The Long Road Back- If nothing else, there is a good possibility that the Sharks Off-season in someways may prove to be more interesting than the season just completed.. Clearly still reeling from what can only be one of the most historic playoff collapses ever in the NHL, Sharks GM Doug Wilson addressed the local sports media in a conference call this past Thursday. Before the conference call, Sharks Majority Owner Hasso Plattner two days earlier in a brief statement said that Wilson would be returning for his 12th season as the Sharks General Manager. It is understood by both Plattner and Wilson that what the Sharks will need to do during the off-season is to really take a good hard look at why this team continues to fail in the post season despite having one of the best regular season records over the past 10 seasons. It is a post mortem that certainly will not be easy to digest however a lot of reality has already hit the Sharks in terms of just not being at the level of a team such as the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks as a team are good, but as far as Stanley Cup caliber they are simply not good enough, period. For a franchise that has lost four of their last five playoff series with the last one basically stripping them of “elite team” status, Team Teal is facing a makeover that will require both patience and understanding from the entire fanbase. During the conference call Thursday, Wilson acknowledge that “...our (relationship) with our fans has been strained, and we have to go out and re-earn that trust.” Wilson freely acknowledge his thoughts regarding those who purchase the season tickets each year as a concern. I have been heavily critical of Wilson in the past, however at least he won me back to some degree by just simply acknowledging how important the fans and season ticket holders are. There are a lot of GM’s who don’t do that over the four major professional sports. All of this said, Wilson also acknowledged that his toughest job as the GM is ahead of him. He also has to know he must break from the philosophies of the past which have left this team dead in the water at the conclusion of this past season. The Sharks long off-season and road back is officially underway.
“We will continue as we move towards a harder, younger, move aggressive team that will stay with it” ... Sharks GM Doug Wilson.
Plattner’s Statement- Sharks Majority Owner Hasso Plattner issued the following statement on Tuesday: “I am very disappointed in the way our team finished the 2013-14 season. Gaining a 3-0 series advantage and being unable to advance is a major blow to our organization and fan base. Our teams have been consistently built to go deep into the playoffs and this goal won't change.
Doug Wilson and I have met over the past two weeks. He has shared his support of the coaching staff, as well as his recommended changes to our team’s roster, and he has my complete support moving forward.
I want to thank our extremely loyal fans and partners for their continued support and to let them know that we are not satisfied with the status quo of the last several seasons.
I am confident that with the proposed changes, Doug and his staff will build a team we can all be proud of.”
My takeaway from this is somewhat mixed. On one hand I’m glad to see that Plattner realizes that what just happened is grossly unacceptable not only to the fanbase but also as an organization. I am glad to hear he is disappointed as he should be. He also acknowledge the fans and let them know that he’s not anymore thrilled about what happened than they are. These are all good things to hear for certain. Behind closed door perhaps, just maybe Plattner told DW he was “...as mad as hell and he wasn’t going to take it anymore!!”, or at least something along those lines. Just perhaps. I can only hope that happened. My other takeaway from this is Plattner just wants his hockey people to manage the crises and doesn’t want to really be brought into it otherwise. Maybe this is wise on his part. On one hand you have an owner who is not meddlesome. On the other hand you have an owner who at times gives the impression of being absentia. Hopefully Plattner understands that just as with SAP he also has shareholders with the Sharks in the name of the season ticket holders and sponsors. He also has to be aware that both he and DW will be solidly judged by what happens to the Sharks not only leading into the 2014-15 season, but the 2014-15 season itself. What will we be talking about one year from today becomes one of the big questions. However the Sharks first must focus on what they need to do here and now and not get ahead of themselves.
