- Tom Wheatley
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Last summer the San Jose Sharks appeared to be bottom feeders.
They missed the playoffs after seven seasons of improved point totals. They said adios to key veterans like Owen Nolan, Teemu Selanne, Marcus Ragnarsson and Bryan Marchment. Coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi, the architects of the team's rise through the standings, were purged in favor of Ron Wilson behind the bench and longtime Shark official Doug Wilson as GM.
San Jose seemed like just another in a long line of top teams being torn apart for youth and money.
But when the puck dropped last fall, the Sharks quickly bubbled near the top of the Western Conference. They rode that high level of play to a record of 43-21-12-6, a club-record 104 points, the Pacific Division title and second place overall in the Western Conference.
San Jose kept rolling through two rounds before being edged in the Western finals by fellow upstart Calgary.
Doug Wilson discussed his team's stunning turnaround with ESPN.com:
ESPN.com: Please assess last season.
Wilson: "I think it was a good year. A lot of people were given new opportunities and stepped up. Credit the players and the coaching staff -- in Cleveland, too. It's our job to put people in the proper places and give them the proper instruction. I think it meshed nicely."
ESPN.com: Which players made the biggest strides? Alexander Korolyuk, for example, surprised a lot of people in the playoffs.
Wilson: " 'Korky' doesn't surprise me at all. And [Jonathan] Cheechoo really stepped up. And Rob Davison, Vesa Toskala and Miro Zalesak. We have high expectations for our players and they met them."
The two German players were taken in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft -- Goc, 21, in the first round (No. 20 overall), and Ehrhoff, 22, in the fourth round (No. 106). Goc, a center, made his NHL debut in last season's playoffs, scoring a goal against Colorado. Ehrhoff, a defenseman, appeared in 41 games and played in the YoungStars Game over NHL All-Star Weekend, scoring a goal for the West team.
ESPN.com: What is your top priority to improve the organization?
Wilson: "To continue where we left off: Being disappointed not to take the final step to the final round. And not let any comfort set in."
ESPN.com: What was your favorite moment last season?
Wilson: "There were too many of them. I enjoyed every day of the journey, to see our players grow and get to that level, to pick just one moment."
ESPN.com: And your least favorite?
Wilson: "Getting knocked out of the playoffs."
ESPN.com: What will take you furthest away from hockey this summer?
Wilson: "I moved three times in 12 months, and I have four teenagers. All I want to do is go home."
Tom Wheatley is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He is the co-author of Bob Plager's "Tales from the Blues Bench" and "The Memoirs of Bing Devine," both available from Sports Publishing LLC.
11hPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald