2011-12 San Jose Sharks: Todd McLellan Should Be Fired for Mishandling Personnel

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2011-12 San Jose Sharks: Todd McLellan Should Be Fired for Mishandling Personnel
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Colin White was the most questionable player Todd McLellan kept playing.

After addressing the job Todd McLellan has done in his approach to the game and the system he implements, the good outweighs the bad. That may not be what a team wants, but it is probably not enough to justify a coaching change.

So how McLellan handles the remaining responsibility of his personnel will tip the scales.

No matter how well someone teaches their system, they need the right players for it. That is the responsibility of the general manager, but anyone worth his salt elicits input to make sure he gives the coach what he needs.

You can bet coach Todd McLellan had a lot of input into the offseason changes and the midseason trades. But we can never know how much, nor under what limitations (i.e., "we will get you a puck-moving defenceman, but only for the third pair..."), so we cannot grade him on that.

But it is well accepted that the San Jose Sharks underachieved this season. The same holds true of the 2009 playoffs. Between those years there is some debate: I am of a mind that the better team won all six series they were in, giving us no significant positives or negatives to take from those seasons.

OK, but how much of that is the coach? McLellan's predecessor, Ron Wilson, also could not translate "want to win" into "need to win."

Wilson, however, had lower payroll teams until the Sharks made the trade for Brian Campbell. Yet he took them one game deeper overall (Game 6 of the Western Conference finals being one game further than McLellan's Sharks last May) and was 28-24 in the playoffs overall, while McLellan is 20-23.

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Other than being a better motivator, what could he have done differently?

The most obvious thing to look at is the team's biggest Achilles heel, the penalty kill. But veteran players the Sharks rejected (Scott Nichol and Kent Huskins) just helped shut down the Sharks' potent power play. Other players were effective penalty killers in the past.

That suggests the system was to blame, and that was already covered. If we can look at who played with whom and when, things get complicated.

We can only look at what he did with the players he had and what choices he made when there were less-than-obvious decisions before him. One of the easiest things to do is second-guess personnel decisions that failed, but there are more objective things one can focus on.

For instance, the team was struggling to score and a dynamic offensive forward, Benn Ferriero, remained scratched. Other players in the press box might have helped, but such choices can backfire, too.

Other things remain grey areas, but they are a little clearer.

Having your two biggest players on one blue-line pair and your two best skaters on the other did not make sense. There were often multiple skaters or playmakers on lines together where others did not match.

When your lines are underachieving, it makes sense to juggle them and see if different forward combinations get different results. However, those changes seldom made any difference (and never for the long term) for McLellan to keep disrupting chemistry with those moves.

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Still, others are pretty black and white.

Colin White played entirely too many games. Make a bad choice, OK. Stick with him longer and you are showing faith in a guy. You are a genius if it works but a fool if it does not.

But McLellan went beyond staying too long with White, who had long since proven he was ineffective. Even when he "played better down the stretch," as the Sharks' PR department of Remenda, Hahn, Reiss and Baker loved pointing out, he was still the worst defender on the ice for either team most nights.

One goal in the playoffs does not change that.

That is too many negative marks on a coaching responsibility as important and broad reaching as personnel. It also gives him two areas he was lacking in over one he did well.

But does that mean he should be fired?

Much of any analysis done now will focus on the disappointing season that just ended. One must not forget that in the prior two seasons, the San Jose Sharks were conference finalists. McLellan has one of the best regular-season records in NHL history for the first 300-plus games of a career, even considering three-point games.

But his team peaked in February of 2009. A change in direction is needed.

You do not want change for change's sake. You do not fire your pilot if you have no one as qualified to fly your plane.

I would have liked coach McLellan to have taken this attitude with the underperforming Sharks more.

And just like Ron Wilson, the Sharks would be firing a capable coach. The failure of both is more an indictment of the players than the coaches.

On another team, McLellan might be great. But not on the team that San Jose needs to build to take the next step.

Wilson did not play the right style for who the Sharks were best suited to become to get a title. McLellan did, but now the skate is on the other foot.

The Sharks' quickest path to a title would be as a grinding team. Nothing McLellan has shown in the playoffs or in his first year with such a team suggests he is the man to take them there.

Good coaches are not especially rare. Pittsburgh got Dan Bylsma out of the minors. McLellan was Mike Babcock's assistant. Trent Yawney was a large part of the success of Duncan Keith, and when he was a Sharks assistant, the penalty kill was excellent.

There are several others with more playoff success than McLellan: Marc Crawford, Mike Keenan, Bob Hartley or even the once-fired Wilson, who showed he can get more out of a team in the 2010 Olympics. Heck, maybe the Sharks can convince Jacques Lemaire to come out west.

That is why if I were management, I would not make this decision until I am done evaluating my general manager.

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