SAN JOSE, Calif. -- For Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, there couldn’t have been a worse backdrop for his state-of-the team interview Thursday. Equipment bags were piled high behind Wilson in the team’s dressing room, as players began an offseason that arrived earlier than they had hoped – again.
For the second year in a row, Wilson had to deal with the bitter disappointment of his team losing in the Western Conference Finals.
Just two days after the Sharks’ season ended with a 3-2 loss in Game 5 to Vancouver in double overtime, Wilson talked about his emotions, the season and the work ahead.
Q: Can you describe your emotions as a general manager?
A: I think the emotions are still pretty raw. Certainly there’s a lot of pride from what this group has accomplished to get back to the final four and get to this point, but I also think disappointed not to be playing tonight. I’m not sure we put ourselves in a position to have a margin of error in the fact we probably started our playoff mode on Jan. 17. We should have been playing better before then, and then even in the playoffs we played some very good games, certainly Game 5 in Vancouver we played really well. But we didn’t play well enough early enough in the series. So there’s pride and disappointment. Those are the emotions. Not playing tonight is going to take us a while to get over that.
Q: A large core of this team is locked up for the next few years. Do you have what you think it takes or do you need to add some pieces?
A: Every year the team is different. We’re very fortunate that the majority of our core, the most important positions, are in their prime or trending up. So we feel certainly we’re in a position to have a good window for the next three-four years. You’re always looking to add. You’re always looking for internal growth where every player in this room has to be at least a bit better next year, and some of them have to be considerably better, and often the younger players have to step up and take a spot, and if they don’t there’s other players that would probably love to play here.
Q: Is there one main thing you have to address or are there multiple things?
A: Obviously we’ve won a lot of games the last two years and got to a good place. I think it’s little things, and the last detail is the last game this time of year.
You certainly have to have ‘X’ amount of talent to be one of the top teams in the League, but then you’ve got to execute. I think our coaching staff does an excellent job of preparing the players. I think the one concern is we tended to be reactive on occasion instead of coming in and setting the tone. We’re certainly capable of playing a certain style of game, and that’s something that we will take a look at.
Q: Can you talk about a couple young players, Andrew Desjardins and Nick Petrecki, and their progress and chances of making the roster next year?
A: Andrew Desjardins has earned it. He’s worked hard just to get to this point. He’s paid his dues. He is a highly competitive kid who will come in and compete for a spot on this team. The coach (Todd McLellan) certainly showed a lot of confidence in putting him in. Scotty Nichol had a bad cut on his knee, but he did not hesitate to put him in. Nick Petrecki is a big, physical defenseman that’s had a lot of growth in the last year. We drafted him with the understanding that expectations would be high, and he’s right on that track.
Q: You have a number of unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents. Obviously you can’t bring everybody back. What do you feel about the entire number and the number you’re looking at maybe losing?
A: I say this all the time. Our core is intact, and our core is under contract. You’re always looking for ways to improve your hockey team. We have young players that expect to come in and take a spot. You have a pool of players that will be out there 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.
Q: In the process between now and July 1, will you make the decision of who you want to make sure is still here and maybe who you can get to replace them in necessary?
A: You have internal and external options. You’ve got forecasting growth of players, evaluating what is out there, and it’s not just July 1, (it’s) through trade possibilities. We do that every year. But looking around this room, Todd used the word, there’s been a lot of growth, but where we want to get to is going to involve more growth, and the experience of learning from what we’ve gone through this year and last year, and that’s a good thing, but we’re not going to stop.
Q: You said you were too reactive in certain situations. Expand on that. What exactly do you mean there?
A: You can’t in this League expect ‘we’re just going to turn it on and play the way we’re capable of.’ I go back to Jan. 17. We lost six games in row. I think we’re too good a team, we were too good of a team to be in the position we were in at that point, and whether that was because we knew we could turn it on or had the capabilities of doing that, that’s something you can’t have your coaching staff be the ones that to in and read the riot act all the time. There’s a time and place for that, ebbs and flows of a season. You understand that. But even in playoff series, you have to understand the first game can be a very important game. Do I think we played great in the L.A. series? Not necessarily. Detroit, there’s a history there and such high respect, I think all seven of those games were really good games. Game 1 and 2 against Vancouver, I don’t think we played as well in those games as we certainly did in Game 5. It’s the same question that anybody would ask about themselves because I go back to Jan. 17. Did we drain our tank and leave ourselves susceptible to injuries because we didn’t build that margin for error.
Q: How much do you think Justin Braun will be able to contribute next year?
A: I think Justin Braun will be a very important player on this team. His age, his experience. He’s a very good hockey player. He’s got to work hard this summer and come in and do what he’s capable of doing.
Q: Is this the toughest time of the year for a general manager, maybe now until July 1?
A: Well, it is, and it’s for everybody. The disappointment is – the emotions of this game, the great feelings of winning Game 7 against Detroit, watching Jumbo (Joe Thornton) slide after getting the winning goal against L.A., and then the suddenness of it ending in Vancouver and how it ended is pretty tough to stomach. That’s the emotion. That’s the nature of sports, but the resiliency and how we react to that and how we go forward, that’s the key to this group.