SAN JOSE (AP) — After seven years of great regular-season success and playoff disappointments, coach Todd McLellan and the San Jose Sharks decided it was time for a change.
The Sharks announced Monday that they had agreed to part ways with the winningest coach in franchise history after the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
With the Sharks committed to a youth movement and McLellan having just one year on his contract, the two sides agreed it was time to make a change.
“This team is clearly in a rebuild,” McLellan said. “With one year left, heading forward I had to analyze where everything was going. I felt with some of the answers I got that it was time.”
General manager Doug Wilson said McLellan told him over the weekend that he felt it was best that he leave. Wilson said he agreed with the decision. McLellan remains under contract but can talk to other teams about potential openings with the Sharks getting compensation if he signs with another team.
“I think it’s the right decision for both him and ourselves as an organization,” Wilson said. “We wish him nothing but the best, and the entire staff nothing but the best. They gave us some outstanding work, and we will support where they go and what they can do, because they are good men.”
McLellan had a 311-163-66 regular-season record with the Sharks, the third best in the league since he took over before the 2008-09 season. But San Jose finished 12th out of 14 teams in the Western Conference this season and missed the postseason.
McLellan, who won a Stanley Cup as an assistant in Detroit, got off to a successful start in his tenure in San Jose, winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team in 2009. But the Sharks fell in the first round of the playoffs to Anaheim in another postseason disappointment for a franchise full of them.
The Sharks then made back-to-back trips to the conference finals the next two seasons, but won one playoff series in McLellan’s final four seasons.
“There were a lot of good things we did here,” McLellan said. “We put up like six or seven banners in the building. We’re really proud of that.”
Last season’s loss was the most devastating. San Jose took a 3-0 series lead over rival Los Angeles only to lose the final four games, becoming just the fourth NHL team to blow such a lead.
McLellan questioned after the series whether his message was still getting through to the players. Wilson kept McLellan on for another year to oversee a shift to younger players but the team never truly got over the sting of the playoff loss.
Wilson talked about the need to take a step backward with a youth movement and new leadership before being able to reach the ultimate goal of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship.
Those comments rankled some of the players. Star Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy and then disagreed at the start of training camp with Wilson’s assessment that the Sharks were a “tomorrow team.”
“There are times that you probably don’t think before I speak, but it’s coming from the heart and it’s trying to find solutions,” Wilson said. “We always hold ourselves accountable. You’ve got to look in the mirror first before you start evaluating other people. Again, that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Outside of a stretch of nine wins in 10 games between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Sharks never got on a roll this season. They frequently lost to teams at the bottom of the standings and won just 19 of 41 home games. They struggled on the penalty kill and defense, got subpar seasons from forwards Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto and fell apart in losing eight straight home games in February.
The Sharks were able to incorporate younger players like Chris Tierney, Mirco Mueller, Melker Karlsson and Barclay Goodrow into the lineup and have the ninth pick in the draft and plenty of cap room to make more additions this offseason.
“We’re trending upward and we’re going to bounce back very quickly,” Wilson said. “What I’d like to see us do is start another 10-year run of making the playoffs.”
Wilson said many of the evaluations on what to do with the roster won’t be made until after a new coach is hired. Wilson said he will take his time in the process but does want a coach that will divvy up playing time on merit and be a good teacher to young players.
Assistants Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft and video coordinator Brett Heimlich have also been let go. Associate coach Larry Robinson has moved into his full-time role of director of player development.