SAN JOSE – Sharks owner Hasso Plattner makes public appearances in representation of the club about as often as Willy Wonka emerges from his chocolate factory.
Perhaps it was appropriate, then, that Plattner – like Wonka after he opened his front door – strolled down a red…er, make that teal carpet at SAP Center on Tuesday night, in attendance for the Sharks’ 25th anniversary celebration.
He stopped and chatted with the attending media for a few minutes, touching on a number of topics regarding his club that has endured a streaky, up-and-down first half and is attempting to get back to the playoffs after a 10-year run ended in somewhat disastrous fashion last season.
Just like he did on May 8, 2015 in his most recent public session with the media, Plattner voiced his support for general manager Doug Wilson, although the multi-billionaire tends to shift quickly from one topic to another through his noticeable German accent.
When asked to evaluate Wilson and the way he’s brought the team through what was labeled as a transitional year last year, Plattner said:
"Doug is doing a great job. We are talking probably two-to-three times a week about what we can do, or what happens in case somebody's injured. I think the biggest impact is that we moved [the AHL affiliate] from Worcester to here in San Jose, the Barracuda, so that the players can go up and down, we can see our young players. I think this has already shown the potential. It's also for getting new fans, who will identify probably with young players in the Barracuda and then come up and play in the NHL.
“I'm very happy. Are there other players? You can look at the list of free agents or the restricted free agents, even. There is not so much. But we have a great group of draft picks, of people we picked that are playing in various junior leagues or at the Barracuda already. So I'm very optimistic that two or three of those will make it next year, for example, to the NHL team."
So, does he like the job Wilson is doing?
"Yes, for sure. Otherwise I would tell him that. Not you, but him (laughs)."
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The dwindling attendance is concerning to Plattner, as the Sharks have endured some miserable crowds lately when compared to what they typically have drawn over the years. Although the paid attendance is a higher number than the actual butts in the seats, according to Plattner, the organization is trying to find the correct strategy to entice more fans to return to what used to be one of the most intimidating arenas in the league.
“I'm really concerned about the situation. If you don't have enough demand, the season ticket holders can't sell the tickets if they are not available to go. So that has a double-negative effect. And obviously for everybody to be in an arena that shows a surplus of empty seats is not very encouraging, even for the playoffs. So this is not good, but there's only so much you can do.
“We have several programs in order to improve attendance. I have asked and we will discuss this in the next weeks, probably to increase our focus on young fans. We probably have grown in these 25 years all a little bit older. The Sharks were the new kid on the block 25 years ago. I remember days when I couldn't get a scalped ticket because we were more than sold out.
“We need young fans, but there's one thing with the young fans – the Facebook generation (points to a cell phone). They have other things to do, they are permanently on other entertainment things that were not there 25 years ago. So how to win them back, we will have ideas, different programs and probably help them with a ticket price, depending on age and college students, but it's not decided yet. But, these are ideas.
“We asked the fans, what would you like us to do? They want to have more giveaways, and this and that. They want to be pampered. I brought to the table we should have a band playing. It took me one-and-a-half years to get this done. Everything, this is a little bit slow. We'll probably get our organ back. Whether that will raise the attendance, I don't know."
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Clearly, winning games and getting back to the playoffs would be vital in helping the attendance, too. Plattner referenced Logan Couture’s injury when asked for his evaluation of the team so far.
"You see that they can play extraordinarily well. That was a bad situation when Tomas [Hertl] stepped on Logan and we lost our second center, or first center. The team is playing relatively well. We're hanging in position. They have to show it now in the remaining 40 games. I think we have all the abilities, and they have to do it. Unfortunately I'm too old to dress up, and my skating is not good enough."
How important is it to get back to the playoffs? Plattner compared the NHL’s regular season to the U.S. presidential primaries.
"It's always important to get to the actual final part of the season. It was a little bit disappointing how much we got bashed, especially Doug and myself last year for not making the playoffs. I didn't remember that we really played. We had a very bad period where I think we lost 10 games back-to-back. I hope this doesn't happen again.
“For sure this is the goal for the season and then the real season starts. Everybody knows that, that these are only the preliminaries, like the selections for the candidates in the presidential race, the caucuses. The real race then starts in September, and that is our playoffs. So, I hope we make it and then I'm pretty sure the team will show all their hearts and all that they have in them."
And what would it mean to win a Stanley Cup?
"Everything (laughs). Then we will all [get] drunk for two nights, including the players."