By my estimate, 900 people were there, +-100. Greg Jamison, Doug Wilson, Ron wilson, Mike Ricci and occasional others sat up on a podium. Drew moderated, or tried to, or whatever it is Drew does. the Sharks supplied soft drinks and munchies, which probably meant the thing was going to run on until they ran out… (grin).
Seriously, Jamison opened it by saying they’d stay until every question was answered, and they were clearly going to do that. Most questions were very reasonable, many were tough, all but a few fair. More on that later, and I’m sure others will have their notes. The Sharks sat there and took it, answered things as completely as they could, ducked as little as necessary (mostly things like tampering rules or tipping their hands at the draft, or dealing with the CBA, where the league rules got in the way).
I was impressed — by the sharks, for doing this and being open and honest about it; by the fans for not pulling punches, and very often proving how astute they were about what was going on; by the chemistry I saw between wilson and wilson and jamison; by wilson’s ability to match Drew smart-ass remark for smart-ass remark;
It took 2 hours for someone to smack rathje, and he seemed pretty well smacked back; 2 and a half hours for the nets to come up, which I think surprised everyone — but once they did, it got covered thoroughly and without any pulling of punches on either side (Jamison’s comments basicaly boiled down to “we had a vendor who made us look like complete idiots by not doing what they said they’d do”). The expectation he set was that things would be better; he didn’t pretend that miracles would occur, and he also said he felt there’d be a third generation of nets that would be more of an improvement down the road, also.
It sounds like this year’s marketing theme will be “this is a hockey game: bring a sweater”. But at the same time, don’t expect miracles, either. they’re still working on ways to improve the ice consistently, including deionized water and installing dehumidifiers. But a colder building seems to have strong support among the fans there, and that message seemed to be noted.
A couple of other thoughts on the hockey side of things.
They were very tactful and complimentary about both Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi. Their view is you learn from autopsies, not dwell on them (i.e., figure out what happened and move on). There was no knocking the past, and some work reminding folks how far forward the team was brought by these guys.
If you were a fan of classic Blackhawks hockey, you’ll love the Sharks. I kept waiting for Wilson to announce he was bringing Probert and Dirk Graham out of retirement, with McLaren playing the part of Chris Chelios. In all honesty, this attitude doesn’t bother me one bit, either (yippee). If this is the case, then I guess Alex Korolyuk is going to be Stan Mikita…
For those that aren’t aware of what I’m suggesting, it’s a team that plays very aggressively early, both to pressure the other team and to get the home crowd into the game, to use the crowd’s energy later. The first ten minutes of a hawk’s game used to be key to their performance, especially in the old building. it’s a physical game but not a stupid game, aggressive, heavy forecheck.
Wilson and Wilson emphasized becoming a faster team, both by having faster skaters and by skaters who anticipate better and reacting faster.
Doug Wilson emphasized more than once that what happened to Brad Stuart (his concussion) disgusted him, the Sharks lack of “dealing with it” really bothered him, and he was going to make sure that the Sharks roster had what it took to make sure that never happened again. he refused to go into details on what that meant (both because of tampering with naming players and fines for outright saying he was going to buy a goon), but you can read between the lines. There will be a place who can play policeman on the Sharks this year, and it seems as long as Doug is GM, there’ll be a place for one.
Wilson talked about Owen Nolan, and admitted he felt that the ultimate failure was making him Captain. he noted that there hadn’t been a Cup winning team with a power forward as captain in 25 years, and that the physical demands of that type of game on top of the demands put on someone being captain are just too much. he also came out and said that in retrospect, he should have done something about this within the organization before LAST season and didn’t, to his regret.
Doug was asked about the lack of a power forward with Nolan gone, and what the Sharks would do about it. Wilson responded by pointing at Scott Thornton, and made it clear he felt thornton’s game was still evolving. He made it sound to me like he expected thornton to be a top-six-forward caliber power forward (which makes him an amazing steal; hell, he’s an amazing steal NOW) — and from what I’ve seen of Thornton’s growth here, I can’t say he’s wrong. Wilson then pointed to Jonathon Cheechoo as a player with a distinct edge, which I took to mean he saw Cheechoo as the next generation behind Thornton.
They were asked what they were going to do with “too many” (7) centers, and Ron wilson laughed, noting that forwards can be moved to wing without a lot of problem and improve the team there, since it adds creativity and defensive awareness into those positions, not to mention more faceoff capability. It was noted from the playoffs just how important faceoffs are, and while the Sharks are okay, he wants them better.
