Sharks proud, but unsatisfied heading into summer

As the San Jose Sharks packed their bags, exchanged farewells

and headed into the offseason, the mood around the team was a stark

difference from a year ago.

General manager Doug Wilson talked then about needing to perform

an “autopsy” after the Sharks lost in the first round to Anaheim

after posting the best record in the league in the regular

season.

That’s not the case this year after the Sharks made it to the

Western Conference final for the second time in franchise history

before being swept by Chicago.

At his end-of-season media briefing Wednesday, Wilson said he

wanted to conduct a review over the next few weeks before making

the difficult decisions that face the franchise this offseason.

“We’re proud of what this group has accomplished in the last

year,” Wilson said. “It has been a big step for this

organization. We’re certainly not satisfied with where we’re at.

But there are a lot of things that took place in that dressing room

and as an organization that puts us in the position to understand

what it takes and how we need to approach things.”

That was the prevailing attitude in the locker room, where most

players considered the season a success even if the team ultimately

fell short of its Stanley Cup goal. They hope they can use this

postseason run as a stepping stone.

Coach Todd McLellan said this year’s success came out of last

year’s disappointment, as players responded to the challenge with

harder work and better play. He wants that same attitude again this

offseason.

“We need to be careful that we’re not walking around patting

ourselves on the back,” McLellan said. “We set some new standards

for the organization and the players lived up to them. But

ultimately we were beat by a very good Chicago team. I thought we

could have played better and challenged them a little bit more.

“The season is a success as long as we do something with the

growth next year. If we take a step backward, we can’t look at this

as being successful one bit.”

Now the Sharks shift to offseason mode, where they will have

some difficult roster decisions to make when free agency begins

July 1.

San Jose has nine unrestricted free agents, with the most

notable being leading goal scorer Patrick Marleau and goaltender

Evgeni Nabokov.

Those are the only players left from the Sharks’ other

conference final appearance in 2004 and they have become staples in

San Jose.

“Let’s face it, the mission is not accomplished yet,” Nabokov

said. “I want to be a part of it. But it’s not all up to me so

we’ll see.”

Marleau, who joined the organization in 1997, said he loves the

Bay Area and that it “feels like home.” But after scoring a

career-high 44 goals in the regular season, winning a gold medal at

the Olympics and scoring six of San Jose’s last eight goals in the

postseason, he could have other suitors willing to pay even more

than the Sharks can. He wouldn’t tip his hand about what he wants

this offseason.

Key role players like Scott Nichol, Manny Malhotra, Jed Ortmeyer

and Niclas Wallin are also unrestricted free agents, while Joe

Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi will likely need raises in order to

stay as restricted free agents.

With the restraints of the salary cap and a budget, Wilson said

there’s no way the Sharks will be able to keep all the free agents

even if they wanted to. So it’s a matter of prioritizing which ones

to target.

“There’s never a team that stays completely together,”

McLellan said. “A lot of time with the system the way it works in

the NHL, there are significant changes to a lot of hockey clubs.

We’re in that situation now where we could face that. Would we like

to keep this group intact? Of course we would. But common sense and

the system says it’s almost impossible.”

The first big decision will likely come before July 1 when

40-year-old captain Rob Blake announces whether he will retire.

Blake, who can be an unrestricted free agent, said he has a good

idea of what he plans to do but wants to take some time before

announcing his decision. San Jose would welcome him back if he does

decide to play.

The Sharks will have plenty of key cogs back in Joe Thornton,

Dany Heatley, Ryane Clowe, Dan Boyle, Douglas Murray, Marc-Edouard

Vlasic and most likely Pavelski and Setoguchi.

The question remains who will join them.

“You really can’t worry about it because it’s out of your

hands,” Thornton said. “Doug has done a great job with it in the

past. I assume he’ll make this team competitive and hopefully have

most of the guys back who we had here this year.”