By David Pollak
SAN JOSE – A lot needs to be fixed before the San Jose Sharks can regain their status as legitimate NHL playoff contenders.
But as training camp opened Friday, there is evidence that one repair job – healing last spring’s very public rift between Joe Thornton and general manager Doug Wilson – already has taken place.
Ask the veteran center, for example, what he thinks of the moves Wilson made this summer as the Sharks try to rebound from their failure to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Back in March, Thornton and Wilson were not seeing eye-to-eye. After the general manager told season-ticket holders that the former captain was known to lash out at teammates under stress, Thornton said his boss needed to stop lying and questioned the general manager’s work ethic.
Twenty-four hours later, both were saying that fences had been mended, though outsiders were skeptical. A lengthy meeting in June on the team’s future reportedly helped strengthen the relationship.
“All the things that we’re trying to put in place to give our players and our team the best chance to perform -- that was what the last conversation Joe and I had,” Wilson said Friday, playing down any tie between that session and the March incident.
Thornton declined to discuss the June meeting, but repeated this week that he and Wilson are in a good place: “We’re men. People can disagree,. That’s all it comes down to. But we’re fine.”
Thornton, who has two years remaining on his contract, did not reject the idea that San Jose was ready for a voice other than Todd McLellan’s behind the bench. And Thornton had good things to say about Wilson’s hire, Peter DeBoer.
A strong endorsement from former Sharks forward Ryane Clowe, who played 56 games for DeBoer in New Jersey over the past two seasons, didn’t hurt.
“He said he loved him, a great coach. Let’s you play. He was raving about him,” Thornton said. “And I actually had Pete for one of my coaches in the under-18s, so yeah, I’ve known Pete for years.”
The Sharks finished 12th in the Western Conference and much of their competition to reach the post-season next spring also got stronger over the summer. Thornton isn’t ready to declare San Jose to be a serious cup challenger just yet.
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” he said. “We’ve got to get through training camp, get through the first week. Day by day, we’ll just try to get better. That should be our focus. We shouldn’t focus on the end goal because it’s so far away.”