The American Hockey League has announced that the 2019-20 AHL regular season will be paused for the safety of its players, employees, and fans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joe Will, general manager of the San Jose Barracuda and assistant general manager for the San Jose Sharks, has been apart of the organization since the beginning in 1991.
Will’s primary responsibilities include contract research, negotiations, scouting operations, fiscal planning, salary cap analysis and hockey administration.
You’ve been with the Sharks organization since the beginning and have had other opportunities to go else where, but what has it been about the Bay Area and the Sharks community that made you stay?
It starts with the ownership and the people. An opportunity to work for an owner like Hasso Plattner and under a general manager like Doug Wilson is as good as it gets. They believe in everybody, and they give you great tools to do your job. The belief in being able to accomplish what you want to accomplish, being able to win, and doing the things you need to do to win is where it comes from and is what it's all about.
What is the greatest reward you’ve received while working in professional sports for all these years?
It’s the camaraderie, being able to work with everybody that we have. You can see it, it’s really like a family. So many of the guys have been together for many years, but we have guys that just started and they have fit right in. It’s the scouts, trainers, players, it’s everybody. Everyone coming together with a common goal, that’s the most rewarding part. As you achieve and as you have hiccups together, it’s rewarding much like a family. You share the good, and you share the bad.
How did a Pacific Division in the American Hockey League form and what was needed to make it happen?
It was something that was always wanted on an individual basis with teams and especially with us. But it had to all come together with the other teams, it wouldn’t make sense to have us come out by ourselves. The travel and logistics just wouldn’t have worked. It was trying to get the group together, and I give Doug (Wilson) a lot of credit for that and talking to other NHL general managers and other AHL personnel, and we came to the conclusion that we all needed to get in a room and talk. We wanted to be closer to our home cities, less travel and we were able to accomplish it in a relatively short period of time with the help of the league and cooperation of the teams.
What has been the biggest positive of having the Barracuda in San Jose and how has it reflected on the Sharks?
It has been positive in so many ways, and it is kind of seamless for the players. You used to have to have reserves in the NHL and when you have a team in Worcester you can't call up players very easily. You have to have your extras sitting in San Jose, not developing, they’re not really getting better and that goes against player development, and now with both teams close, every one of those players gets to play, and instead of having them sit in San Jose, they are playing with the Barracuda. It also rewards the right guys and gets the right guys on a timely basis to the NHL. Pete DeBoer may come to a game on Tuesday night, and we start the dialogue on a player and on Wednesday he is in the lineup for the Sharks, and that could never have been done before. It allows for the most worthy and ready player to get called up to the Sharks.
What are the advantages of having the team play in the same building?
There are so many. Motivationally the Barracuda players know how close they are and yet how far they are. They can see it, they can see that they are being watched by everybody in the organization. They are playing on the same ice sheet, and they can watch the Sharks and almost shadow their games after some of the Sharks players. That is a huge advantage to be in the same city and even the same building. It goes along the same lines on our business side, fans get to see how close Goldobin is, Meier, Labanc, our goaltenders, Mirco Mueller, Danny O’Regan, so many of the guys. And instead of just seeing them when they come up to the Sharks they can see the whole process and that’s important. It helps with our hockey department and our fan development in the Bay Area. People get to see another team and another level of hockey at a different price point, which has expanded our fan base.
How rewarding is it to see a young guy excel at the National Hockey League level after being developed and groomed through the organization?
Big time! We get excited, and we feel it with them. We know how rewarding it is when they come up and if they struggle we feel that too. They’re not just players, you get an emotional attachment to these guys, and you see what they go through. You draft them at 18 years old, and you see what they struggle with and so when they do have those big moments, when they make their debut or score their first goal it can be a little bit emotional. You’ve invested in these guys, and that’s really rewarding.
When did the organization decide to start acquiring draft picks and stockpiling talent within the farm system?
When you have a team that’s making the playoffs every year and has a chance to go far, and we made couple conference finals, your spending picks, and prospects to acquire players at the deadline for the Sharks right now, and over time you realize you could probably use a few more picks. The organization is going well, but you’ve got to look toward the future. We looked at our five-year plan and thought we’d like to have some more guys, so at that point in time we traded a few popular players away to acquire picks. I hate talking about that because it wasn’t the guys but we needed to prepare for the future.