For the first time since 2003, the San Jose Sharks will have a general manager not named Doug Wilson.
Wilson, on medical leave since November, announced Thursday that he was stepping down as the Sharks' general manager. Joe Will, who had been handling day-to-day GM duties in Wilson’s stead, was officially named interim general manager.
San Jose Sharks owner Hasso Plattner issued this statement:
“Beginning immediately, the Sharks will launch an extensive, external search for a new general manager of the club."
“Joe Will will serve as interim general manager until the conclusion of the process."
“The search committee for a new general manager will include Plattner, Sharks Interim General Manager Joe Will and Sharks President Jonathan Becher."
“There is no set timeline to hire the new general manager, but the process will be guided by the organization’s ability to interview all of the desired prospective candidates.”
Both Becher and Will spoke to the media today.
Here were my takeaways from that press conference: Does the Sharks’ direction change with a new GM? What are they looking for in a new GM? What about Bob Boughner’s future as head coach of the club?
Takeaway: Until recently, the assumption within the organization was that Doug Wilson was going to come back and re-take the GM reins of the organization.
“Since Doug's been out, there's always that question of when will he be ready to come back? It was always when will he be ready, not if,” Becher said. “Doug has definitely improved over the last couple of months. But he took the decision that he needs to concentrate on his health full time. So it's really only in the last couple of days. This is late-breaking more than anything else.”
Takeaway: The Sharks, as evidenced by re-signing Tomas Hertl to an eight-year contract extension, have stated that they’re not interested in rebuilding. Wilson’s departure won’t change that philosophy. Make no mistake: The Sharks believe they can return to the playoffs as soon as next year.
“Whoever that GM is, we'll build on the incredible legacy that Doug has built over the last 19 years. Clearly, we want to get back to repeatable playoff hockey. That's the goal of this franchise,” Becher said. “You've seen over the season, we have some world-class players and some incredible talent in this organization. But openly, we do need a few more pieces which will be part of both Joe's job and the GM’s as well.”
Will added: “Our foot's on the gas here. Our intention is to win. We're competitive team. We have the guys in the room to do it. We're pushing forward not to take any steps back or say it's a whatever year plan. No, it's to go and win. That's what we intend on doing.”
Takeaway: The new GM will need to be lockstep with that “win now” organizational philosophy. So why not just hire Will? The Sharks say they’re looking for an infusion of new ideas, but presumably those that support the “win now” approach.
“The GM is going to have a lot of leeway to move forward with their vision. Having said that, it's the organization's vision that's been put in place that we have a number of quality players here. And they've done it. They've done it by the playoff rounds that we've been in,” Will said. “What we're trying to do is add to that group as we can through the Draft or developing.”
Becher added: “One of the reasons we're looking externally is we will get new ideas, we'll hear new things. We're not necessarily going to do things exactly the same way. By definition, a new GM will have new ideas."
“But certain things are core to who we are as a franchise. We're a cap team. We're gonna spend to the cap. We're focused on making the playoffs every single year and competing for the Cup, not tanking for picks."
“We're gonna keep our picks, grow the prospect pool, get younger. So those fundamental things you've heard us say over the last year, remain true.”
Will stressed: “End of the day, the general manager is the general manager, they have their ability to do what they need to do for the club. But having said that, the [hiring] decision there will be based upon aligning with the core philosophies of the organization.”
Takeaway: The Sharks say they’re open not just to different ideas but different sorts of candidates, young or old, male or female, experienced or inexperienced.
“We're open to everything. Getting the best candidate, we don't know what field they're going to be heavy in,” Will mused.
“It might be a strategist. They might be somebody leveraged in player acquisition. It might be somebody, their core competency is coaching and player development."
“So if it's a strategist, [for example], maybe in cap and contract work, then you really need to make sure they have some really good support in the areas of player development."
“It's really not just the person themself, but the team and the vision, building a leadership team.”
Becher emphasized that experience in the role at the NHL level wouldn’t be a determining factor, at least as of now: “[Being a former GM] is not necessarily a requirement for the job.”
Takeaway: Becher, however, left this door slightly ajar. The Sharks clearly don’t want to rebuild, but could the right candidate convince them to do so? There seems to be an outside possibility of this, as long as you can get the owner, who wants to win, to buy in.
"If we come to the conclusion that the right person for our franchise ends up doing an overhaul, that's the decision we take,” Becher shared. “It's not the expectation we start with, but if that is what happens in the process. We'll learn that through the process.”
Takeaway: The Sharks are in no hurry to fill their GM role, but to do so by next season would be a reasonable expectation.
Becher: “I would hope that the role is filled before the hockey season starts next year, but not necessarily, for example, before the Draft.”
Takeaway: Boughner’s job appears to be safe in the immediate future, at least from Will’s perspective. But a lot can happen from now until the end of season – basically, it’s incumbent on Boughner to keep his team playing hard until the end of the season, wins or losses be damned. Also, a new GM could have his influence on who’s behind the bench.
“All players, all staff members get reviewed every year. I get reviewed every year,” Will noted.
But what’s impressed Will about Boughner’s work this year?
“We've been very competitive,” he said. “I do want to mention, the last [Edmonton] game was really interesting. At the point that we're in, on the outside kind of looking in the playoffs, this team cares enough to be in a 1-1 game. Tactically, it was a chess match. There wasn't any selfish hockey in there.
“There was a committed team out there trying to win a hockey game and doing it in probably the quietest, most boring way possible in their way. But it's from a team commitment, they don't go off and do their own things. The coaches have got the players to play in that way this year.”
Takeaway: Joe Will is going to be an integral part of the Sharks’ future. The life-long Shark – he has been with the organization since its inception in 1990 – isn’t going anywhere. Could the external GM search turn inward and land on Will? Could he be a co-GM with the new GM? We’ll see – but it’s interesting to note that Will did not deny interest in the GM position when asked directly about that.
“Looking externally is not a lack of faith in Joe by any stretch of imagination,” Becher said.
He added that Will is empowered to make any personnel decision as interim GM that he so chooses: “Just to be clear. Joe is the general manager. He's not in a caretaker mode or something.
“[He’s] moving forward, making decisions. He may choose to wait on some of those, but he's free to make decisions in government.”
Takeaway: Plattner is very much involved in the static direction of the Sharks – even if you don’t see him at a lot of public-facing Sharks events.
“Hasso's generally not that visible to you guys. But you should not interpret that as he's not heavily involved,” Becher said.
“Hasso watches as much hockey, both Sharks and non-Sharks, as anybody I know, including non-American and Canadian-based hockey as well. He's got opinions on styles and people etc. So to assume that he hasn't made suggestions over the years and gotten heavily involved would be inaccurate.
“Doug, given his long tenure, did lead it more dramatically. And now, it's more of a three-way kind of conversation [between Plattner, Becher and Will].
“I don't know that [his visibility] would fundamentally change. Would he be more visible over the coming months as this process happens, likely.
“He doesn't crave visibility.”
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Takeaway: Wilson, in his statement, declared, “While I have made great progress over the last several months, I feel it is in the best interest of the organization and myself to step down from my current duties and focus on my health and full recovery. I look forward to continuing my career in the NHL in the future.” Will echoed this sentiment.
“Talking with him, he's making progress. He will be back in the National Hockey League. It will be on his schedule. Just after he gets fully healthy,” Will said. “Doug is looking forward to that and that is going to happen.
Takeaway: Could Wilson be the first Shark to have his number retired? It would be a worthy tribute. Wilson was only able to suit up for two seasons at the Cow Palace because of injuries, but he was the face of the franchise during the expansion years, and followed that with 25 years of service in Sharks hockey ops, highlighted by a 2003-19 run as GM that featured a Stanley Cup Final appearance and four other Western Conference Finals trips.
“We will certainly do something to honor Doug's legacy at the appropriate time. We want him to be able to participate in that in person. So that won't be in the next couple of weeks,” Becher said. “Presumably that will happen at some point next season.”