Todd McLellan a Hot NHL Coaching Commodity After Sharks Set Him Up to Fail

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterApril 20, 2015

FILE - In this March 29, 2015, file photo, San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, center, talks to his team during a timeout in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh.  The Sharks announced Monday, April 20. 2015, that they had agreed to part ways with McLellan, the winningest coach in franchise history after the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.   (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

The San Jose Sharks pretended not to fire coach Todd McLellan on Monday by announcing that he and the team "mutually agreed to part ways" after seven seasons together, the most recent concluding without a postseason berth.

It was inevitable, like death, taxes and seeing a commercial for Game of War, assuming you own a TV, computer, phone and eyes.

McLellan's fate wasn't sealed after last offseason's discord, but it was in the envelope. The Sharks squandered a 3-0 series lead against the rival Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, attempted to force the franchise's best player, Joe Thornton, out the door with a smear campaign questioning his dedication and leadership and replaced Dan Boyle with John Scott.

After an 111-point regular season, it was time for a rebuild. A weird, partial, unnecessary rebuild centered around trading Thornton, a player with a no-trade clause who did not want to be traded.

General manager Doug Wilson, who still has his job, spoke to the media Monday about the situation:

We were very, very transparent last summer in what we were going to do. We were going to go young, we had some players that had to be given opportunities, not jobs.

You try to speak the truth. And the comments that I made were with a tinge of emotion, yeah, it was a very emotional time the way we lost. I think the things that I tried to say were general statements, not about individual players. And yeah there are probably times where I should think before I speak but it's coming from the heart and it's trying to find solutions.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

When the Sharks couldn't get back to the playoffs after downgrading the roster, it was just a matter of how the team wanted handle the final year of McLellan's contract. They "mutually agreed to part ways," which saves the Sharks money because they didn't technically terminate him, and it allows McLellan to land a more lucrative deal with a new team this summer, which he will.

"This team is clearly in a rebuild," McLellan said during a conference call. "With one year left and heading forward, I had to analyze where everything was going. I felt, with the some of the answers that I got, it was time."

McLellan wasn't without fault in 2014-15; his hands aren't clean when it comes to what went down with Thornton, who was stripped of the captaincy before the season, and he was at least somewhat on board with the idea of using Brent Burns, who is a bad defenseman, as a defenseman instead of a forward. There were questionable lineup decisions here and there, but that's just as much a product of Wilson's bad decisions leaving McLellan with a subpar roster as anything else.

There was a little bit of everything in San Jose, which is why Wilson's job doesn't sound safe, nor should it be. While other Western teams were improving their rosters this summer, Wilson spent his time trying to trade a player who wanted no part of it and adding a face-punching goon instead of building on a 111-point team that was one game away from defeating the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

"We need to be the dominant team in this building [SAP Center] like we have been historically," Wilson said, "because the Western Conference is not getting any easier."

It did for the teams that didn't sign John Scott last summer.

Seven years is an eternity in NHL coaching; the two longest-tenured coaches are Claude Julien, who after seven seasons could be on his way out of Boston after GM Peter Chiarelli was fired last week, and Mike Babcock, who may choose to test the free-agent waters after arriving in Detroit in 2005. Twenty-three of 26 employed coaches have fewer than five years experience, and 15 have been on the job for two years or fewer.

Sometimes, things get stale. Sometimes, the message stops getting through. Sometimes, the players get older, and when good ones leave, management does a poor job of replenishing.

McLellan's situation feels a lot like the one Alain Vigneault found himself facing in Vancouver. After seven seasons with the Canucks, he was let go following a disappointing first-round sweep at the hands of the Sharks in 2013. It didn't mean Vigneault was a bad coach; it was just that his time was up in a certain city, and his two excellent seasons with the New York Rangers could be a glimpse into the future for McLellan.

"I'm a coach; I want to coach," said McLellan, who is the head coach for Team Canada at the World Championships. "Getting ready for a new adventure is something I'll be looking forward to. Where I go from here, I guess I somewhat control, but there's other people out there that have to make decisions. I'm comfortable with my career as a coach so far. I don't have any regrets here in San Jose and I feel good moving forward."

McLellan spoke in generalities during his conference call, as he was noncommittal about the type of job he'd like next: a rebuild, a championship team, somewhere in the middle. He said the most important thing is making sure a team is interested in him, which is like a producer on the Star Wars reboot saying he just hopes people will want to see the movie.

If Babcock stays in Detroit, and that feels like the better bet right now, McLellan will be the belle of the ball this summer. Edmonton and Connor McDavid? Toronto and a franchise building from the bottom? The Devils? Heck, what if Babcock does leave the Red Wings? Would McLellan go back to the franchise where he was an assistant under Babcock for three years? Chance are, McLellan will have his pick of any of them.

McLellan is going to be just fine. The Sharks, on the other hand, remain in the midst of a wishy-washy rebuild that wasn't needed in the first place.

All statistics via NHL.com.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.


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