Doug Wilson interview transcript

18Jun07

Update: Fox Sports article is up.

My Fox Sports article based on this transcript should be up sometime Monday morning. In the meantime, here’s the full transcript of my 20+ minute interview the Sharks GM Doug Wilson based on questions from readers. I’ll say this — Doug has a consistent message across all his interviews, and this basically just captures all of that in a little more thorough form. In other words, if you’ve read or listened to him in the past month, you’ve heard a lot of this before, even when the questions were presented uniquely. Still, there’s definitely some interesting nuggets in there and the one thing that Sharks fans can take from this is that he’s not walking away from the whole “mental toughness” issue. Whether or not they can execute properly remains to be seen, but recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it. Questions are italicized, answers are normal font.

As one fan put it, the most frustrating aspect of this year’s collapse was that it was yet another squandered lead and blown opportunity. In your opinion, why have the Sharks not been able to build on their success the way the Ducks and Senators did?

That is a question that has been asked many times and I go down to the resiliency factor. You talk about Anaheim and it’s interesting…they lose Game 3 5-0 in their own building, they lose Chris Pronger yet the come back the next game and play one of their best games. Certainly Ottawa did it against Buffalo and earlier on in the series, so there’s something about the belief system in what you do and how you play and you don’t waver from that. There’s a conviction in that. I do think that we’ve played that way throughout the year and maybe some of these flaws were hidden because games that we won because of our power play and our goaltending. It’s an area we’ve addressed; forget about personnel changes on that issue, we have to be more efficient in how we play at certain times of the game. You watch Anaheim and they won games in different ways in the playoffs and you have to have that balance that you can play aggressive, protect the lead, defend in your own zone, but you don’t do any of them in a tentative way. You can play smart assertive hockey and protect the lead, you don’t have to be tentative. There’s a couple of times where we got tentative and you will not win that way. And that was something we’ve certainly talked about at length at the end of the year.

Mental toughness is another hot topic with media and fans. What’s your approach to building team mental toughness for next season?

Well, mental toughness is sometimes how you handle adversity and challenges and I use the term “resilience.” Do you go back and fold or do you go back and do you believe in what you’re doing and stay assertive? We have players who’ve shown that but it’s also contagious—you see teams that stop making plays or stop making the right choices defensively. When we’re playing well we are aggressive, there’s no hesitation to our game. First of all you have to identify that it happened and agree that it happened, I think Ottawa did that prior to this year’s playoffs. During the season, you can’t just turn this on and off, it has to be habitual. Every game, every day, you can’t just say, well, when it comes to playoff time we’ll turn something on. How you practice, how you play, how you handle one-goal leads or two-goal leads in the regular season has to be done in a real efficient manner that the teams made it to the finals did better than us. We will address it.

A lot of fans and media are questioning whether or not Ron Wilson is still the right coach to lead this team. Can you tell them why you still believe he is?

Well, we reviewed everything at the end of the year. If you’re not willing to adjust or tweak or change, then you’re not willing to grow and I view that as all of us. You can learn by what works in this league and what doesn’t and the ability to look at things that we’ve got to make better and we do that collectively. Ron has got a bright hockey mind and he works hard, he loves the game. There are some things that he will say he wants to do differently but his passion and his knowledge for what we want to accomplish as an organization, he’s committed to doing it so we think as a group we think we all have to get better, whether it’s the GM, coaches or players and we accept that challenge and he certainly did.

You’ve mentioned that you’d like the goalie situation cleared up by training camp. Without going into too many specifics, how do you approach who to keep and who to move since they’ve both played so well?

Well, they are both very healthy and true #1s and that’s what we’ve tried to accomplish the past 12 months and that’s get into a position, one, have two goaltenders, I think was necessary for us, and certainly Carolina wouldn’t have won a Stanley Cup without two goalies. I told them a year ago that we would take this approach but I did promise them after this season that we would move one of them and declare one them as the #1 goalie moving forward in fairness to them, and they accepted that.

When you’re trying to determine who you’re going to keep, are you just going to look at who generates the best offer possible or do things such as injury history, salary cap concerns, future salary cap concerns, any of that come into play?

Without going into the details of it, we’re trying to win Stanley Cups. Our view will be based on several factors but ultimately it will be what helps this team win a Stanley Cup. And that’s the deciding factor for us.

Assuming one goalie is moved, who will be stepping into the backup position?

We’re fortunate that we’ve got some outstanding goaltenders already in the system. Dmitri Patzold, Tomas Greiss did a really good job in Worcester this year. Warren Strelow did a wonderful job in the brief time we had him this past year to get them going down the path. We feel we’re very blessed with goaltenders from top to bottom.

One constant criticism by fans and media was the inexperienced blueline last season. The Rivet trade seemed to confirm that, and one fan wants to know why it took to near the trade deadline to act upon it rather than addressing it prior to the season’s start.

