SAN JOSE – Hasso Plattner has been the majority owner of the Sharks since Jan. 30, 2013, when he bought out the shares of then primary owners Kevin Compton and Stratton Sclavos.
Just a few hours after the announced shakeup, Plattner sat down with two local reporters – this one included – for a lengthy interview in which he discussed everything from the origin of his interest in hockey, to the organization’s objective of becoming more financially stable.
Since that day nearly two-and-a-half years ago, that’s been the extent of Plattner’s in-person dealings with media types, as the German billionaire and founder of tech giant SAP has chosen to mostly hang in the shadows. Until Friday.
Despite his name not appearing on the press release touting the announcement of the Sharks’ new lease on SAP Center, Plattner took the podium to express his excitement at keeping the Sharks in downtown San Jose, and in the building that they’ve called home since 1993.
It was probably a good time for him to make an appearance. Plattner’s open letter on April 23 didn’t seem to go over too well with many fans, a large portion of whom would like to see general manager Doug Wilson in the unemployment line after the team’s disappointing season and previous years of playoff failure.
Plattner even acknowledged that his statement didn’t seem to appease “some folks.”
“We had in the last 10 years some good runs,” Plattner said. “We came close, not close enough. I’m looking at Doug. We’re working on that. We were sitting this morning together, and went through the list of unrestricted [free agents] and restricted ones, and who could fit. This is not easy. As I said in my mail, which some folks did not like so much because I was straight and open – we cannot buy the Stanley Cup.”
“We look into the near term future. In the next 10 years, I’m pretty sure we will win one Stanley Cup.”
The 71-year-old clearly took issue with the notion that he’s an absentee owner. Despite being in the United States for one-third of the year, he said he still watches every game.
He’s also in contact with Wilson and club C.O.O. John Tortora on a regular basis.
“I’m involved basically on a daily basis. I have weekly conversations with Doug and with John,” Plattner said. “My management team is involved. I cannot do something for the Sharks I can do for SAP. I can still do some stuff for design; I cannot do hockey design. I cannot tell the team how to play, or invent a new tactic, how to avoid goals. So, I can’t do that. But, other than that, I’m fully involved with the business.
“So when people think I’m not involved, that is either writing on rumors or creating rumors.”
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Plattner didn’t directly answer a question about the review process on Wilson, but did offer several candid answers on other topics pertaining to the Sharks after the press conference.
On his disappointment with this season, and speculation on Wilson’s job: “Doug was not on the ice when we didn’t make it. … I think this is overreaction by the fans. I understand that they’re upset. I was upset, but then you have to calm down and probably analyze what it is. We got injuries. Others got injuries as well. Did we get sloppy? I don’t know. Did we [not] push hard enough? I don’t know.
“That all could be. It is difficult with sports teams. After being relatively successful for 10 years…we made it through the first long trip this year playing in the East. Came back, hanging in, in second position for some time. Then when we thought now, we’d do a little acceleration like LA typically does in the last third of the season, we fell flat. So, next game, next game, next game – didn’t happen. In the final stretch they still had hope, but I think that was too late.
“The pivotal point was probably the loss in the stadium game (to Los Angeles on Feb. 21 at Levi's Stadium). That was probably also emotional. I don’t know. But, when it’s such a big event and everything was focusing on the event, and then you don’t shine. You lose. It was tight, but we lost. After that, I think we got a little bit deflated.”
Wilson has used various words for the team’s transition over the last few seasons, including reset and refresh, and later rebuild. Plattner, who is on board with the plan, had another similar word for it.
“We have to continue on our way. You ask about Doug. Doug started this, we discussed this restructuring – I use a different word. Two years ago, when do we do it? We still had these top stars, and how do we do it? We were full of hope that we can even go through without losing too much in performance.
“We are very optimistic that we can rebound pretty quickly. But, history has shown that other top teams, well-managed, top ownership, had long periods of the restructuring. Other teams that have four or five first picks are still struggling. It is not easy. It is sport.”
“Doug is sharing with me what is on the market, and the discussions he is having privately he cannot share with me. He will only do it when there is some progress and some opportunity. In the end, we will talk about financial issues, but it is his job to do these negotiations, find us the players. You know, as everybody knows, we need a defenseman or two, and we need probably a better fourth line. Then we will have a good team again.”
On the coaching search, Plattner said: “First of all, I want to say thank you to Todd [McLellan]. He was a great person, great coach, very successful. I had very good relationship with him. Every time I was here, I spent time with him after the game, and he always had time despite the stress of the game and the postgame adrenaline to talk me through what happened and what’s going to happen. Seven years is a long time. One of the longest, I think. He couldn’t come through in the end of this season, so to turn it around…
“It doesn’t help that we over analyze that. He said seven years is enough. We have to try something different. Now there’s a long list of candidates we go through. The different directions, Doug is working on that. He will tell me when he has probably narrowed it down, and we have to make a decision what kind of option we take. There are different coaching styles, different experience levels. You know all that. He has to make the decision.”
There is speculation that Mike Babcock, should he leave the Red Wings, could command an annual salary upwards of $5 million annually. Plattner was asked if cost is an object when it comes to the next head coach.
"Cost in general is an issue. We had a very, very bad year in the year of the lockout. There is a limit for losses. This is still a business. This is not a hobby. When it turns into a hobby, that's not good. I think that is not good because it has tax implications, severe tax implications. So we have to have a healthy enterprise here.
“We have done a good job restructuring some internal procedures and processes, so cost is an issue. I just got a list of all salaries of all players in the league, and had my surprises. Therefore, we have a salary cap. The good thing is, Doug told me, we are in a good position, a better position than some other teams. If they want to keep their young players, they will pop through the roof. We have some cap room and ... we are in a good contract situation. This is how I see it, so there is potential. And let him do his job, what he can bring to the Sharks."
Regarding the Wilson/Joe Thornton dustup in March – the owner reportedly had conversations with both Wilson and Thornton after Wilson criticized Thornton’s leadership ability, and Thornton responded by suggesting Wilson “shut his mouth” – Plattner was asked if that’s behind everyone now.
"I think yes. I'm not commenting on who made the bigger mistake, but I think they both realized it and settled it as hockey players. I can tell you what I know from both that it's over."
Finally, he ended with this: "And don't write again that I'm never here. I spend one-third of the year here, a little bit up, a little bit down."