Sharks Early Moves- The Sharks first major announcement concerning player personal was made by DW during Thursday’s media conference call. The Sharks made one of their toughest cuts ever and also one of the easiest cuts in franchise history. The toughest cut was the announcement that veteran defenseman Dan Boyle’s time as a member of the Sharks was done after six seasons. Boyle was one player who you can say always gave it 110 percent maximum effort each and every time he played a shift. He also gave it the same maximum effort during practice and off the ice as well. Boyle was one player that the younger core of the team could look to and learn from. In fact that would also be true with even some of the more veteran players. Boyle may have had his lowest point totals as a Shark this season, but it was never due to a lack of effort. Wherever Boyle lands as a UFA this July the team that signs him will be getting one heck of a quality player and man. Though it’s tough to see Boyle go, the move is sadly necessary given what the Sharks must do in terms of a team overhaul. As for the easiest cut, Martin Havlat I will say at least scored a few clutch goals for the Sharks in his brief Team Teal career. The problem was that he was often injured and his contract made him completely untradeable. The good news is the Sharks can take an amnesty buyout and have chosen to do so. Havlat was never a $5 million dollar player at anytime in his career and that fact he was paid that much was obscene. Havlat’s buyout will not count against the Sharks salary cap which means basically the parting was mutual. Both sides wanted to move on and now both have done so. Thankfully this marks the end of that discussion. Team Teal also announced that the Brent Burns “experiment” was over and that he was being moved back to a defensman’s position. DW pointed out that when Burns was acquired from Minnesota two years ago he was brought in as a defenseman. Burns has a goal scoring touch which makes him rare in that department and that is something the Sharks are not overlooking. The statement here is that one of things Team Teal wants to do is get back to basics which isn’t a bad idea at all. As for Alex Stalock, DW called him a “special kid” and will be given an opportunity to compete for whatever opportunity is there. Look for the Sharks to get Stalock resigned very soon. Stalock has earned a new contract and the team’s and fanbase’s trust.
Other Conference Call Takeaways- Wilson is clearly bothered and upset with the end result of playoff series versus the Kings. Wilson pointed to Game 6 as the turning point when the Sharks fell apart as a team after a late controversial Kings goal put the Sharks behind. Wilson also pointed to Game 5 as an inexcusable performance. DW also advised that he wasn’t looking so much to change directions as he was looking to get more of the team’s youth involved in the future of the franchise. Wilson acknowledged that the goal is to do the right things for this team and warned that getting there will not be easy. DW took a question from Drew Remenda regarding the resigning of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau perhaps being premature, DW defended the move saying that both received market value contracts and were still regarded highly as two of the best players in the league. DW expressed his hope that what just happened will serve a great tool for motivation as well as a learning experience for the younger players in particular. The team has to learn and maybe relearn how to put team away once they have control of a playoff series. For all the team has accomplished, DW strongly advised the only thing that resonates now is the most recent results. Wilson also advised that there are “no options off the table” when it comes to who may or may not be on the roster come opening day in October. Wilson noted that the actual process to transition this team to a younger core group began after last season had ended.
As for the coaching staff being kept in place Wilson advised that the coaches on the staff have between them 12 Stanley Cups that they have had a hand in one respect or another. Larry Robinson will return to the Sharks bench which thus far may be the best news of all. Wilson acknowledge that several Sharks sustained injuries however refused to use that as an excuse for the team’s most recent post season failure, stating that all teams still playing today likely have the same amount of injuries. Joe Pavelski had a shoulder injury that required surgery (which has since happened), Jason Demers had a broken foot, Brent Burns had a torn thumb ligament, Patrick Marleau had a torn ligament in his wrist. As far as the UFA market or trades are concerned, DW advised the team is going younger and pretty much left it at that. Wilson advised that the team will still focus on winning while reconstructing internally. Wilson reiterated that all decisions the Sharks make will be “...hockey based” decisions. Finally Wilson acknowledge that the team’s belief system in their own abilities had a lot to do with the loss to the Kings. The Sharks lost faith in their game while the Kings re-established their’s. As for the power play, the Sharks were too predictable which was one reason the team went 0 for their last 16 power plays in the series and ultimately scored only just two goals between game’s five and seven. Wilson finally advised that contrary to popular belief, all player contracts have some “flexibility”.
