NHL Live on the league's network included a seven-minute interview with Doug Wilson Friday, June 20. He did a lot of clarification of the direction the San Jose Sharks are headed, and the video that follows on the link is the NHL Tonight crew breaking down where this team stands.
This clarification could be simply public relations backtracking designed to raise the value of trades or paint the team in a better light following some moves that are unpopular with fans. It also is consistent with everything said to this point, and the photos show a team that should be able to compete for a Stanley Cup while standing pat.
Wilson even offered a different take on his private talks with stars like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. He presented the conversations as though it was not whether he wanted them but whether they would want to be part of things moving forward:
"If it doesn't fit for you guys, then let's sit and discuss (trade options)."
He also said the culture he refers to fixing that CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz titled a priority in his Friday recap of the interview is one of a group of co-workers, not teammates. That is very good backtracking because it is not in direct conflict with the known. That does not mean it is the truth or that other things are not more consistent with everything said to this point.
For one, "co-workers" does not describe the team that is in that dressing room. The players have definite friendship and admiration for one another, creating an atmosphere that is loose and fun—even when they struggle on the ice.
Wilson mentions the Los Angeles Kings a few times doing battle for one another, and that speaks to the heart of the problem: San Jose's players treat it as a game while other teams find a new level in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That is the real culture problem that lies beneath the surface of his new spin, and likely the reason his frustration came through so clearly in the emotional aftermath of the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals choke.
Wilson also recently backtracked from his statement, "We want players that want to play here, not just live here." He later claimed that referred to a former player that wanted to return. Could that be someone like Devin Setoguchi or Michal Handzus? Could it even refer to Martin Havlat, who in some ways is already a former player?
Either is possible, but it is just as likely he meant that for someone currently on the roster and has now cooled off enough to regain his composure. That reality would better fit Wilson's commitment to rebuild a team that the NHL Tonight crew pointed out was close to a Stanley Cup.
Of course, they said one could make a case that the Sharks were the second-best team in the playoffs, even though both the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks were at least close in more than one of their four losses to the Kings. Thus their reluctance to endorse a rebuild should be carry as much weight as the team's fans that continue to ignore the reality of the biggest teases in the NHL.
San Jose has been better than 80 percent of the league in every season since Wilson took over as general manager outside of two bad Februaries (2012 and 2013) and one bad November (2005). Only the Detroit Red Wings have a better record (by 23 total points) over those 10 seasons.
In that time, the Sharks have won four Pacific Division titles and a President's Trophy. They have even won their first-round matchup seven times and been among the final four teams on three occasions. One of those was Wilson's first season, when fans would do well to remember him turning a team around from being out of the Stanley Cup playoffs to two wins in the Western Conference finals by moving on from former players and turning the team over to its youth.
Since that promising first season, they have won just one game after the second round. The fact that a team this consistently good has failed to truly compete for a Stanley Cup—never even making a Western Conference finals opponent face elimination or so much as a deficit in the series—says something about whatever constants remain on the team.
The only player involved in every one of those failures is Marleau, though he was at least part of the most successful team in San Jose's Stanley Cup playoff history. Thornton has also been a part of all the other much more-heralded teams that have fallen further short of expectations.
Could either be part of the new team? Only if they absolutely refuse to waive their no-movement clauses or the return for them offers nothing for the present and little for the future. Even then, they must be willing to take a backseat role or there will be no culture change.
That is why one should believe Wilson's former criticism and continued promises to move in a new direction over the current spin he offers. The pictured team would be great on paper, but would still have the makeup of the one that cannot make it to Memorial Day much less win the Stanley Cup—the one the general manager said, "we're probably fooling ourselves" to believe the same team can take it to the next level.