Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson addressed the local media on Thursday when his team met for the final time. Like everyone, his feelings were a mixed bag of emotions.
Two consecutive years of the Western Conference Final is nothing to discount, but the Sharks, from ownership, to the front office, to the coaches and the players, hold themselves to a higher standard.
“I think the emotions are still pretty raw,” Wilson said. “Certainly there’s lot of pride in what this group accomplished in getting back to the final four and getting to this point. But I also am disappointed not to be playing tonight.”
Not playing “tonight” would mean the Sharks extended the Western Conference Final to a sixth game, but Wilson said a combination of things affected that. While the fact the linesman didn’t waive off the icing at the end of regulation in Game 5 clearly had an affect on the outcome, Wilson was just as concerned about what the Sharks could have controlled.
“I’m not sure we put ourselves in a position to have a margin of error,” Wilson said. “Game 5 in Vancouver, we played really well but we didn’t play well enough early in the series. There’s pride and disappointment. Those are the emotions. Not playing tonight, it’s going to take us a while to get over that.”
The biggest positive moving forward is the Sharks have the nucleus of their club under contract for several years and the goal to move past the conference final will not change. That being said, there are always changes with teams, whether they won the Stanley Cup or finished last.
“Every year the team is different,” Wilson said. “We’re very fortunate the majority of our core and most important positions are in their prime or trending up. We feel we’re in a position to have a good window the next three or four years.”
San Jose’s top hockey executive says the adjustments to his roster could come from inside the organization, possibly from free agency or via potential trades.
“You’re always looking for internal growth,” Wilson said. “Every player in this room has to be at least a bit better next year and some of them have to be considerably better. Often the younger players have to step up and take a spot. If they don’t there are other players that would love to play here.”
Wilson feels the smallest of alterations could be the difference moving forward.
“We’ve won a lot of games the last few years and got to a good place,” Wilson said. “I think it’s little things, a lost detail is a lost game at this time of year. You certainly have to have X amount of talent to be one of the top teams in the League and then you have to execute. I think our coaching staff does an excellent job preparing our players.”
As always, Wilson will remove the emotions of having just been eliminated and then begin processing a way to improve the situation.
“Our core is in tact and under contract,” Wilson said. “You’re always looking for ways to improve your hockey team. We have young players that expect to take a spot. You have a pool of players that will be looking for teams, too. We’ll start our meetings next week when the emotions are a little calmer and start building this team to get better. I don’t think there’s one player in this room that doesn’t think we can get better and will get better to get to where we want to get to.”
One area rarely brought up any more with the Sharks is the club’s resolve as a team can’t make it to the NHL’s final four without a high level of tenacity.
“The resiliency and how we go forward,” Wilson said, “that’s the key to this group.”
It’s a fine line between being in the Western Conference Final and the Stanley Cup Final, but Wilson and the Sharks will continue to press forward until they accomplish their goal.