After using up their three mulligans, the San Jose Sharks completed their collapse on the back nine of their first-round series against Los Angeles. All that’s left for them now is to book tee times following their 5-1 loss to the Kings in Game 7.
Cue the cries for immediate change, which will quickly come externally from fans and media. That outside pressure will be matched, if not surpassed, internally as the franchise is forced to consider everything from selecting a scapegoat to making wholesale changes.
After becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to be eliminated after holding a 3-0 series lead, it’ll be hard for the Sharks to stick with anything resembling the status quo. Unpopular as that would surely be, however, it could be the best thing for the franchise to do.
The previous team to lose a series after being up 3-0 was the Boston Bruins in 2010, when they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. Remember them? The next season they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Even with the league’s most hardened leaders up top in Jeremy Jacobs and Harry Sinden owning and running the franchise, no heads were rolled after that historical playoff meltdown. GM Peter Chiarelli, who was hired in 2006, kept his job. Ditto for coach Claude Julien, who had been brought in for 2007-08.
Patrice Bergeron, Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, David Krejci (though he was injured in Game 3 against the Flyers in 2010) Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask, among others, were on that team. All of them returned the following season.
Boston stuck with the status quo and it paid off big time. The Bruins were finely tuned but not overhauled, and they learned their lesson from the year before. They faced the Flyers in the second round, again, in 2011 and dispatched them with ease in four straight games on the way to winning it all.
Can the Sharks become the 2011 Bruins in 2015? They’ve given no indication they have the wherewithal to win it all, though neither did the B’s show they had what it takes to be Stanley Cup champions prior to 2011. But like those Bruins, these Sharks have a tantalizing array of talent on paper that just needs to be realized on ice.
Year after year, GM Doug Wilson has resolutely affirmed his confidence in the Sharks’ aging core of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle, despite annual premature playoff exits. He could be criticized for that had he not done such a superb job assembling his young core of Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to eventually replace them.
With the exception of Boyle, who’s a pending unrestricted free agent, all those players are signed through at least 2016-17. Dealing any of them would take some serious ingenuity, not to mention substantial risk.
So what does San Jose do? The obvious decision would be to axe coach Todd McLellan. But flash back to 2008 when the team fired coach Ron Wilson after his five years behind the bench. The Sharks were in a similar situation then, when they couldn’t get past the Western Conference final after stringing together four successful regular seasons. Wilson’s firing looked cosmetic then, and McLellan’s would look similar if the same fate befell him now.
The Sharks will be almost universally ridiculed if they don’t do something significant to shake up what looks like a team that, plainly put, simply doesn’t know how to win when it counts. Clearly the franchise is at a crossroads. But if history is the best teacher of the future, then maintaining the present might be the best path for San Jose to take.