SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is wasting no time making changes after perhaps his team’s most crushing playoff collapse.
Wilson said Thursday that he told pending unrestricted free agent defenceman Dan Boyle that he will not be re-signed, informed unproductive forward Marty Havlat that he will not be back next season and moved top-line wing Brent Burns back to defence after spending more than a year as a forward on captain Joe Thornton’s line.
These changes all come two weeks after the Sharks became the fourth team in NHL history to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games.
Wilson spent the past two weeks meeting with coaches and players to help determine what went wrong in the final four games against Los Angeles and how to get a team that has been one of the best in the regular season the past decade over the playoff hump.
“You want to be careful not to change too many things, but you better be really careful that you’re not just avoiding what really needs to take place,” Wilson said. “There’s two sides to that. I think what we need to do is much more drastic than just putting a Band-aide on it.”
Wilson said the moves this off-season will build on the moves made at the trade deadline in 2013, when the Sharks dealt away Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus in an effort to become a faster and younger team.
Those moves helped San Jose make it all the way to Game 7 of the second round before losing to Los Angeles a year ago and Wilson said the team is about two-thirds of the way to completing the overhaul.
The team appeared closer than that after winning the first three games against the Kings but was unable to close the series out. Wilson blamed the collapse on allowing too-many odd-man rushes, a power play that went scoreless on its last 16 chances, a lack of effort in Game 5 and a late-game collapse in Game 6 after a disputed goal was allowed.
“Our relationship with our fans has been strained and we’ve got to go and re-earn that trust,” Wilson said.
Boyle has been a key part of the Sharks since being acquired in a trade from Tampa Bay in July 2008. His 68 goals and 201 assists in six seasons make him the career leader in both categories in franchise history and he has been a staple on the power-play unit.
He will be replaced on the blue line by Burns, who spent his first year and a half in San Jose on defence before making the move to forward in March 2013.
Burns had a career-high 22 goals this season along with 26 assists as he teamed with Thornton on a physically imposing line that controlled play for much of the season.
But Wilson said he is needed now on defence and compared Burns’ potential impact there to Montreal’s P.K. Subban, Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty.
“When you take a look at that type of dynamic on the back end, guys that move the puck up, shoot the puck on the power play, it creates a tough matchup,” Wilson said. “When he was originally moved up to forward, it was because of an injury. He was coming back and he was having trouble with certain parts of his skating.”
Havlat scored 27 goals in three injury-plagued seasons with San Jose after being acquired from Minnesota in a trade for Dany Heatley. Havlat fell out of favour with the coaching staff and was a healthy scratch in six of seven playoff games. He is owed $6 million in the final year of his contract and will either be bought out or dealt.
Wilson would not divulge what other changes he had planned but did say some of those could come in the team’s player leadership. Boyle must be replaced as an alternate captain and Wilson said he expected some of the younger core, including forwards Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski and defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, to possibly take a bigger role.
“I expect our young players to take this as probably one of the great extreme learning moments to say, ‘You know what? That’s not happening again,'” Wilson said.
NOTES: Assistant coach Larry Robinson will be back but could have an expanded role that includes some front-office duties. … Wilson said talks have already begun to keep backup G Alex Stalock, who can be an unrestricted free agent. … Pavelski (shoulder) and F Raffi Torres (knee) had operations after the season.