San Jose Sharks Loss Highlights 10 Reasons Why Todd McLellan Is on Hot Seat
Some assignments are harder than others.
With the San Jose Sharks coming off a 3-0-1 stretch and having the NHL Pacific Division lead in their grasp Monday, finding 10 reasons Todd McLellan should be on the hot seat looked like a challenge. Not to mention the article of the same theme I wrote just over two weeks ago.
Then they lost at home to one of the seven worst teams in the NHL (Anaheim) when a win would have jumped them from ninth to third. That team had just lost at home the night before and was playing a goalie who had only one start this entire season.
The Sharks were out-shot in each of the first two periods, falling short 40-30 for the game. They attempted just two more shots and blocked two more, but missed the net 15 times. They also missed opportunities at the net, including a glorious chance passed up on to dish the puck into the crowd.
Analysts, coaches and players agreed that turnovers led to too many easy scores for Anaheim. Yet in the official statistics, San Jose had one giveaway fewer and seven more takeaways.
At the very least, turnovers led to two Ducks scores. They were also guilty of watching the puck on one goal and not picking up a man on another.
Veteran teams at the edge of the playoff picture cannot afford to make rookie mistakes repeatedly. That was four goals that the goalies could not be blamed for. The Sharks have not scored five goals in five weeks, so their poor defending doomed this game from the start.
Poor fundamentals cost them this game, and that reflects on a coach. This is why a list like this worth another look.
However, I want to make something clear: I do not think Todd McLellan should be fired before the end of the season unless there is a complete collapse.
He is also not to blame; the players are. If the team is planning on dumping some of the talent, keeping McLellan and Doug Wilson could be justified.
But even if they are not going to keep McLellan should the team miss the playoffs, firing him now would not have the shakeup effect I was advocating had the Sharks have lost two more games. There simply is not time for it to affect things.
However, here are 10 reasons the team is justified in firing him after the season if his team does not survive the first round...
Doug Wilson May Be Fired
Doug Wilson has, for the most part, been among the best general managers in the NHL. In eight seasons with the Sharks, he will have at least seven playoff appearances, five division titles, five times advancing to at least the second round and three conference finals appearances.
His relationship with the players has enabled him to have four elite players making no more than $7 million per year, another at $4 million and a fifth at under $3 million. He has not been afraid to make trades that have made the team stronger.
But that has diminished his chances of winning down the road, as the Sharks' cupboards are rather bare. With much of the core over 30 years old and the team's performance taking a decline two years in a row, the Sharks may have peaked.
Deciding eight seasons is enough time is standard in this business. Eventually, you have to win the Stanley Cup or you will be fired. (The same goes for the coach, but including "it's part of the job" did not seem as much a reason as "it's part of the GM's job, and if he goes, so does McLellan.")
In this last offseason alone, Wilson could have re-signed Kyle Wellwood and Ian White—players who were instrumental in the team's late run to a division title—for about the same cost as Michal Handzus and Colin White, who have been disappointing to say the least.
The cupboards got more bare when he traded away Jamie McGinn, a second-round pick and a prospect to get three new forwards who have been nearly invisible while McGinn scores a point a night for Colorado.
When your moves over the past 12 months have made the team worse in the present and future and your chances of doing what you are paid to do are diminishing, even a good GM's job should be in jeopardy.
The Players Are Not Prepared to Do What It Takes
San Jose Sharks color commentator Drew Remenda has asked the question, "Are you motivated or are you driven?"
Players can be motivated by personal events, rivalries, streaks, slights or slumps. But a driven player does not need external motivations, and the Sharks lack enough top-tier talent that is driven.
It is the reason for the accusations of former teammate-turned-analyst Jeremy Roenick. It is the source of the rest of the league's perception that San Jose's stars are soft.
Is that the fault of the coach? No. He continues to talk about the same problems—focus, getting pucks deep and traffic in front of the net, avoiding turnovers and playing with a high compete level..."desperate hockey."
Evidence of a lack of focus and will (besides their own frequent admissions) can be seen in the frequency in which other teams answer a Sharks score on the very next shift. But anyone can be motivated, and it seems the players are no longer responding to the buttons Todd McLellan pushes.
Maybe a new coach will reach them better.
Ron Wilson Did More with Less
Until Doug Wilson made a deadline trade for Brian Campbell, the San Jose Sharks were routinely almost $10 million under the salary cap when Ron Wilson was behind the bench. The Sharks were sometimes closer to the floor than the ceiling.
This is the most any Todd McLellan-coached team has been under the cap, and they are less than $3 million away from it. Yet Ron Wilson's accomplishments rival McLellan's.
Wilson had one conference finals appearances, a 28-24 record and won one more series than he lost. Right now, McLellan has a much better regular season record, but is 19-19 in the playoffs and has gotten one less conference finals win despite one more trip that deep.
