This is the perfect time for hockey coaches to be fired: Team with aspirations loses four in a row, can’t seize the schedule’s low-hanging fruit, seem oddly disengaged, coach has been in place awhile, and the combination of those things unleashes the hounds of slow news days, usually residing in Toronto, where there is always a search for the next new coach, with the invisible hashtag and “hotseat.”
Hashtags are stupid, but that’s a detail for another day.
Anyway, this is Todd McLellan’s turn in the barrel, and the betting from the outside is that he does indeed take the pipe for the San Jose Sharks and their closing window.
And for all its inevitability, it would be a monumental error.
[RELATED: Sharks players voice support for McLellan]
You see, McLellan isn’t the problem here. He didn’t suddenly become a stupid coach, and his staff is, if anything, better than it has ever been. The idea that a coach is there to inspire his players is, well, nonsense, and always has been. Players, especially veterans, are capable of that themselves, or should be, and those who aren’t should be invited by the general manager to find their bliss in another locale.
Say, Magnitogorsk. Look it up. And no, it is not a suburb of Winnipeg.
No, this is a team that needs not a kneejerk, standard, “it’s-about-time” solution to its current case of the mega-blahs, but something fresh and creative and system-shocking. That’s what the alleged summer trades of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were supposed to be, but they had unconditional, papal-blessed no-movement clauses, and that plan died by the Fourth of July.
Or, in this case, Canada Day.
A coach firing, especially one as accomplished as McLellan, is a stereotypical response to a seemingly insoluble problem, and the sort of thing that happens when all other stereotypical ideas have failed. It’s almost a checklist item, and this is not a franchise in a position to “do something” just because it beats “not doing something.”
McLellan is one of 27 coaches in NHL history to stay in one place for seven consecutive seasons, which says all you need to know about his worth. The others:
• Randy Carlyle, Anaheim (Cup winner).
• Claude Julien, Boston (double Cup winner).
• Lindy Ruff, Buffalo (Cup finalist).
• Paul Maurice, Carolina (Cup finalist).
• Joel Quenneville (double Cup winner), Chicago. Also St. Louis (no Cup).
• Billy Reay, Chicago (three Cup finals).
• Michel Bergeron, Quebec (no Cup).
• Mike Babcock, Detroit (Cup winner).
• Scotty Bowman, Detroit (three Cups). Also Montreal (five Cups).
• Sid Abel, Detroit (no Cup).
• Tommy Ivan, Detroit (two Cups).
• Jack Adams, Detroit (three Cups, also owned the team).
• Craig MacTavish, Edmonton (Cup final).
• Glen Sather, Edmonton (four Cups).
• Toe Blake, Montreal (eight Cups).
• Dick Irvin, Montreal (three Cups). Also Toronto (one Cup).
• Barry Trotz, Nashville (no Cup).
• Al Arbour, New York Islanders (four Cups).
• Frank Boucher, New York Rangers (one Cup).
• Lester Patrick, New York Rangers (two Cups).
• Jacques Martin, Ottawa (no Cup).
• Fred Shero, Philadelphia (two Cups).
• Punch Imlach, Toronto (four Cups).
• Hap Day, Toronto (five Cups).
• Alain Vigneault, Vancouver (Cup final).
• Brian Murray, Washington (no Cup).
We engaged in that dance of tedium to point out that only six of those guys, including McLellan, has ever failed to reach at least one Stanley Cup final, and that is almost always because the other team is superior, as it was in McLellan’s two conference finals.
The point being?
Easy. San Jose has never been the best/most talented/least vulnerable team in the NHL, no matter what it’s perpetually hopeful/now souring fan base may think. This team has not failed in the McLellan years because it is poorly coached or unprepared or metrically flawed. It has failed for being weak in one area or another, and winning the Stanley Cup in such a brutal yearly gauntlet requires three things: A goalie at his best, four useful lines, and health.
None of those things are about coaching. Players play, ultimately, and the records may be assigned to their coaches, but they are the ones who do the deeds.
This team is 10-10-0-4 (which is to say 10-14) because it is either not good enough, or distracted. The first is Doug Wilson’s job. The second is the players’.
Nevertheless, Todd McLellan will probably get croaked, maybe soon. It may be a move that makes some people feel good for awhile, and it may get the Guardians Of The Hotseat to move back to Toronto or Edmonton (their natural habitats) for awhile, but it won’t supply any real answers, let alone solutions.
It’s just a standard thing to do, and that is typically a statement of desperation more than determination.