The San Jose Sharks did not fire Todd McLellan on Wednesday. The players came, cleaned out their lockers, dropped a few platitudes about disappointing the audience and doing better next year, and then they left, and nothing had changed.
This is not much of a shock, as cleanout day is a particularly raunchy day to drop a hammer. If a coach is that objectionable to the brass, he’s been fired already (Toronto, Buffalo). And doing so when all the players have to answer in person for the firing is cheap by even the most prehistoric of public relations standards.
But the dynamic remains the same. Someone must answer for the way the Sharks’ window has closed -- loudly, forcefully, and with damage to both glass and frame -- and because the Sharks operate in a peculiar kind of comfortable stasis where change is avoided if not actively resisted, it is not surprising to see that the end games have not yet begun.
In fact, though this seems unlikely given the dynamics, they might not happen at all. Owner Hasso Plattner isn’t around enough to be as annoyed by what the customers saw this year as he might normally be. General manager Doug Wilson is a fixture, and if his job title changes, it is far more likely to be up the ladder than down -- or out. His in-season bête noire, Joe Thornton, has a no-movement clause that he intends to defend, and Plattner has said Thornton will end his career as a Shark, which I take to mean something more than the cheesy we’ll-get-rid-of-you-and-then-bring-you-back-as-Shark-for-a-day-later.
The rest of the roster is crammed with mostly untouchables -- or players no other team would touch -- so barring the Sharks hitting that 20-to-1 shot and getting Connor McDavid, meaningful fixes will have to come from an unspectacular farm system and/or a surprising draft.
That is the stuff of increment (well, except maybe McDavid), and the Sharks, who promised substantive change a year ago and gave you the end of Drew Remenda, cannot do this again, no matter how uncertain they are about it or how inexperienced they are at it.
That means McLellan, and if by some stroke of luck he finds a willing buyer for his talents (Anaheim rather than Toronto, St. Louis rather than Edmonton, Detroit rather than Buffalo), then Wilson can haul out the “mutual parting” line that nobody ever believes.
More likely, the day of reckoning will come soon, before the World Championships begin on May 1 (McLellan is Canada’s coach), and since McLellan is still under contract, he will be paid until the next job comes crawling toward him. He is that good, and will be in that much demand.
And then Wilson will have two decisions to make:
One, who should be the new coach.
And two, whether he should hire a new general manager to hire the new coach.
That’s the most massive change the Sharks could manage. They don’t do change, you see, and have used their stability almost as a billboard -- “once you come to visit, you want to stay.” Three owners, four general managers, six non-interim coaches in a quarter century is unusually stable for this sport, where folks get shown the door at an alarmingly high rate.
A new general manager would want his own support staff. A new coach would want his own staff. A lot of new voices would pass as house-cleaning.
But if the change is only McLellan out/Someone Else In, the likelihood of a new direction -- good or bad -- is diminished, and may not satisfy a large swath of the fan base. They wanted dramatic moves a year ago, and while Remenda is a big personality, he is still looking for his first NHL goal. It was a move that made someone happy, I suppose.
In that way, Todd McLellan’s departure in and of itself won't signify much. It’s more change than this franchise likes, but not as much as the average 12th place team gets. It is almost as if the organization needs more time to process the cratering -- more time than a newly embittered fan base may be willing to invest cheerfully.
I mean, they thought all this might have happened a year ago. Such naivete.