It’s interesting that you say inexperience because our best defenseman in the playoffs was our youngest: Marc-Edouard Vlasic. So I think if we’d addressed that, we wouldn’t have the growth of Marc-Edouard Vlasic. And it does take two to tango, did we pursue other defnemen, yes we did. When Craig Rivet came here, he integrated in very easily and played very well. I understand when people look at age but after the trade deadline, Ottawa and Buffalo were both younger than us.

You’ve said that the coaches admitted that they could so some things better. In your mind, what are the main things that you feel they will do better next year?

The execution of the things we want done as an organization and when I say the coaches, we all do it together. GMs, coaches, players, so I’m not going to just identify that one group has to do things differently and the others don’t. The execution of how we play, you can’t be really efficient and detailed one night and not the next night because it does have to be ingrained in you to do things the right way so that when you get fatigued or stressed or whatever, your flaws (are overcome). We might tweak how we play a little bit on some things on the ice but not a major change. We’ve seen things that teams have been effective under these new rules have applied. Without going into the nuances of it, there’s some little adjustments that we will be making and demanding that the team will be adhering to the whole year, not just come playoff time.

Mark Bell and Steve Bernier both had disappointing seasons, Bell in particular. What do you feel their upsides are and where do you see the roles with the team in the upcoming season?

Well, Steve Bernier’s a young player who I feel’s going to be a dominant player in this league. He played really well a year before, had a little bump this year, but I certainly think that he’ll be better this year. Mark Bell, by his own admission, got off on the wrong foot, had an issue that was dealt with and had several injuries and did not get his game back on track, and that happens sometimes. He’s also a player that several years back scored 28 goals in Chicago. He’s a big physical kid that has the makings of a very good hockey player and his best years are ahead of him too. It was just a tough year for him and he’s the first one to admit it. But he’s also the type of guy that can be pretty important during playoff time.

Coach Wilson has often mentioned that the strategy is to “play our game”. Do you feel like teams like Detroit and Ottawa advanced farther because they could adapt better, and if so, how do you implement this adaptability?

Well, as our friends in Anaheim have often said, you may have to play four different styles to win a Stanley Cup, you play against four different types of teams. You have to be able to adjust. You have to play different styles whether you have injuries or fatigue or whatever it may be, protecting a lead or going down a goal. We think we have that ability but did we execute it as well as other teams? No. You can’t just say that you’re going to play one style, adjustments are part of this game, and we have to continue to do that. You can’t just be a one-dimensional team.

What up-and-coming young prospects do you envision competing for spots in training camp? Do you see anyone comparable to Marc-Edouard Vlasic in terms of impact?

We’ve got a group of players and I don’t want wanna, I’m not going to limit it to a few guys. There’s a guy, Devin Setoguchi who had an outstanding year the last half of junior last year. We’ve got Torrey Mitchell, Lukas Kaspar, Ty Wishart, we’ve got a group of players that I think…I never say never because when we came into camp, who would have thought that Marc-Edouard Vlasic would have come in and had the impact that he did. We will have somebody come into camp and force his way on to this team solely on merit and solely on what he gets done on the ice because we are open to that. The best players will play, that’s always been our philosophy the past few years.

Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s once stated that building for the regular season is possible but building for the post-season is a crapshoot. With so much parity in the NHL, do you think this applies to the Stanley Cup playoffs?

I don’t know, baseball and hockey I think are different. I certainly respect Billy Beane and respect what he’s done with the Oakland A’s. We know the teams we’re going to play in the West and it’s tough, it’s a fine line from top to bottom. We finished with 107 points and finished in fifth place. But there’s not really an unexpected what you’re going to see in the playoffs other than you’re going to have to play three different types of teams before you even get to the final. You have to know the teams you’re going to play. You have to execute better, you have to have the fortune of good health and you have to find a way to get things done, and I’ll finish with a big word: you have to be resilient. Something bad happens you gotta forget about it and you move forward. For our team, (resiliency) certainly is (a theme) at this point. You learn that through tough times and tough lessons, I guess, and hopefully we’re done learning from our tough lessons.

Ron Wilson’s sometimes used the media to publicly call out players for their performance. Are you concerned that this approach isn’t producing the right response with the players?

Hey, we’re all big boys here. Some of the great coaches challenge players. What you want to know is that you’re challenging players to be better and to get to the ultimate goal of winning the cup. Having said that, the relationship and trust amongst people in the dressing room, that is something that is obviously crucial to our success, and I think that players understand if they’re playing hard and playing well, they’re going to get lots of ice time and that’s how a coach truly rewards a player. You go back to Vinnie Lecavalier and John Tortorella, Hitch and Mike Modano, there’s moments that they challenge each other, but you know what? They grew together and won Stanley Cups together. It’s healthy and it’s how it’s responded to and where you go from being challenged and that you do have a mutual goal here.

Ron Wilson’s been known to juggle lines quite a bit. Do you favor that approach or would you like to see your combinations be more settled?

