Offseason From H. E. Double Hockey Sticks
Whether it be fans, players, coaches, or media, almost everyone agrees that both Sharks GM Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan are amongst the best in the league in their respective roles.
Lots of hockey minds would go as far as rating each of these men in the top-5 at their positions. However, as the cliché goes, all good things come to an end. With Wilson having run the Sharks for over a decade and McLellan already entering his seventh season as head coach, patience may be running thin. Not only have the Sharks continually disappointed come the postseason, but this current offseason has been a public relations nightmare.
Even though the Sharks still feature an elite core of players including Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Wilson seems to have lost faith. Shortly after their first round loss to the Kings Wilson told the media that his team “isn’t close enough” to the other top teams and that his organization would be “fooling themselves” to think they didn’t need to go through a rebuild.
Double Stomach Punch to Fans
Despite being in a strong position financially in terms of competing (currently six million in cap space), the Sharks have made zero improvements to their NHL roster. After the worst collapse in franchise history, where they blew a 3-0 opening round series lead, the organization has done absolutely nothing to reinvigorate their fan base. In fact, in what would have seemed inconceivable during the immediate aftermath of the shocking defeat, the Sharks have actually done the opposite to their fans in the months that have followed.
To go along with the negative nancy “not close enough” comments, Wilson also used the term “rebuild” which was appropriately scoffed at by the media. The Sharks were still a dominant possession team just last year and have no business using the term rebuild. Had the Sharks put together a strong or even average summer, they would still be a popular choice to finally break through and win the Stanley Cup.
Instead, with a terrible offseason, the Sharks find themselves being openly mocked by the hockey community. Somehow, someway, their only new NHL acquisition this offseason has been John Scott. Yeah, that’s right, John Scott.
To say the Sharks offseason has been a mess, would be a severe understatement. They also “let go” (read: fired) beloved television color man Drew Remenda. According to sources within the broadcast industry, the main reason for the dismissal is that Remenda was too critical of the Sharks. Is that how the organization treats a beloved team member of nearly two decades? By randomly kicking him to the curb? All of a sudden he is too critical? Many of those who love him would argue he was often overly pro-Sharks. Never once have I heard a Sharks fan criticize Drew for being too hard on the team.
But wait, there is more. The Sharks decided this offseason to bring aboard “ice girls” and made the announcement concurrently with images of silly midriff baring jerseys for female ice crew members. The men however, were pictured getting to wear an environmentally appropriate track suit and jacket. Different levels of revealing uniforms based on gender is sexist, plain and simple. Impossible to argue otherwise.
Therefore, to sum up, the GM has no confidence in his team and failed to add any new established talent, and the COO has both fired a beloved color commentator and made a sexist business decision.
Doug Wilson: Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde
Wilson is without a doubt the best GM the Sharks have ever had. His teams have been tremendously successful in the regular season and made a few good runs over his tenure as GM. A ten year playoff streak and three Western Conference finals over that span is a great resume.
That resume also includes a reputation for knocking blockbuster deals out of the park. Wilson managed to steal Joe Thornton for Wayne Primeau, Brad Stuart, and Marco Sturm. He brought in Dan Boyle for Matt Carle and Ty Wishart. Then he added Dany Heatley for Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo before finally acquiring Brent Burns for Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle.
Each of these trades ended up being a sparkling success. Each time they received a dominant player while giving up far less in return. These moves are at the core of what Wilson has built over the years. San Jose has been a playoff team every year (and often a high seed) in large part due to Wilson’s penchant for scoring big in the trade market.
Along with being great at wheeling and dealing, Wilson has always done a handsome job at resigning his own players to team friendly deals. Contract extensions for his core: Thornton, Marleau, Couture, Vlasic, Pavelski, and Burns have all been below open market value allowing the Sharks wiggle room to add the necessary depth to win a Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately, this is where Wilson flips a 180. The Sharks GM has never put together a strong bottom-six and has annually struggled when it comes to signing free agents. Since 2010, Wilson has signed the following free agents: Antero Niittymaki, Antti Niemi, Jim Vandermeer, Colin White, Michal Handzus, Adam Burish, Brad Stuart (trade and sign), and John Scott.
This is no longer the old NHL where tough guys without puck skills are valuable. These days you need four lines that can actually play hockey. The fact of the matter is the Sharks employ three of the worst forwards in the league with Burish, Scott, and Mike Brown taking up $3.7 million dollars in cap space. The Sharks simply don’t have the necessary depth players to beat out the likes of LA and Chicago and maybe now not even the Ducks, or Blues either.
Todd McLellan vs Ron Wilson
When there were rumors about McLellan’s future with the Sharks earlier this offseason, the assumption was that if the Sharks let him go, he would be snatched up in a hurry. Many believe he is a great coach, but in a results oriented business, how much better has he been then his Sharks predecessor Ron Wilson?
McLellan inherited a Sharks team that had been to three straight Western Conference semi-finals. He inherited a group already featuring Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Vlasic, Ryane Clowe, Milan Michalek, Evgeni Nabokov, and Christian Ehrhoff. Not to mention, the Sharks also added Rob Blake and Dan Boyle during the offseason prior the McLellan’s first year.
How many other first time NHL head coaches get to start out with such a fantastic team? While you can color me a much bigger fan of McLellan’s attacking style than Ron Wilson’s conservative approach, has McLellan actually been more successful?
In six years as head coach McLellan has been behind the bench for 11 postseason series. Wilson on the other hand was coach for two fewer seasons (four full years) but despite much less talent to work with, oversaw the team in nine postseason series.
When you think about it, it’s difficult to argue that McLellan has been better than Wilson. McLellan’s teams have been significantly less successful despite having more talent. While Wilson’s teams never lost in the first round, McLellan’s have been ousted in the opening round 50 percent of the time.
Furthermore, McLellan continually misuses Pavelski as a wing despite the team being incredibly more successful when he plays center. While certainly a good coach, McLellan has made his fair share of mistakes and his teams have underachieved in the postseason on a regular basis.
At what point is it time for change for change sake? Ron Wilson got the ax after three straight second round exits. But those three straight exits are better results than what McLellan’s last three years have been: two first round exits and one second round exit.
Mystery Majority Owner Hasso Plattner
Majority owner Hasso Plattner prefers to stay out of the day to day activities. He has rarely talked with the media except to tell them he is directing all hockey questions to Wilson. Obviously that leaves the media without anyone to talk to about Wilson’s performance and job security.
From what we know, Plattner is an ultra competitive man and a big sports nut who watches all the games. However, one has to wonder how established he is in the NHL community. Even if he were thinking of making a change at GM, does he trust himself or any of his inner circle to make a smart hire? Thus far he has been a hands off owner, which can be good or bad. But with this being San Jose’s worst offseason in recent memory, a more visible and vocal ownership would be beneficial.
For the time being Plattner is throwing his support behind Wilson and Wilson is throwing his behind McLellan. However, dominoes are likely to start falling if the Sharks have a fourth straight early exit in the postseason.