There were some that made the assumption that Mike Ricci being invited on the panel implied that he was going to be the next Captain. When that was put to the panel, they all walked carefully around the issue and said it wasn’t decided, but to me, fully left the impression that once it is decided, it’ll be decided that Ricci is captain.
There was some talk about the kids — they say a bunch of kids are coming into camp with the attitude that nobody’s going to send them down, which they like. they also went out of their way to point out that nobody has jobs (shades of, I think, Jeff Jillson), and not all of them will get jobs no matter how good they play.
When asked about the lack of shorthanded threat, Ron wilson noted he had to teach them to keep the puck out of the net first.
The team, as was sketched out by the sharks last night boils down to:
Fast, puck control oriented. Defensively solid, heavy emphasis on fundamentals. Ron Wilson noted that he felt five of the D expected to be on the roster this year were guys he felt comfortable releasing to join the offense, and he saw that as a huge advantage. A physical team, but I got the feeling it won’t be a grinder team.
There were strong indications they’re planning on adding a top-six forward on top of Korolyuk, plus the enforcer. They made it clear they aren’t interested in three years out, and would have no problem trading up or down in the draft, or trading picks and/or players to get the right guy for now. they felt there were really good players that were going to be available into the 2nd round, and the top 12-15 are top talents.
Major support of Rathje, both on the panel and in the audience — and yet they still noted that they felt he needed to take his game up another level still. As good as he is, he still needs to be better.
When asked why the team didn’t seem to shoot enough on the power play, Wilson offered to let the person come down and talk to the players, noting he’d brought that up once or twice and it didn’t seem to have sunk in. Both Ron and Doug wilson have a philosophy of “if there’s no hole to shoot through, make one”, but he also noted one problem here is the power play tends to practice against the penalty kill, and the guys have some mental problems over injuring one of their own teammates (that’s not a bad thing, actually). I considered suggesting hiring the SJSU team for practice but I kept my mouth shut… (the SJSU team thanks me for that). Both wilsons say that if the other team wants to get leg injuries stopping point shots, that’s fine with them…
wilson noted his philosophy was that the negotiation was a three-way, with the player actively involved. As an ex-player, he also noted that the agents were more willing to let him do this, and in fact he was demanding that players heard it directly from Wilson, not filtered through the agent. It needs to be remembered that Lombardi wasn’t always allowed this access to the player, or didn’t push that agenda strongly enough at times. Wilson’s also made it clear he feels it’s both his AND the player’s responsibility to make sure they’re in camp when it opens, not just Wilson’s, and that a player who misses camp is hurting his team and the teammates. Interesting spin on things. The team can’t take advantage of that, though; he really called it out as a partnership.
I was mostly trying to get a feeling for what their philosophy was on the type of team they want and how they want that team to play. I’m not surprised to hear Wilson reaching back to his Hawks roots for some of it, and frankly, I’m really, really encouraged here. It was fascinating to listen to Doug Wilson as GM talk about the job and mentally compare it to Dean Lomabardi. I don’t know how to describe that without sounding exceptionally negative about Lombardi, when in fact that’s not what I intend, so I’ll keep mulling that one over.
The other thing I was trying to get a feel on was chemistry — towards the end, relations were strained between Jamison and Lombardi and Sutter, and all three seemed to have different ideas of how to move forward that conflicted with the other two. it seemed to me all three got along well and there was a lot of humorous bantering (to the point where Drew had trouble getting his snide comments in — it’s hard to keep drew out of a discussion!); my feel was they all were comfortable with each other and work well together. A good sign. They’re also all very personable, and Ron Wilson will never been known as bitter beer face around here (in fact, I think one of the reasons he gets knocked by some is he doesn’t take himself all that seriously, and isn’t afraid to make fun of himself or other things, or throw out a zinger at someone — but don’t mistake taking something seriously iwth being serious…)
I came back feeling, in all honesty, really jazzed about next year. It’s a new, fresh direction, they seem to have the roster under control and working to get everyone in shape, in camp, and moving in the same direction. Talking to some of the folks I knew off the podium, there’s a large contingent of players staying in the area and working their butts off to get ready, adn in the words of these folks, these guys want camp open NOW.
I’ll have more later, I’m sure, but that’s what I took from the talk. They didn’t tell me things were going to get better, they made me believe they would be. I’m ready.
when’s camp open?