SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson heads into an off-season of uncertainty expecting the team to take a step backward after 10 straight playoff berths failed to produce a trip to the Stanley Cup.
Wilson said the franchise is in a rebuilding stage that will turn the team over to younger players after a core led by stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau failed to deliver a title to San Jose.
The string of playoff disappointments was capped by blowing a 3-0 series lead in the first round to eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles. But despite taking the Kings to seven games and finishing tied for the fourth most points this past regular season, Wilson said he believes the organization would be fooling itself if it believed simple tweaking was enough to get to the next level.
“The rebuild is a term that we haven’t used a lot recently or probably in a long time,” Wilson said Tuesday. “Historically every team in the league that has had success has probably gone through that phase. … We know that we haven’t accomplished what we want to accomplish.”
Wilson made two off-season moves Tuesday in advance of next week’s draft and the start of free agency. He signed goalie Alex Stalock to a two-year, $3.2 million contract and Mike Brown to a two-year $2.4 million deal to prevent both from becoming unrestricted free agents next month.
But bigger moves are sure to come if Wilson is going to achieve his goal of turning the team to players like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Tomas Hertl.
“It comes with some pain,” Wilson said. “The timeframe of that rebuild will be based upon the players that get added, the growth of some of the players that we have and how we manage it.”
The Sharks have seven picks in this year’s draft, including three in the first two rounds, and nine next year. Wilson said he will not trade those or prospects like last year’s first-round pick Mirco Mueller for established veterans.
Wilson already traded defenceman Dan Boyle to the New York Islanders after announcing he would not re-sign him and has said that forward Marty Havlat will either be dealt of have the final year of his contract bought out.
But the bigger questions surround Thornton and Marleau, who have been the face of the franchise for nearly a decade. The two were among the most productive players on the team last season with Thornton ranking second in the NHL with 65 assists and Marleau ranking second on the team with 33 goals.
“There’s tough decisions to be made,” Wilson said. “I expect everybody to be professional, but some of that will be kept in confidence. That’s how we’ve done things in the past and that’s how we’ll do it going forward.”
Wilson signed both to three-year extensions in January even though they will both turn 35 before the start of next season. But now the question is do they still fit on a team committed to youth.
Trading either player could be difficult as both have no-movement clauses in their contracts and it is unlikely Wilson can get fair value in a trade.
But he also must decide whether keeping those players will stunt the development of the younger group and slow the rebuilding process.
“We now become a tomorrow team,” Wilson said. “When you spell that out, it does create a response. Now, the tomorrow team, is it one year or two years? Time will tell on how our young players handle the responsibility given to them.”