The Motive to Fire Todd McLellan

mclellan-2008-home1
From 2005-2008 Todd McLellan managed the power play and the forwards in Detroit.

By no means am I trying to offer my opinion on this topic but instead giving some insight on what could be both beneficial for the Sharks and McLellan if he is asked to leave San Jose. At the same time I want to address how this decision could go wrong in a hurry. Colleague Andrew Bensch has his own thoughts on the current usage of the Sharks personnel by coach Todd McLellan but I would like to outline the potential pros and cons of firing the longest tenured bench boss in Sharks history.

History

McLellan came over from Detroit after winning a Stanley Cup as an assistant coach under Mike Babcock and planned on instituting the puck possession style of play in San Jose. He inherited arguably the one of the best Sharks teams in 2009, after the acquisitions of Dan Boyle and Rob Blake. From the years of 2009-2011 the Sharks boasted one of the best forward lineups in the NHL and easily had their best defensive core in franchise history. After San Jose won the President’s trophy they suffered a devastating collapse in 2009 at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. Just one round into the playoffs and after a record-breaking season the Sharks were bounced from the playoffs, by a division rival no less.

That summer Patrick Marleau was removed of the captaincy and it was given to now hall-of-fame defensemen Rob Blake. Sniper Dany Heatley was acquired that summer and the Sharks would make it to the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, the Sharks would lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in a mere four games. The next summer San Jose grabbed Antti Niemi, the Blackhawks Stanley Cup winning goaltender, and hoped he would change their fortunes. All that changed was the amount of games played and the team that the Sharks lost to, the Vancouver Canucks.

Many things have been blamed on those playoff losses; goal-tending, injuries, player performances, but overall the Sharks were not the better team. One thing that did not help was the fact that Christian Erhroff was traded for next to nothing before the 2010 season to clear cap space for Dany Heatley. While it may have been a necessary trade it was not necessary for San Jose to give up a franchise defensemen for pennies. The Sharks defense, while impressive when comparing franchise history was one of the reasons as to why the Sharks were not able to compete with the Blackhawks or Canucks.

Despite setting so many regular season records and having arguably the best Sharks teams in history Todd McLellan was unable to take the Sharks any farther than Ron Wilson did back in 2004. A feat he managed directly after the departure of veterans Owen Nolan, Teemu Selanne, Marcus Ragnarsson and Bryan Marchment. Of course McLellan, managed to keep the product on the ice among the top-notch teams in the NHL and even on and off night were good enough to win games against anyone. While he may be remembered for what was not accomplished McLellan most certainly is not to blame for these failures.

Decline

Because the Sharks were so good for so long they weren’t going to fall off a cliff. Expecting Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and company to simply break down was not feasible. The reason why the Detroit Red Wings never went through a complete rebuild was because they were ready to replace Yzerman, Lidstrom and Shanahan with Zetterburg, Datsyuk and Kronwall. Concurrently, the Sharks have groomed players to replace their now departed veterans such as Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi, and Dan Boyle. Regrettably imitation of the most successful franchise of the past two decades is not an exact science. It’s questionable if Doug Wilson has even truly embraced this idea up until a few seasons ago. The Sharks did go multiple seasons without a first round pick and did not start getting younger until the 2013 season.

In 2012, the Sharks were bounced from the playoffs in five games, a new franchise record. They also played a small role in the Los Angeles Kings miraculous run to the Stanley Cup, two memories they would like to forget. A year later they managed a mere two wins in February and barely squeaked into the playoffs thanks to the stellar play of Antti Niemi. After some much-needed revenge over the Canucks they would lose to the Kings in seven games. Of course this was not the worst of it as most Sharks fans know. Making history yet again the Sharks lost for the second year in a row to the Kings this time after taking a 3-0 lead. The rest is history but the summer would be filled with speculation, another stripped captaincy, curious organizational moves and a fever of weekly announcements made by Doug Wilson.

Present Day

After six seasons in San Jose, McLellan has had no more success than Ron Wilson and endured far more disappointment. Of course Doug Wilson has been around for all of these disappointments too. Many fans and hockey personalities have blamed the Sharks “chokes” on some of his roster moves and trades. Some argue that Wilson is the problem while others focus on McLellan’s recent coaching tactics.  The rest who do not think everything is a-okay in San Jose think that both should go especially after the tumultuous summer.

Through the 2015 season the Sharks have not played well. Actually that is an understatement, the San Jose Sharks look bad. Missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade bad. Possibly in the Connor McDavid race bad if circumstances persist bad. Eight of the past ten games the Sharks have been held under three goals. Almost every player on the team is on pace to perform worse than the previous year. The Sharks are still without a captain and are within an arms reach of their horrific 2006 start to the season of 20 points in their first 24 games. Luckily, the Sharks were able to swing for the fences and acquire Joe Thornton which changed the entire season around that year. It is questionable whether or not Doug Wilson can pull off that same magic.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I am a firm believer in learning from history. In 2002, the San Jose Sharks won their division for the first time franchise history. A year later they got off to a horrific start and missed the playoffs. Along the way the Sharks fired Darryl Sutter, traded captain Owen Nolan and eventually parted ways with GM Dean Lombardi. They hired Sharks alumni Doug Wilson as the new GM, Ron Wilson as the new coach and put their faith in young stars Jonathan Cheechoo, Niko Dimitrakos and Christian Erhroff.

The 2004 season may have been due to hard work, a fluke or both but one thing is for sure the new faces changed the mentality of the franchise. It could happen again in San Jose if Todd McLellan and/or Doug Wilson are fired. Not only would it make for a clean slate in the dressing room but it would also abolish all of the weird and strange things said over the 2014 off-season. The Sharks could move forward and stop thinking about anything off the ice.

Still firing a coach or GM can also lead to a never-ending landslide effect that destroys a franchise from the inside out. You can look around the NHL and see the constant revolving door that has hurt some teams such as Washington. Mind you the Capitals were a team that also won the President’s trophy then lost in the first round and ever since they have been a floundering franchise. In a recent interview players defended their coach against the recent rumors.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic- “I like Todd. I really do. He’s a great coach, really nice to the guys, hard on them when he needs to be, For me, I think he’s been great. I wouldn’t want to see him go.” via Curtis Pashelka of the Mercury News.

Tommy Wingels- “We’re the players on the ice. We’re the ones who are responsible for what happens, and like I said, those reports irritate us as a team. I don’t think they’re warranted.” via Curtis Pashelka of the Mercury News.

Firing Todd McLellan could be that first domino that leads to desolation of the Sharks winning ways. Players like Thornton, Pavelski, Vlasic and Couture may want out of San Jose. This in turn could lead to less sponsorship deals and also less fan support. The Sharks are already facing lower than normal ticket sales this season. Combine all of these factors with the Sharks current television deal problem and the recent alienation of fans through questionable marketing tactics. It makes for a perfect storm.

It may be true that NHL players are professionals but they are also human. Jealousy, anger and pettiness can cloud anyone’s judgement including a hockey player making millions of dollars. Firing Todd McLellan may be the right move for San Jose but if the players are so quick to defend him it could further divide the organization.  In any case the Sharks certainly are going nowhere good unless changes are made.

  • What do you think, should Todd McLellan be fired?
  • Is Doug Wilson the one to be blamed?
  • Should they both be fired?
  • Or is there a lot more wrong in San Jose than the coach and GM?