like I did my best to stay within the guidelines. Obviously they didn't see it that way, but I've accepted it. I don't have to agree with it."
The Sharks acquired Torres in an NHL Trade Deadline deal with the Phoenix Coyotes. Torres will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he said he's spent enough time with the Sharks to know he wants to re-sign with the team.
"For sure it's a first-class organization. I knew that after the first phone call Doug made to me telling me that I was traded here," Torres said. "It's not going to be hard to make a decision to stay here. They know I want to. It's a great group of guys in here starting with Joe [Thornton] and right down to [Couture] and the goaltending. It's just a good group of guys and it'd be a good place to win here."
McLellan said, "I'm encouraged that he'd like to be back. He's a veteran player that plays the game hard and fast. I thought he fit in extremely well into our locker room quickly, which isn't easy to do, and I believe we missed him when we needed him the most in that final series. There's a lot of positives there."
The Sharks have yet to release a full injury report, but it appears the team is relatively healthy heading into the offseason.
Couture suffered a sprained left ankle in Game 3 against the Kings and had to take a pain-killing shot before every game the rest of the series. He said he expects to be fine after a few weeks of rest.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic suffered a hairline fracture of his right foot in Game 4 vs. Los Angeles but won't need surgery. He played the final three games with the help of pain-killing injections. Defenseman Justin Braun will undergo what he called minor surgery to repair a broken hand.
Forward Adam Burish broke his right hand in Game 4 against Vancouver but returned to play the final two games against Los Angeles. He said doctors "put a plate in it and about eight screws. Put it back together. It's still broken, but it was good enough to play. I don't think I'll be able to play golf for a few weeks. That sucks. It was a pretty good break."
Havlat missed most of the postseason with what Wilson said was a pulled groin. Havlat was injured in the opener against Vancouver and was reinjured in his first game back in Game 3 against Los Angeles, ending his playoffs.
Author: Eric Gilmore | NHL.com Correspondent