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.