1-on-1 with Sharks GM Doug Wilson

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1-on-1 with Sharks GM Doug Wilson

I sat down with Sharks GM Doug Wilson on Thursday in San Jose to talk about the ever-changing goaltender situation, the Sharks up-and-down start to 2011, his surprising leading goal-scorer Joe Pavelski, and more.

Brodie Brazil: In segmenting the season, right now from game 16 to game 40, what is the most pressing issue, team-wise?

Doug Wilson: Just to play at the level we know were capable of. Weve played some very good games against some very good teams in Boston and Detroit, that we know were capable of doing. Every team will say the same, with the elevated parity in the Western Conference in particular, theres no easy games. So you had better demand of yourself that youre ready to play. So thats what everybody is looking for, us in particular. I think our Penalty Killing is something the coaches have been working on, in the last couple of games it has been trending in the right direction. But just to play the way were capable of in all areas of the rink theres been some portions of the season were very pleased with that, and some that we didnt like.BB: It took a lot to get Brent Burns here, and you also made a large commitment to keep him here for a long period of time. What are you seeing that you like in his addition? Because especially for a defenseman it doesnt show up on the scoresheet every given night.DW: The best defensemen, and he has this unique skill set, is able to play in all situations. Hes big, he can skate, can shoot, can kill penalties, can play on the power play. What you try to do is have a player play within your system, much like Dan Boyle. You dont have to go out and hit the home run play and make the big play. Its the level of efficiency in shift to shift, and thats what Burnzie is applying right now. We have a lot of high end players on this team, we are the sum of all our parts. You can play in a way that makes you a better player, and our team a better team by playing in that system.BB: Joe Pavelski leading the team in goals right now. Does that come as some, or no surprise to you? And how much of that has to do with his role change?DW: He was ready for this role change. And thats the beauty of the addition of Brent Burns, on the power play, we can put Pavelski up front. And him closer to the net; hes got a great shot, great release, he goes to the net hard. Obviously we felt that would be a place that would fit well for Joe on this team, when we picked up Brent. Pavs has scored a lot of big goals for this franchise in the regular season and playoffs and hes only going to get better.BB: Antero Niittymaki is back on the ice, and today is the first time Ive seen him back in the crease. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but when you do have 3 goaltenders that are ready, willing and able; how long before that do you start to think about What do I do?' and furthermore, what are your options?DW: Depth is a wonderful thing to have. Last year we went through the other side of it where we had injuries, and I would much rather have 3 goaltending options, 10 defensive options, 16-17 forward options than not have those type of choices. So the key is for him to get healthy. From the time of his surgery, it was projected 12 weeks, and he is right on schedule. Well deal with him when we get him, but hes a very good goalie. Im glad that hes pain free and close to being able to play. The other guy is Alex Stalock, who had a very serious injury. Alex is progressing very well and we should have him in the same timeframe as well. So it gives us options, but it also gives us the depth that, with what were trying to accomplish, you need to have.BB: Would you be physically able to keep all 3 on the roster, or does somebody have to be moved; whether its to Worcester, or elsewhere?DW: Well deal with it when we get to it. Youd rather have more than less, especially with the number of games we play and the number of games that we want to play. Having 3 goalies is a good thing, not a bad thing.BB: The team is coming off a tough shutout loss to Phoenix on Saturday night. In dealing with veteran players and a team thats in its collective prime, how do you look at the job that Todd McLellan does in getting his messages across, on a day to day basis?
DW: Where Todd comes from, hes used to dealing with high-end players and high expectations. I have great respect for Todd on many fronts: he knows how we want to play, and players know that he controls the most powerful tool, which is ice time. Hell go with who is playing well. With all of us, the frustration is that we know what our capabilities are, and this is no disrespect to who we play. Because every team in the west is going to be a tough game. But if youre not on your game and ready at the start, its going to be a battle. And I think thats where Todd looks at it; that if we dont get off to a good start you dont want to have it where he has to go get them started. And our guys understand, on occasion you know youre going to have nights like that. But its finding ways to win during times like that. And also understanding that its not acceptable. It shouldnt be who your opponent is. It should be playing the best game that you are capable of playing. Weve played a lot of games, well never make excuses about scheduling or travel, thats just the way it is. You deal with it. When our team hasnt played well, or had a portion of a game, they can critique themselves pretty honestly. But Todd will hold them accountable, and find solutions and go back to work the next day, saying how are we going to get better.BB: It was mid-January last year you made 2 moves on the same day. That was a different team in a different situation, but you said maybe the deals were done too late. Looking at the calendar, its almost December. Are you already in the mode, or how serious are you about doing something in December, personnel-wise?DW: Every day you look. Every single day is an opportunity to make your team better. It could be bringing somebody up from Worcester, its all performance based. The point last year was, we had lost 6 games in a row, we had injuries, Scott Nichol had just been suspended, we had some guys going up and down from Worcester. We were in 12th place on January 17th completely unacceptable. We do believe in our group, our players, but sometimes things need to happen to say we are not where we need to be, and if it means a trade or a guy coming up or down, weve never been afraid of doing that. Its whatever is best for our team. You can play really well and lose, you can play really bad and win. But you cant let your emotions dictate what the reality is, of how youre playing and what the factors are. Were very fortunate to play as well as we did down the stretch, but to think wed be able to do that again in the West, is not realistic. Were playing better certainly than we did last year at this time, but we expect of ourselves to play even better in the next 20-30 games. BB: To finish on that; when looking at points on the stat sheet, do you see an imbalance, looking at certain groups of players?DW: It comes down to winning hockey games, and every group is important. Everybody has to bring something to the table. When youre going to win a lot of games over a long period of time, youll have to do it different ways, different nights. Your best players have to be your best players, your energy guys have to bring that, they have to chip in the timely goal, the right goal. Penalty killing has to be better, thats a collective group. For us; if were playing well, how were doing without the puck is usually the best indicator. When you see that, its possible to lose a couple of games but still know that its coming. You can also win a couple of games that you dont deserve, but you still know that its coming. So its how we play, are we playing up to our capabilities and coaching staff systemically? Thats what you look for.

Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

More than four weeks have passed since the Sharks were dispatched by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau appear no closer to signing contract extensions than when the season ended. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson faces some of the toughest decisions of his 14-year tenure as the head of the hockey department in the coming weeks, beginning with the two best players in franchise history.

And, no, there are no back room handshake deals here between the Sharks and either of Thornton or Marleau, allowing the Sharks to protect extra players in the upcoming expansion draft. The two veterans are still pending unrestricted free agents in the truest sense, and it’s no certainty that either will return to San Jose.

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Re-signing Thornton would seem to be more of a priority than re-signing Marleau, as centermen are more valuable than wingers. Thornton’s line, with Joe Pavelski and whoever the left wing happened to be, was still drawing the opposition’s top defense pair on many nights this season. Marleau was on that line at times, but was shuffled up and down throughout the year, spending about half the season on the third line.

Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL. As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17. Last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, the World Cup, and the condensed schedule seemed to take their toll. Thornton, who typically downplays anything remotely negative, admitted more than once that this season in particular was a grind.

But perhaps just as important to the Sharks is what Thornton brings to the team emotionally. Pavelski may still be the captain – and an effective one, at that – but Thornton is still the heartbeat. Pete DeBoer made that clear after Game 2 of the first round against the Oilers, talking about what Thornton’s absence from the bench in those first two games meant to the team in terms of a bench presence.

“It’s old school accountability with Joe. It’s black and white,” DeBoer said. “He came up in an era and at a time and around people who you weren’t worried about hurting feelings. You said what needed to be said. That’s not always the case now in modern dressing rooms and with modern athletes. He’s a great resource for us, because there’s no greater pressure than peer pressure, especially from a Hall of Fame guy like that.”

So what might it take to retain Thornton and keep him from hitting the open market? 

It has been previously reported that Thornton wanted a three-year deal, and that remains the case. As for money, I would expect Thornton – who has taken hometown discounts in the past to stay in San Jose – to ask for at least $5 million per season, minimum. Our best guess here is that a Thornton-Sharks pre-July 1 agreement would probably look something like three years and somewhere between $15 – 17 million.

Whether the Sharks would be willing to make that kind of commitment to Thornton, who will be 38 in July, is unclear. If they are not, Thornton could listen to offers from other teams beginning on June 24, when the window opens for unrestricted free agents to speak with other teams.

Still, Thornton’s first choice is to remain in San Jose. The Sharks don’t have anyone that could replace him on or off the ice. There should be a deal to be made here, either sooner or later.

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Marleau’s future with the Sharks seems much hazier.

Unlike Thornton – who put up with public ridicule from Wilson and had his captaincy stripped – Marleau’s commitment to the organization hasn’t been quite as steadfast. Recall in 2015, of course, when Marleau’s preference for a brief stretch was to leave the Sharks. We reported here in November, 2015 that he was willing to accept a trade to three teams, while ESPN reported that Marleau’s agent was “quietly exploring the market” as late as January, 2016.

While those feelings seem to have passed over time, Marleau hasn’t been as emphatic as Thornton in his desire to return. When asked on April 24 if he would like to come back to the Sharks, Marleau said: “Yeah, it would be nice. We’ll see if that’s an option. A lot of time here before this decision needs to be made.”