In other words, McLellan cannot pass Wilson in playoff wins and deepest run unless he gets to Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Even then he would have more losses unless the Sharks lose only one game between the first two series.
Failure to Adjust to Players' Strengths
The San Jose Sharks are first and foremost a puck possession team. They are very good in the faceoff circle and have a blue line designed to move the puck.
The problem is, they are not the fastest team in the league anymore. Teams can forecheck to pressure the defencemen because only one or two players are needed to protect against one or two fast Sharks on the ice at a time.
However, the Sharks are the biggest team in the league. This seems to be only useful in blocking shots, but McLellan needs to adjust the system to utilize that. Put bodies on skaters and finish your checks.
Steady Decline in Penalty Kill
Ron Wilson had the San Jose Sharks running the penalty kill about as efficiently as anyone in the NHL. Since Todd McLellan took over, this unit has declined every season from the last.
Instead of fixing a problem he inherited, it seems he is dismantling one of the best starting assets he had. Over the last two seasons, it has been so bad on teams that are otherwise so good that one has to wonder if that one improvement might have given the Sharks a conference title.
At some point, one must accept the system is failing. Either find the adjustment that works or find someone who can fix the problem.
Ever-Changing Lines and Pairs
In the postgame for Monday's loss to Anaheim, Todd McLellan responded to a question about his mid-game line adjustments by declaring he would be foolish not to try them. He said he was not getting the "jump" he needed from any of the lines as is.
Constantly changing line and pair combinations tells me two things: McLellan does not have his finger on the pulse of the team enough to pick the right lines and pairs to begin with, and he does not have the answers for what new combinations will work.
It is customary for the lines and pairs to be stable so players increase their feel for one another. They know what to expect and where to look. They play off each other's strengths and protect each other's shortcomings.
The San Jose Sharks never get a chance to do that for long before coming onto the ice with someone new.
Players Teamed Up Often Do Not Compliment One Another
I have talked about this before, but it bears repeating.
Why are the two best skating defencemen paired up? Why are the two biggest defencemen also paired up? Putting one of each on the first two pairs makes them more balanced.
Similarly, the current first line (Couture-Thornton-Pavelski) does not have an especially fast skater, while the second line has two of them. It also has two playmakers and only one shooter.
Perhaps more puzzling, T.J. Galiardi and Daniel Winnik had never played with any of the San Jose Sharks before the deadline trade, but did play with each other. Yet the other person is almost the only one neither has ever been on a line with.
Odd Choices on Who to Dress
Todd McLellan has finally taken Colin White out of the lineup. He played so terribly all season that only stubbornness explains his continual active status.
Sometimes, there are injuries or other issues the public is unaware of that force a coach's hand. Between those and the games you have to give him to know he is not merely playing through a slump, dressing him for more than 30 games might have been justified.
But there have been several games in which the Sharks have played with seven defencemen. That proves that Jim Vandermeer was not only playing better, but healthy. White has been replaced with Jason Demers, showing that he was likely an option for at least some of White's 48 games.
He likewise dressed a less-effective Michal Handzus when better-performing options were available at forward.
Odd Choices on Who to Sit
You cannot sit someone just because they are not playing well unless you have someone to replace them. Jim Vandermeer was cited for Colin White, but did the Sharks have someone worthy of playing on the fourth line in his place or the third in place of Michal Handzus?
Benn Ferriero, Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels all showed at least as much offensive capability as Handzus and spent some time dressed.
The Sharks lacked scoring as February turned to March—particularly big goals. Ferriero was second on the team in game winners despite playing less than half the season.
San Jose was also short on speed, something Wingels had in abundance. Both are right-handed shots, something only two other forwards can say. They both should have been in the lineup every game in March.
Overplaying Antti Niemi
If logic was not enough, statistics show a goalie is not as effective in the second night of back-to-back games in net. It also has long-term effects for a team playing so many games in the final six weeks—Antti Niemi looked fatigued last year in the playoffs after playing in 36 of the last 37 Sharks games.
Yet he was in net on consecutive nights in Alberta, Canada. He was greatly outplayed in the second game, when he had an .864 save percentage.
It would have been different if McLellan had decided to ride the hot hand. But after a horrible road trip, Nemo was a pedestrian 1-2-2 with a .910 save percentage in his last five. Thomas Greiss actually has a better save percentage and goals against average on the season.
And McLellan did not learn from this mistake. The day before a big game against a division rival the Sharks are fighting for position with, McLellan had a great chance to rest Nemo. San Jose was hosting a bad team playing a very green goalie.
Instead, Nemo started. He had to be pulled (though really, no goals were on him as much as the defenders), so either goalie who starts against the Los Angeles Kings will be a bit worn down.