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Tuesday, March 18
Updated: March 19, 3:37 AM ET
Sharks part with cornerstone GM Lombardi

Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Sharks fired general manager Dean Lombardi on Tuesday, capping their disappointing campaign with a complete overhaul for one of the NHL's most stable organizations.

Owner Greg Jamison's surprising move came three weeks before the close of the Sharks' first regular season in six years in which they won't improve their points total from the previous season. San Jose is 26-33-6-7, last in the Pacific Division -- which they won last season -- and 13th in the Western Conference.

Nearly four months after Lombardi fired coach Darryl Sutter and began trading players in an effort to spark the Sharks, Jamison dismissed one of the NHL's most respected young executives in a brief morning meeting.

''This team has basically underperformed in a very big way this year,'' Jamison said. ''We decided it was time to take a fresh start.''

Lombardi had been a part of the Sharks since their founding season, and he transformed them from an NHL laughingstock to a Stanley Cup contender in the seven years since he was promoted to general manager. All the while, he preached patience in a long-term plan that seemed to be going smoothly until this season.

In a hasty news conference at the Shark Tank, Jamison -- the team president and the head of a group of investors that bought the Sharks last season -- was evasive about his reasoning for the decision and its timing. Lombardi signed a four-year contract extension last summer.

''Right now, we're basically a lottery team. We need a fresh start,'' Jamison said. ''We wanted to get started right now. Today is a new beginning, and we look forward to some exciting hockey for next season.''

Calls to Lombardi's office and home weren't immediately returned.

Assistant general manager Wayne Thomas will run the club's day-to-day operations until a successor is named. Jamison hopes to have a new GM in place by May 1, but didn't set a deadline.

Jamison also expects coach Ron Wilson and his staff to remain with the team, though the new general manager ''will have some input'' on the decision.

Lombardi took over the Sharks' hockey operations late in the 1995-96 season. He hired Sutter and acquired almost every player on the Sharks' current roster, slowly turning the Sharks into an exciting, winning team.

But as the Sharks struggled this season, Lombardi fired Sutter and traded Marcus Ragnarsson, Jeff Jillson, Niklas Sundstrom, captain Owen Nolan, Bryan Marchment, Dan McGillis and Matt Bradley.

Though Lombardi will be a candidate for many front office jobs this summer, Jamison made a salient point: The Sharks have had just two winning seasons in franchise history.

Jamison said he believed the Sharks' above-average payroll was too much to spend for a non-contending team, and he was thought to be the impetus behind both Sutter's firing and the salary-dumping trades Lombardi made in recent weeks.

''We didn't get off to a good start, and we continued to play subpar hockey,'' Jamison said. ''It just didn't seem to work. There's a lot of different guesses, suggestions, input as to what happened, but at the end of the day, it was very much an underperforming team.''

Lombardi, a Massachusetts native, played at the University of New Haven before earning a law degree from Tulane and briefly working as a player agent. He was an assistant GM with the Minnesota North Stars before joining the Sharks.

While Lombardi's player evaluation skills and dealmaking abilities were commended, the Sharks seemed to engage in more annual holdouts with their top players than any other team. Lombardi claimed the holdouts resulted from his attempts to stick close to a tight budget.

Last fall, goalie Evgeni Nabokov and defenseman Brad Stuart held out through the start of the regular season, which played a large role in the Sharks' slow start.

When San Jose won just one of its first five games, Lombardi abruptly capitulated to Nabokov's salary demands -- but without participating in training camp, Nabokov started slowly and never got into top form this season.

''One particular holdout probably did have an impact from the start,'' Jamison said. ''Other teams have holdouts and they can get away with it. At this point, it doesn't seem like we got away with it.''

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