At this point, though, Marleau may be asking for a bit much in his next deal. It’s believed that the franchise’s all-time leading scorer is, like Thornton, seeking a contract of at least three years.

That shouldn’t be overly surprising. When asked then if he wanted a multi-year deal on April 24, Marleau said: “Yeah, I think so. … I still feel like I have at least five good years in me, or maybe more.”

As we wrote here in early February, it may not make much sense for the Sharks to commit to Marleau for more than one year for a number of reasons, including potential long-term (and surely expensive) contract extensions for Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, something Wilson has made his top priority this offseason. 

If Marleau is seeking a lengthy commitment from San Jose, I don’t see how that works from a business perspective for San Jose, which has a number of prospects in the system at wing that could potentially fill the hole Marleau would leave. Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, in particular, could be ready to take the next step, and both would be much cheaper options (Meier has two years left on his entry level deal, while Sorensen is a pending restricted free agent that won’t require a huge raise).

* * *

Further complicating matters is that Thornton has never been shy about wanting to win with Marleau by his side. The two famously announced their nearly identical three-year contract extensions on Jan. 24, 2014, and Thornton would still prefer to have Marleau return to San Jose with him.

“Hopefully, I can come back and Patty can come back,” Thornton said after the season ended. “I think this team is a very good team. I think this is a Stanley Cup caliber team. I really believe that."

Considering the salary cap for next season has not yet been revealed, and that Wilson can’t officially extend Jones or Vlasic until July 1, the general manager could be forced to wait a little while before finalizing anything with either Thornton or Marleau. That makes it all the more likely that the Thornton and Marleau camps will at least get an opportunity to hear from other clubs and consider other offers in late June.

In short, anything is still possible. And Wilson, Thornton and Marleau all have some difficult decisions on the horizon in a Sharks offseason that is unlike any other.

Barracuda power play leads the way in Game 2 win over Grand Rapids

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USATSI

Barracuda power play leads the way in Game 2 win over Grand Rapids

SAN JOSE – The Barracuda struck for three power play goals, including the game-winner in the second period by Joakim Ryan, in overcoming the Grand Rapids Griffins at SAP Center on Sunday night, 4-2.

San Jose’s victory evens the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals series at one game apiece.

Grand Rapids erased a 2-0 hole to tie the game in the middle frame, but less than a minute after Matt Ford knotted the score at 2-2 with a rocket from the circle on a Griffins power play, Ryan’s blast from just inside the blue line at 15:28 staked the Barracuda a lead they would keep for the rest of the night. 

The Barracuda finished 3-for-5 on the power play, after going 0-for-6 in a Game 1 loss on Saturday.

“The power play was a lot better tonight,” Ryan said. “We got set up more. We were able to get shots through from the point.”

One of those shots came early, when defenseman Julius Berman beat goalie Jared Coreau from long range just 3:35 into the game with San Jose on a man advantage. Later in the first, on another power play, Ryan Carpenter found open ice in the slot and redirected a Tim Heed pass at 10:44 for his team-leading eighth of the playoffs.

“Coming out, we wanted to get the first goal tonight,” Carpenter said. “For Bergman to get that first goal was huge for us.”

Ryan and Carpenter both attributed the power play success to winning faceoffs, which is something coach Roy Sommer wanted the club to focus on after it dropped the series opener, 3-1.

Winning faceoffs often is an indication of a team’s compete level, and that, too, was lacking for the Barracuda in an opener in which Sommer said his team played “dumb and slow.” 

Sunday was a much better performance.

“Whenever we’ve had a bad start, or a bad game, the next day these guys have responded,” said Sommer, whose club is the top seed in the Western Conference. “They’ve done it all year.”

The series now shifts to Grand Rapids for the next three games, with Game 3 going Wednesday. The primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, the Griffins posted a 25-11-2 record in their own building in the regular season.

The Barracuda, though, should be a confident group on the road. Against San Diego in the second round, San Jose won all three games in Southern California after splitting the first two at home.

“It’s going to be a hell of a series,” Sommer said. “It’s probably going to go the duration, I imagine. Both teams are kind of feeling each other out and kind of have a pretty good idea of what the other guys are doing now.”

Ryan said: “Honestly, I think they are the team in the league that plays the most like us. I felt like last night they did a better job of taking the game to us. I thought we came out better tonight, and we battled harder, competed more, won more pucks. They’re a really good team, it’s going to be a battle the rest of the series, for sure. They’re not going to lay down.”

Barclay Goodrow’s empty netter with 1:06 left in regulation was the only goal in the third period.

The Barracuda outshot the Griffins, 40-35, including a 20-11 advantage in the first period.