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SAN JOSE – There wasn’t a whole lot of new information to be gleaned from Sharks general manager Doug Wilson’s lengthy session with the local media on Tuesday.
Still, that may be newsworthy enough. After all, the Sharks didn’t know in late April that they had just dropped a heartbreaking seven-game series to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, as the Kings went on to capture their second championship in three seasons.
Los Angeles’ success, though, hasn’t altered Wilson’s attitude when it comes to his own club. He’s more than comfortable now throwing around the word “rebuild,” and fully admits that the Sharks, as currently constructed, simply can’t contend with the elite teams in the NHL, in his view.
“I don’t think we feel we’re close enough with where the other teams are at,” Wilson said. “They went through [a rebuild]. They’re there. I honestly think we’d be fooling ourselves.”
“The rebuild is committed to. The players that fit for now and the future, their growth is going to be the primary thing. … Remember where we’re trying to get to. It’s not about here, it’s about there.”
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Recent offseasons for Wilson have typically involved searching for players outside of the organization to add to the fold, either by trade or free agency, to try to get over that final hump. After just one playoff series win in the past three years, though – including the historic collapse against the Kings, in which San Jose became just the fourth NHL team to ever blow a 3-0 series lead – the general manager has seen enough.
His biggest challenge may be convincing some of his aging veterans like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to move on. Wilson would not name names, but Thornton, Marleau and defenseman Brad Stuart are really the only three players still under contract that can be classified as such.
Wilson suggested that each of those players - again, without naming names - would have to do some soul-searching of their own, and decide if staying in San Jose as part of a team willing to take a step backwards for at least one or two seasons is the right fit.
“That’s really the ultimate question,” Wilson said. “I don’t want to put a name on you, but you’re a guy that hasn’t won, had a long career, you want to go win. You might say, ‘this doesn’t fit for me.’ I may go to the next guy who has won a Cup. He says, ‘I’ve won a Cup, I want to be here, I want to be part of it. That’s an interesting part of my process, and I may want to be a coach in the future.’ I may want to have him because he just fits.
“Then you may have another guy that looks at it and says ‘jeez, I think I want [to stay], but after a couple months, they’re serious about what they want to do. It doesn’t fit for me.’”
Wilson made his rebuilding position known less than two weeks after the first round collapse, and admitted that his phone has been ringing a little bit more frequently since. While Thornton and Marleau have gotten the lion’s share of the attention when it comes to trade rumors, there are other players on the roster, like Brent Burns and Antti Niemi, that could conceivably not be a part of the team’s future plans.
The list of players safe from movement is much shorter than the list of potential trade bait.
“I’ve had a lot of calls, a lot of people at the GM meetings (last week in new York), they know where we’re going,” Wilson said. “We now become a tomorrow team. When you spell that out, it does create a response.”
The standards will remain high, but Wilson and the Sharks organization won't waver from the plan the general manager has suggested in increasingly authoritative tones for the last six weeks.
“You have to do it. It’s not easy, but it’s one of those things,” Wilson said. “I think it’s made easier by some of the key young players we have in key positions. But, make no mistake about it, it’s going to be challenging. You go into it with your eyes open, and you go into it committed.”