SAN JOSE -- The Summer of Shame began impressively Friday morning for the Sharks.
No one hid as the locker clean-out took place. No one ducked the truth. No one rationalized. The players all understood that their playoff meltdown, blowing a 3-0 lead over the Los Angeles Kings and losing four straight, was indefensible.
"I think this is going to be with us a long time," said Patrick Marleau.
"There's nothing you can do to make this feel better," said Logan Couture, when someone asked if a few months away from the game might ease the hurt.
The timetable is not official but foreseeable: Principal owner Hasso Plattner will allow general manager Doug Wilson to analyze the wreckage and assemble a blueprint for repair. That will take a few weeks. Plattner will then either accept Wilson's plan or reject it and find a different general manager.
Let's presume that Wilson keeps his job. It's a reasonable thought, given his trusted relationship with Plattner and the track record of producing winning teams that fill up the seats at SAP Center from October through April. But moving ahead, Wilson must become more flexible and take a good, hard look at the organizational philosophy in terms of the draft and free-agent acquisitions.
What's often unappreciated about Wilson is his fierce loyalty to the San Jose hockey community and San Jose hockey brand. He landed here in a trade during the Sharks' first season in 1991-92. Although he had never previously set foot (or skate) in the city, Wilson developed an affection for the area. He made it his mission to elevate hockey awareness and raise expectations for the Sharks, first as a player and, since 1997, as a team executive.
In essence, you could say that Wilson has created the environment and fan base that now calls his judgment into question. That might be his greatest achievement. Now, in the Summer of Shame, he needs to have a great offseason.
Wilson can start by taking a serious look at the formula in which he has believed for so long. Because something in the formula is not working. See if you sense a trend:
The above numbers tell a story. We all know that any team ousted from the playoffs is going to lose four games in its last series -- but the teams with courage and spirit will manage to win two or three of their last seven games before being eliminated. The Sharks don't follow that pattern. When they hit a few potholes, they fall off a cliff.
None of the Sharks wants to lose. They may believe that they are maxing out their effort. But when future Hall of Fame defenseman Rob Blake served as the team's captain, he said something interesting. Blake thought the Sharks' playoff problem existed not because their effort or commitment fell off in the postseason -- but because all the other teams found an extra gear or two, while the Sharks did not raise their game to keep up.
Marleau and Joe Thornton are the names most often connected to that syndrome. The criticism is sometimes fair, sometimes not. This spring, you can't avoid it. But let's look at the bigger picture: When Wilson assembles the roster through trades and signings and the draft, it's striking how so many spots are filled with the same type of player.
Want examples? The two rookies who ascended to the Sharks roster this season, Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto, were both skilled, exciting and flashy players. Were they gritty competitors? Haven't shown it yet. Last season's top rookie, defenseman Matt Irwin, is also smooth and smart but not known for pushing the edge.
Tommy Wingels is the only recent Sharks' draftee to bring a dose of that element. (Andrew Desjardins was not drafted but signed as a minor league free agent.) Result: Wilson has either traded for his most fiery players or signed them up as free agents -- witness Raffi Torres and Mike Brown and Dan Boyle. Of the three, only Torres is under contract for next season. (Boyle wants a multiyear deal at age 37, which is a non-starter for Wilson.)
In the months ahead, Wilson must be cruel and bold. If that means trading excellent skill for more superior anything-to-win grit, pull the trigger. If it means overpaying for free agents with that quality, bite the bullet. If it means eating the $5 million contract of Martin Havlat through the NHL's amnesty program, Wilson must convince Plattner to do so.
Despite the words of Couture and Marleau, the depression will dissipate by September. Sharks fans are resilient. They will come back to cheer next season if given reason to do so. There are strong indications that the Bay Area will play host to an outdoor game next winter -- either at AT&T Park or the 49ers' new Levi's Stadium -- which should also help rekindle enthusiasm.
But the Summer of Shame can't be just about shame. It needs to be about an attitudinal franchise transformation.