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Exit Interviews: Thornton, Pavelski, Karlsson and Wilson talk about the future

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San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) warms up before the game against the Vegas Golden Knights in game seven of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center at San Jose. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Spring is always a bittersweet season in San Jose.

It was no different today, as the San Jose Sharks cleaned out their lockers after another valiant but ultimately futile run for the Cup.

This summer might be a shade different though for an organization that has proven to be one of the most stable in all hockey.

39-year-old Joe Thornton, who altered the course of the franchise when Doug Wilson acquired him in November 2005, might retire. Captain Joe Pavelski, who’s actually been in the organization longer than Thornton — Pavelski was drafted in the seventh round in 2003 — is an unrestricted free agent. Superstar Erik Karlsson, brought in to put the team over the top, is also an unrestricted free agent.

Meanwhile, on the playoff injury front, there were a host of revelations:

  • Pavelski suffered four significant injuries this post-season: Concussion, mouth, knee and left hand
  • Thornton pulled a groin on his first shift against the Blues in Game 1
  • Karlsson hasn’t ruled out surgery, but doesn’t expect to be hampered in his training this summer
  • Tomas Hertl missed Game 6 because of a head injury from Ivan Barbashev’s hit
  • Timo Meier was not affected adversely this playoffs by his late-season upper-body injury, while Evander Kane says he wasn’t battling through anything significant

We’ll start with Wilson and Peter DeBoer, then run down every Shark who spoke today: Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, Karlsson, Timo Meier, Gustav Nyquist, Pavelski, Radim Simek and Thornton.

Doug Wilson

Wilson might be the busiest man in Silicon Valley this summer.

Not surprisingly, he had little to say about Pavelski and Karlsson’s impending free agencies. He did say of Thornton: “He’s a Shark. He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him.”

He also alluded to working on a bridge contract with RFA Timo Meier:

He did detail Pavelski’s many injuries this post-season. Besides the mouth and the concussion, Pavelski’s left hand was “operated on two weeks ago.” This injury occurred before Game 7 of the Vegas series.

No surgery will be required on Pavelski’s knee, the ailment which kept him out of Game 6 against St. Louis.

Hertl also had his left pinky operated on during the playoffs.

In terms of the future construction of the San Jose roster, Wilson elaborated:

“You’re always cognizant where the game is at and where it’s going.

“You have to have a blend of a team. You need some size, you need some speed. You need compete and you look at the teams that have had success this year, I think they were all blends.

“You have to have an infusion of younger players coming. That’s really important.

“Good hockey teams are the sum of all our parts. We were built that way.”

Peter DeBoer

DeBoer, like many of the Sharks, was still trying to figure out why they weren’t playing tonight.

He lamented a lack of a killer instinct, especially in the Colorado and St. Louis series: “We had opportunities in the next two series to grab ahold of those series at different points with a complete effort at the right time.

“For whatever reason, we couldn’t muster it. I still don’t know why. That’s something I’m going to have to dive into, look back at. We made the road too hard on ourselves.”

He did speak to a changing team and how Martin Jones might have to adjust: “He took a lot of heat during the regular season. But we were a different team this year than we had been in other years, we scored a lot of goals.

“Nights when we won 5-4, his numbers maybe didn’t look good, but that didn’t mean he didn’t play at an elite level.

“It might look like that going forward. Him and I have had conversations, we’re not the same team we were even 3 years ago when we went to the Cup Final, where we really smothered teams defensively, but had a harder time scoring. We’ve got a group, at least this year, hopefully moving forward, that can score.

“In order to play offensively like that, you’re going to give up a little bit more. The wins and the numbers might look a little bit different. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less effective.”

Brent Burns

True to form, the one thing Burns said about the playoffs was he had fun. He especially relished Game 7’s: “It’s fun to go seven games. It’s not easy. But it was another great opportunity to have a hero emerge.”

“It’s fun as a competitive person to know you have one game to figure your shit out. To get some sleep. Get good. Make sure you’re ready. And you have to win. It’s probably not good. But it’s fun.

Burns will spend the off-season driving his kids to school and playing with them. He quipped, “I’ve had an excuse for a couple months to not do it. It’s gone.”

Then he’ll get back to work, happy to be playing for DeBoer again:

Logan Couture

Despite leading the NHL in playoff goals right now, Couture expressed no personal satisfaction with his play. The team’s failure still clearly weighed on him.

He did, however, express confidence that his GM would put together a contending team next year, no matter what: “Trust Doug. He’s done a tremendous job in his tenure here of giving us an opportunity to win.”

Joonas Donskoi

Donskoi admitted that 2018-19 was an up-and-down season, but was happy with how he finished it.

“I think I played my best hockey in the playoffs,” said Donskoi. “The thing I could have done better is I could have scored more goals, be more productive and I think that’s what we needed in the playoffs. It’s all about depth and that’s what I’m disappointed at.”

After four years in the NHL, he understands he has to be a more consistent force in the line-up.