Well, I think a lot of times is that a lot of nights, you need different things. We’ve got a lot of good hockey players here who interact with each other. You also have to assume that sometimes during the playoffs that either through injuries or penalties or suspensions or whatever, you have to be prepared that somebody does have to play with somebody else. Is it easier with set lines? Probably, that would just make sense. But on different nights, you just need different things. We’ve had pretty good success in the past three seasons. I think we’re in the top five in wins and points in the past three years, and I think we’ve played seven playoff series in the past three seasons, so there’s a lot of success that has taken place. But again, we haven’t won the Cup yet, when people say we certainly haven’t overachieved, I guess we haven’t achieved our ultimate goal, but some good things have happened under Ronnie as our coach.

Your top four forwards look like they’ll be Thornton, Marleau, Cheechoo, and Michalek. Who do you see contending for the last two spots on the top two lines?

Well, that’s…we’ve got some pretty good players. I think Stevie Bernier thinks he belongs up there, Mike Grier’s very versatile, he can play up and back. Ryane Clowe played very well, Devin Setoguchi’s probably going to tell you that he’s gonna come in and try and take one of those spots. We think we’re pretty deep in forward. Marcel Goc’s played well for us, Mark Bell back at the top of his game is certainly a top-nine forward, so we have considerable depth up there. And we can be a four-line team, Joe Pavelski’s played well, we’ve got a lot of guys that can go up in roles because they’re not just a one-dimensional player and they have additional offense—when they go up on the top two lines, they support that with their statistics this year.

There’ve been reports that you’ve spoken with Joe Thornton about a contract extension. Is there anyone else you’ve targeted for an extension (if you can talk about it).

I don’t really talk about negotiations publicly but I’ve talked with many of the agents and I’m continuing down that path. You try to be pro-active, and you try to do things that work for both the player and the club and the team to keep this group together because we feel we’re coming into our prime as an organization and as a team.

A popular what-if scenario among fans is Scott Niedermayer. It’s pure speculation at this point, but if you were successful in courting Scott Niedermayer after the lockout, do you think the Joe Thornton deal would have still been possible?

Boy, that’s a great question. I wish I’d have the ability to answer that question. The only blame I have in Scott Niedermayer is that he didn’t have more brothers. That’s…I will say this: quite possibly.

If you could sum up your approach to next season in one word, what would it be?

(long pause) I can’t do it in one word. I’d say get ready to play, the resiliency will be there. We will get that done.

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8 Responses to “Doug Wilson interview transcript”

  1. 1 PB

    Mike –

    Great interview! Very interesting read.

  2. 2 Morgan

    Great job! Though Wilson basically regurgitated everything he has said in all the other interviews I’ve read, it’s nice to know that he’s really stressing resiliency. Now it remains to be seen whether or not he actually gets the message across to the players.

  3. 3 andrew

    nice interview Chen! Just a quick question on the goalie front. Remember when Nabokov and Toskala were playing like garbage, then got injured. SJ brought Nolan Schaefer up and he crushed it. He set a new Sharks record for rookie consecutive wins, didn’t he? As soon as our starters got back into the lineup he got sent back down. Schaefer has since been traded off, at the deadline for a late, late round (8th) pick. Am I missing something here? I trust the team and the GM, but why did we drop him for next to nothing?

    I guess I should have had you ask Wilson, but hey, what can I say? I’m a procrastinator.

  4. 4 Mike Chen

    If I’m not mistaken, I believe Schaefer was traded because he was UFA coming up and they were confident that Greiss or Patzold could hold down the backup spot.

  5. 5 Aaron

    Nice work Mike. I really wish Dougie had been willing to get a bit more specific regarding the goalie situation, not only who he wants to keep but also what he’s looking for in any potential trade. Oh well, such is life. I’m glad he was willing to talk to you at all, since he’s not the type to go in search of a microphone, a la Brian Burke.

  6. 6 Mike Chen

    Aaron, one of the criteria from the media relations department was no specific questions about free agency or trades since Doug wouldn’t have been able to answer them. So I had to be as vague as possible regarding the goalie situation.

    My own personal belief after talking with him is that he’s basically going to listen to offers for both goalies and just decide if one is significantly better than the other. I think they have equal confidence in both, though right now I’d keep Nabby simply because his contract looks pretty good compared to what some upper-tier goalies cost.

  7. 7 Mike

    BTW, Shaefer was actually third on the depth chart behind Greiss and Patzhold at the time of his trade. He did not have a good year in Worchester. He’s kind of like Patrick Lalime, but on a lesser scale.

  8. 8 Anonymous

    I remember coach Ron Wilson during the Sharks/Oilers series in 2006 playoffs tied 2 games apiece and having his team (who were getting stoned by Rolonson) practice shooting wide of the net on purpose. The idiot announcers on TV were complimenting his “creativity” instead of condemning his giving up on his own team.”You guys can’t score, try to miss on purpose and chase rebounds off the wall” I looked at whoever I was watching the game with and said “thats it they lost-forget the Sharks”
    Get rid of Ron


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