Doug Wilson Must Let Peter DeBoer Do His Job

Wilson & McLellan At Odds

Nikolay Goldobin
Doug Wilson, Nikolay Goldobin, Todd McLellan (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

During the Sharks’ tumultuous 2014-15 regular season, there were rumors throughout the year of discontent between GM Doug Wilson and recently departed head coach Todd McLellan. Now head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, McLellan will be moving to Canada but his family will continue to live in San Jose.

The McLellan clan established roots in the Bay Area and the weather here cannot be beat. Not to mention Todd built a reputation as a top 10 coach in the league while with the Sharks. With his family in love with the Bay Area, it begs the question, why would McLellan want to leave the Sharks? Just for the money? I highly doubt that to be the case.

The easier choice for McLellan would have been to remain behind the Sharks bench. Process of elimination lends one to believe McLellan must not have been very happy with the working environment in San Jose. While Wilson and McLellan called their parting a “mutual” decision, my gut tells me McLellan fully wanted to come back if Wilson would have been willing to remove those handcuffs. The fact of the matter is Wilson wasn’t letting McLellan do his job and the coach was ready to move on unless things changed.

McLellan Grew Tired of Wilson?

It is difficult to believe Wilson grew tired of McLellan. If the Sharks GM had wanted to remove McLellan just for change sake, it would have made more sense to fire him after the 2014 collapse. But Wilson didn’t do that, he kept McLellan around. And it wasn’t terribly surprising, McLellan had always been his guy. Until this past season anyway. Before 2014-15, there were never any rumors about a rift between these two. But this past season it felt like a big part of McLellan wanted out of the dysfunction. And can you blame him? It is easy to believe why McLellan grew tired of Wilson.

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

McLellan coached one of the best teams in the league in 2013-14. Unfortunately, Wilson’s overreaction to the playoff collapse killed any optimism going into 14-15. The Sharks only needed a couple of tweaks to the roster to continue having Stanley Cup aspirations. Instead, Wilson sagged his team’s confidence by calling them “not close enough” to the other contending teams. He subsequently stripped the captaincy from Joe Thornton and the only new NHLer brought in over the offeason was…John Scott? Yeah, I would want out as a coach too.

The primary reason I would want out? Well the GM, (my boss) should not be making any comments (particularly not to season ticket holders) about the decision of captains. As a coach, it is my job to decide who is the team captain. I’m around the players every day at practice and games, on every road trip. The GM isn’t in the room and around the guys like the coach is on a regular basis. The coach has a much better feel for the room than the GM.

DeBoer Must Have More Freedom

In his introductory press conference, current Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was asked about captains and basically skipped around the question. He did however mention that he has no history with these players and that it will be a clean slate. If it really is a clean slate though, that means DeBoer should have the authority to name Joe Thornton captain. However, it is highly unlikely that will happen because of the dust up between Wilson and Thornton over the captaincy last year. Clearly Wilson doesn’t think Thornton should be captain anymore. But again, that shouldn’t be his call. That is the coach’s call.

devil's bench
Pete DeBoer (Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE)

Another coach’s call is where players play and how often they play. If DeBoer believes a big shake up is needed, like say scratching a big name player, or I don’t know, moving Brent Burns from defense to forward, he shouldn’t have to seek approval from his boss. Often times we talk about owners being too involved in the day-to-day actions of professional teams. Names like Jed York of the 49ers and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys come to mind. In the Sharks’ case, their GM is the one who gets too involved in the decisions of his head coach.

Wilson coming out last offseason and stating that Burns would be a defenseman was a completely ridiculous move. Not ridiculous because he is a better forward than he is a defenseman (although that is true), but because that isn’t something that should be decided by a GM during summer. That is something that should be decided by a head coach throughout the season. Not many players switch back and forth from forward to defense but Dustin Byfuglien has switched multiple times throughout his career including back and forth during the middle of a season.

Burns, meanwhile, clearly transitioned to forward in the middle of 2013 with zero problems. He took off immediately upon the switch in the middle of that season. A GM stating where a player is going to play early in the offseason? Please, in the spirit of how hockey works, that is not your call, that is not your job. Deciding where a player plays is a coaching decision. The coach writes out the lineups, not the GM.

If the Sharks are going to come out of the current drama filled mess they find themselves in, Wilson needs to let new coach DeBoer do his job. He mustn’t make coaching decisions for him like he did with McLellan.