Go Bold or Go Home- Overall DW realizes that the failure versus the Kings is something that cannot simply be explained away nor should it be. I expressed last week that Wilson should be replaced as GM yet the ownership has decided to stay with him. I say to that "So be it." If nothing else I’m glad to see that Wilson has acknowledge the franchises predicament and fallout and has taken unquestioned ownership of it. Wilson made it clear first round picks will no longer be subject to trade which is one thing this franchise needs to get away from. Too many have already gotten away and are enjoying success on other clubs. DW knows that this is no longer a matter of “refresh and reset’ and he must take much more decisive actions if this team is to reach the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup Championship. This off-season and the season ahead will be the biggest test DW has had as a GM. Wilson also knows that with a strained fanbase which includes season ticket holders he cannot afford to screw this up. I will give my full support to DW as a lifelong fan. All I ask is that he does the right things, gets away from the old philosophies which clearly didn’t work. At the same time I want DW to be not afraid to “Go Bold”. The Sharks need to “Go Bold” as a franchise. That alone will be a departure from the past failed philosophies of this organization. “Go Bold” should be the new team moto. They have been told to “Go Home” too many times already.
Conference Finals- In the Eastern Conference it is a classic original six match-up as the New York Rangers are taking on the Montreal Canadians. Both the Rangers and Canadians are coming off of huge seven game upsets over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins respectively. Both the Rangers and Canadians have endured though some difficult games and in the Rangers case a 3-1 deficit to Pittsburgh after two home losses. The Rangers however have been huge road warriors throughout the playoffs and don’t seemed too phased by the travel. I like the Rangers to win this series on seven games as collectively this team is getting very hot at the absolutely right time. In the Western Conference you have the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks taking on the previous champion Los Angeles Kings. The Blackhawks have won two series against St Louis and Minnesota, each going six games. Chicago has been very tough at home despite struggles on the road at least early in each series. The Los Angeles Kings made the historical comeback against the Sharks and took down the Anaheim Ducks in a tough seven game series. If this series goes seven games it could be anyone’s game. However the Blackhawks match up much better against the Kings than anyone. I like Chicago in six games again here simply because they are a little more loaded than the Sharks or Ducks and have relied on their own experience as much as the Kings have. This should be an entertaining series. The team I want to see win it all is the New York Rangers simply because of two players, Martin St Louis and former Shark Dominic Moore. Both men have endured through some recent tough personal tragedies and have become in many ways quiet leaders for the Rangers. Winning the Cup would be a tribute to both men in overcoming the hardest of blows that life can deal one.
Teemu Selanne- Finally, I want to pay homage to retiring Anaheim Duck Teemu Selanne. As a Sharks fan I can honestly more often than not I actively rooted against his team. To me I look at Selanne the same way I would look at the NFL’s Troy Aikman and Emmit Smith. As a 49ers fan I don’t pull for the Cowboys, yet those two always were great in having what it took to find the will and the way to win. Even as the opposition you have to respect their greatness. Selanne was the same way. Selanne always would be the one man who could carry his team on his back and could be counted on not only to lead, but to be the one man who would find a way to win no matter what it took. Winning to Selanne was almost second nature. Even the one season he was with the Sharks he was a good player to watch and gave it his all. My only regret as a fan was that he was usually on the opposing side. However it was also a privilege to watch this man perform night in and night out. If not for Selanne the Anaheim Ducks don’t have a Stanley Cup banner in their rafters from the 2006-07 season. A lot of great players were on that team, but Selanne was clearly the catalyst that made all things possible. I really enjoyed a commercial that Selanne was in before last season when he was on the golf course and he could not make a decent shot or putt to save himself. Finally Selanne put down the golf bag, pulled out his cell phone and called the Ducks GM to tell him “Yes, I can go one more year”. The spot is probably still on You Tube and if you get a chance to watch it please do so. As for Selanne, he is an easy first ballot Hall Of Fame candidate who has earned his way there. It was a privilege to watch him play, opposing team or not.
...just my two cents...
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