Tommy Wingels didn’t hesitate in committing the next three years to the San Jose Sharks even as general manager Doug Wilson says the team is entering a rebuilding period.
Wingels signed a $7.4-million, three-year contract this week.
“Doug is the architect of this team. Whatever direction he feels is best for it, as a player you buy into that,” Wingels said Tuesday. “As a player, you’re committed to your team and whatever decision the general manager makes. I’m fully on board with whatever he decides to do.”
Along with locking up Wingels, the Sharks also signed another of their restricted free agent forwards to a contract, finalizing a one-year, $1.3-million deal with James Sheppard on Tuesday.
Wingels was a key component for the Sharks last season when he ranked fifth on the team with 16 goals to go along with 22 assists in 77 games. He also led the Sharks with 218 hits and was used as a penalty killer and on the second power-play unit.
“Tommy stepped forward and made a big commitment to our organization,” Wilson said. “He is an important part of our team and a hardworking, physical presence in our lineup. He competes the way we want our team to play and we’re excited to have his leadership, both on and off the ice, in our locker room for three more seasons.”
Wilson has said the team is entering a rebuilding stage after becoming the fourth NHL team ever to lose a best-of-seven playoff series after winning the first three games. The loss in the first round to eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles was the most painful in a run of early playoff exits in San Jose.
Despite the Sharks winning just one playoff series the past three years, Wingels does not believe there is a big gap between San Jose and the top teams in the NHL like Los Angeles.
“We were a few minutes and plays from sweeping them in a series,” he said. “Things got away from us. You want to talk about learning experiences, that was probably the biggest learning experience we’ll have as players.”
The Sharks are one of two teams to make the playoffs each of the past 10 seasons but are still seeking their first appearance in the Stanley Cup final. The post-season struggles have led Wilson to proclaim the team may need to take one step back in order to reach its ultimate goal of a championship.
San Jose bought out veteran forward Marty Havlat and traded defencemen Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart for draft picks in an effort to get younger.
Captain Joe Thornton and franchise all-time leading goal scorer Patrick Marleau are still on board, having shown no interest in waiving their no-movement clauses in their three-year contracts that started this summer.
Sheppard had four goals and 16 assists in 67 games last season. He started the season playing mostly at wing before becoming the third-line centre late in the season.
Sheppard was tied for second on the team with six points in the first-round playoff loss to Los Angeles. He had two goals and four assists in the series.
“James has worked tremendously hard and earned himself a key role on our team last season,” Wilson said. “His perseverance and dedication make him a valuable asset to our organization going forward.”
San Jose had one other restricted free agent this off-season. Defenceman Jason Demers filed for salary arbitration for next season. Defenceman Scott Hannan and forward Bracken Kearns are unrestricted free agents.