Donskoi is an unrestricted free agent this summer and hopes talks to bring him back to the Sharks’ organization will begin soon.

DeBoer benched Donskoi at times this season, but the 27-year-old blamed himself and his lack of consistency for how his role with the team diminished throughout the course of the season.

The Finn, who came to the Bay Area the same season as DeBoer, expressed his gratitude to the coaching staff: “They’ve been a huge help for me. When I first got here, I didn’t know anything about American hockey. I was playing in the Finnish league; it’s a lot different.

“Probably nobody expected me to play in the NHL the first season I got here, but they gave me the chance. They’ve had a huge impact on my career.”

Tomas Hertl

At least the perpetually sunny Hertl could manage a smile today.

This, despite his disappointment that Barbashev wasn’t disciplined for hitting him in the head: “I think it was blindside. He just hit my head. He didn’t really touch anything else.”

Hertl revealed that in the last practice before the Vegas series, he broke his left finger after getting slashed. He then quipped, “Probably my best faceoffs of my career in the playoffs. So maybe I have to do it more often.”

The 25-year-old was pleased with his consistency this season and is aiming for the same next season: “I don’t want to be a guy that one year has 70 points, the next year has 40. I will push myself and be a leader on the team.”

He added, “I just want to prove to myself I can be the big guy on our team.”

Evander Kane

Kane offered no excuses for his post-season slump: “I picked the wrong time.

“When I’m not scoring, I try to bring different things to the team. Try to be good in other ways.

“But at the end of the day, I have to put the puck in the net.”

Kane also talked about teammates, young and old.

“We don’t get a lot of notoriety around the league for our young guys, but they did a really good job this year,” Kane said. “The future of this team, in my mind, is very bright.”

He also declared his belief that Thornton will return.

Erik Karlsson

Not surprisingly, Karlsson wouldn’t indicate which way the UFA winds were blowing for him.

But it seemed that by and large, he enjoyed his time in the Bay Area:

When asked if he was expecting Drew Doughty money, he quipped: “I kind of wish I was signing my second deal and I was 21 and promising and hadn’t accomplished anything, the people that everyone seems to want.”

As for his multiple injuries, he expressed no regret with how they were handled: “I don’t think that anything that we could have done would have changed the outcome.”

As for sitting out Game 6, he said it was his and the coaching staff’s decision: “We felt that by me playing, I wouldn’t do enough to help our team. That’s what it’s all about. I wanted to play. I probably could have played if I had to.”

He expressed confidence that even if surgery is necessary, he’ll be able to train in full this summer and be better than ever.

Timo Meier

Meier is the biggest restricted free agent that the Sharks need to lock up this the off-season, but he wasn’t interested in talking about it.

The burgeoning star also downplayed the idea that any significant injury, specifically his late-season upper-body ailment, played a role in what he admitted was an up-and-down post-season for him.

He added that there’s a lot to work on over the summer.

“Try to push myself this summer to get to another level physically,” said Meier. “[There are] things that I know I need to do better and that’s going to help me and make the organization better and the team better because that’s what it’s all about.”

Gustav Nyquist

“I love it here.”

While it’s expected that Nyquist will be a victim of San Jose’s upcoming salary cap crunch, he was effusive in his praise of the city and organization.

He noted, however, that no dialogue has started between his camp and Sharks management.

Joe Pavelski

The Captain thinks he’ll be back.

“I’m pretty confident,” Pavelski shared. “I’ve got a pretty strong belief system that I’ll be back here.”

Well, okay.

He also went into detail on why he missed Game 6, indicating it was from the Alex Pietrangelo Game 5 hit: “Re-aggravated my lower body injury from the end of the year. It never fully healed up, but it was good enough to go for awhile. Just got hit in a way that kind of lit it up again.”

Speaking of injuries, Pavelski reflected on how impressive San Jose’s run this year was, considering the serious ailments that he, Karlsson, Hertl and others dealt with: “You look at ‘16 when we went to the Final. You don’t realize how fortunate we were. You can’t really think of too many guys that had major things going on.”

Radim Simek

Most fans call him the “Wookie Whisperer,” but in the locker room, he’s known as “Beast.” We learned that’s the nickname Thornton gave him.

Two months after having surgery to repair the ACL and MCL and meniscus in his right knee, Simek is back on the ice trying to get in shape for next season.

“It’s still a long way for me,” Simek admitted. He said he was looking forward to fighting for a roster spot this September.

Joe Thornton

“I’m a Shark. I’m a Shark. There’s one team, and it’s here.”

No matter what happens, it appears Jumbo will retire a Shark.

However, he has set no timeline for his decision on whether or not he’ll come back next year.

The 39-year-old reflected on what was so special about the 2018-19 San Jose Sharks:

“It was just entertaining, man. The Vegas series, wow, and Colorado, wow.

“I think the people of this area are proud of the guys in here and I think they should be. With the amount of guys that were injured, that’s no excuse, but they poured their hearts out and played their hearts out this year.

“I think this whole area needs a Cup. Just disappointing for this area to not to be playing.”