The San Jose Sharks lost their fourth straight game Wednesday – this one, a feeble 2-0 defeat at home to the Flames – which meant the heat on San Jose head coach Todd McLellan is only going to increase. And with the franchise falling back in the pack in the Western Conference (their 10-10-4 record has them fifth in the Pacific Division and 10th in the West), McLellan's six-year tenure behind the Sharks bench could be at an end.
San Jose's players had already spoken out in support of McLellan prior to Wednesday's loss, yet in spite of that and Sharks GM Doug Wilson's well-earned reputation as a man who doesn't make rash decisions, he may have little choice but to fire his coach and continue the process of remaking this team in a newer, more playoff-productive mold. McLellan is a highly-respected coach whose services likely would be snapped up in short order, but his current team has dropped seven of its past nine games and its most recent five losses haven't come at the hands of a murderer's row of opponents (Columbus, Buffalo, Florida, Arizona and the Flames). Wilson denied contacting former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, but if he's intent on underscoring his off-season message of the necessity of change, pulling the trigger on McLellan will be a good beginning.
That said, de-employing McLellan isn't going to be a cure-all for what ails them.
The Sharks' PDO – the statistic calculated by adding a team's save percentage and shooting percentage – is the NHL's sixth-worst right now. Likewise, only five teams have a worse 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio than San Jose's. With both of those statistics, the teams they're barely ahead of (Edmonton, Columbus, Carolina) are the dregs of the league. For a group that includes such top-end talent as Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, that's simply not good enough.
It doesn't have to be Bylsma who takes over for McLellan, who was hired in June of 2008 and is the longest-serving coach in franchise history. Wilson could just as easily look to assistant coach Jim Johnson to take the reins on an interim basis for the rest of the season and re-evaluate at that point. But if there's one option he doesn't appear to have, it's to do nothing. San Jose's short-term schedule doesn't get any easier – they have three more home games (against the powerhouse Ducks, Flyers and Bruins) and then another showdown against Calgary. After that, they're fortunate enough to play the Oilers three times in their next five games, but look at how they finish December: with two games against Anaheim, and one against each of Vancouver, Los Angeles and St. Louis. It's not inconceivable that, by New Year's Day, the Sharks could be bypassed by Arizona for fifth in the Pacific and sit ahead only of Edmonton in the division.
Considering San Jose finished one point out of second overall in the West last season, that's about as shocking a fall from grace as it gets. And it doesn't make a difference how much respect a coach like McLellan has accumulated when something like that happens.
When something like that happens, coaches get fired whether it's fair or not.