This time last year, it was not a foregone conclusion that general manager Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan would be back with the San Jose Sharks.
Wilson was seemingly reeling from a trade that sent Dany Heatley to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Martin Havlat. He played in just 39 games for the team, while Heatley played in all 82 games and registered 53 points.
The Sharks offense was abysmal, and the special teams, a facet of the game the team used to hang their hat on, was even worse—McLellan took the full brunt of the blame for the struggles.
However, the Sharks are in a good place now. They were just one game away from a berth in the Western Conference Finals after a lockout-shortened season that saw them approach rebuilding territory, then quickly commit to reloading this offseason.
As recent as it sounds, McLellan’s job was arguably on the line as late as the trade deadline in April. The Sharks were recovering from a February that saw them win only two games, followed by a March in which they went 8-4-2.
Wilson’s work at the trade deadline is the full reason for why McLellan will officially return to the team next season.
A deadline that included the departures of Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus resulted in the additions of Raffi Torres and Scott Hannan, as well as the allowance of young players like Matt Irwin and Tommy Wingels to grow in the most competitive of environments.
It also led to the birth of a stronger, faster game on the ice, and that led to San Jose’s success deeper in the season and even further in the NHL playoffs.
McLellan coached the speed and grit of the game almost perfectly. It was likely his call to move Brent Burns from defenseman to forward, having had experience with Burns in the AHL. Burns’ position transfer was another highlight of the Sharks’ turnaround this season, as it changed the culture and landscape of the franchise at the most dire of times.
McLellan also found a go-to line that meshed well together.
He went away from a line packed with any combination of stars like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture or Joe Pavelski. Instead, he focused on one of the stars, Thornton, and paired him with gritty players T.J. Galiardi and Burns. It proved to be a fruitful and reliable line as the playoffs wore on.
Wilson has set this team up exactly how McLellan has always envisioned it—a fast and gritty team centered on controlling the puck and defending the net. This style of play was not attainable with Clowe, Murray or Handzus on the ice.
With them gone, good things remain ahead for a team seemingly written off just two months ago.
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