Joe Thornton

Todd McLellan, Doug Wilson, Patrick Marleau: whose job is safe?

Spring is usually an incredibly exciting time for hockey fans in the Bay Area. By April 25, most of us have rugged playoff beards going (or in my case, a spotty and awkward-looking attempt at facial hair growth). Although we certainly don’t live in an area like Montreal, the Bay Area does seem to get behind their team. Once every two or three days each spring, folks could wake up excited and nervously grind their way through work because they know that some Stanley Cup Playoffs is waiting on the other end.

But April 25, 2012 spins an entirely different scene. Sharks fans are clean shaven. My Joe Thornton jersey is on a hanger in my closet. Sure, there’s Stanley Cup Playoffs on television, but none that I’m anymore interested in watching than I would be in turning on Around The Horn. HP Pavilion? It’s officially the home of Sabercats Football and, at some point, a Madonna Concert.

I’ve said it again and again on Bay Area Sports Guy – the goal for the San Jose Sharks should be a championship. That’s partially to blame for my tepid interest in Game 5. As I watched the Sharks piss away their 1-goal lead to the St. Louis Blues late in the third, a part of me was slightly content. I knew that had they escaped Game 5 with a win, a loss would be close in tow. They weren’t going to win the Cup, and if that’s the case, what was the point? To cost season ticket holders and diehard fans a few more Benjamins on live playoff disappointment? Why bother?

Wilson’s and McLellan’s leashes

I’m not the only one speculating on Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan’s future with the Sharks after an underwhelming 2012 campaign. If the comment sections of Fear The Fin or CSN.com aren’t enough evidence of the doubt regarding coaching and front office, Doug Wilson stepped to the podium and addressed these issues at yesterday’s post-mortem media day. When asked if Todd McLellan would be the coach of the San Jose Sharks in 2012-2013, Wilson said this:

“The review should include all of us. It should start with me. We will go through this period of reviewing everything with this hockey team. That’s the process we do every year. It’s all about what’s right for this organization.

“I believe in Todd. We’ve gone to the final four, he won a Cup in Detroit, he knows this game. But, there are some things we will all sit down and have to get better. We don’t believe in excuses and avoidance, and there are some things that are quite apparent that have to be fixed for us to be successful.”

Wait, what? Doug Wilson is going to evaluate himself? Although I’m sure what he meant was that the entire organization (short of the owners) is eligible for a pink slip, these comments aren’t exactly damning – for him or McLellan.

So how does Wilson feel about firing himself?

“I will have meetings with [the ownership] and they will make that decision,” he said of his future as general manager of the club. “But, I have not talked to them. I’m doing my job, which is what my job should be. There should be a review on everything we do, and there really is every year.”

Unlike other GM’s the Bay Area has had to deal with over the years, Wilson isn’t averse to pulling the trigger on big deals. Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Brent Burns and Martin Havlat are just a few of the prominent names Wilson has brought to San Jose. Wilson’s crop of young talent (see: Logan Couture) hasn’t been horrible, either. While many believe that Wilson isn’t getting it done, I’m not ready to pull the plug on him just yet.

I do, however, feel that Todd McLellan’s game plan isn’t exactly a winning formula. What does Wilson think about Coach McLellan?

“You know how I feel about Todd. I have great respect for Todd. I think his performance, there are certain things that need to be addressed. He’s the first to admit it. He and I will meet on it. There are ways to address things and fix things, but I have an observation, but I haven’t got to a conclusion. I do need to talk to them and talk to some players, and this is my one chance where guys unfiltered share their thoughts with me. It’s a very valuable time. It’s horse-[bleep] that you have to do it. I’d rather be doing other things, but it is a very important phase in a review.”

“I have an observation, but I haven’t got to a conclusion”? “It’s horse-[bleep] that I have to do it”? “I’d rather be doing other things”? Strange quotes from the Sharks’ GM indeed, but it sounds as if he needs to do some deep soul-searching regarding his coach. It also sounds like he wants to find out just how much McLellan has lost his players as well. Beyond the X’s and O’s, his teams of late haven’t shown the desire to fight back when they’re down late or even hold leads when they need to. A coaching change, although definitely drastic, may be the only hope the Sharks have at winning with their current roster.

No trade clause?  No problem.

Media pundits addressed the issue of trading some of the key pieces, particularly those with no-movement clauses (Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Michal Handzus, Dan Boyle). Marleau in particular has become Sharks fans’ whipping boy for his perceived lack of heart and playoff prowess. But that no-movement clause prevents the Sharks from dealing Marleau, right?

“Let’s put it this way. I’ve heard that we don’t have a lot of flexibility. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I’ll just leave it there,” Wilson said.

“We have several contracts that are up, we have some flexibility and structure. We have players that people want. As we go through the season-end review, you want to be in conversations with other teams. You want teams to want to talk to you, and you want to be able to talk to them and be aware of what’s going on. As we go through what our decisions are when we get to that point, we’ll have people who want to talk to us.”

Wilson made reference to the case of Dany Heatley, who was traded last off-season to the Minnesota Wild. He had a clause in his contract that said he could choose 10 different teams to which he could be traded, and Minnesota was not one of them. Somehow, fine print within his contract opened a window for the Sharks to bypass that stipulation and they were able to deal him. Perhaps the Sharks can track down a little gem within Marleau’s no-movement clause and send him away too.

How does Marleau, who was without a point in the Sharks five playoff games with the Blues, feel about all this trade talk?

“We’ll cross that bridge if it ever happens, I guess.”

“It’s a team game, but obviously I’m here to do a job and to produce, and I didn’t do that,” Marleau said. “You have to learn from that, obviously. It’s not what anybody wanted, and not what I wanted. You have to definitely move on, but you have to learn from it.”

Not exactly pointed comments from the Sharks longest-standing veteran, but perhaps a sign that he is finally becoming self-aware. He may not be the Sharks’ captain, but he is a leader by default and continues to underwhelm. Perhaps a divorce would be the best thing – both for the Sharks and for Marleau’s career.

As the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs continue to unfold with San Jose playing the role of spectators, more decisions will be made regarding Wilson, McLellan and the players. Sharks fans are calling for drastic changes, but the amount of gutting is still up for much debate. However, for the first time in years the issues regarding the most fundamental aspects of this team are finally being addressed. Let’s see if the right moves can be made in restructuring this talented hockey team in a way which breeds success for next season.

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