According to the San Jose Mercury News, the highly rumored split between the Sharks and head coach Todd McLellan may happen as soon as Wednesday, with both sides announcing a "mutual agreement" to sever McLellan's employment with the franchise and make him one of the most highly sought-after bench bosses on the market this summer.
McLellan – who was announced Tuesday as Team Canada's head coach at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic – will be fine. But what about the Sharks? I've argued recently San Jose isn't necessarily destined to continue sliding down the Western Conference standings, but some major roster move is likely – and I'm not just talking about another shocking signing like the Sharks adding one-dimensional John Scott.
If GM Doug Wilson remains in his current role once the dust settles at team headquarters – and after leading San Jose to 10 years of playoff appearances, he deserves the right to clean up the issues with his group – you'd have to think he makes at least one move of consequence. Now, that doesn't have to be a trade that involves veteran forwards Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau (and if neither player waives their no-trade clause, it's a non-starter), but no team can afford complacency, especially one that Wilson has called "in transition". The Sharks have most of their team under contract for next season – goalie and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Antti Niemi is the most notable name who isn't a lock to return – and their current salary cap payroll commitment for the 2015-16 campaign of $50.5 million gives Wilson the flexibility (one of his hallmarks as a GM) to take on some salary in any trade that may not benefit them in the short-term, but that does serve the organization's long-term goals.
As we've seen with the Vancouver Canucks in the past couple seasons, an NHL team can rebound in short order with the right tweaks. But the Canucks didn't return the same group of players to Vancouver with a new coach this year; they moved out Roberto Luongo at the 2014 trade deadline, and dealt Ryan Kesler last summer. If those players had've remained Canucks, would the atmosphere for rookie bench boss Willie Desjardins have been as positive? In Luongo's case, perhaps, but in Kesler's case, perhaps not.
The Sharks are more or less in the same position with Thornton and Marleau. Maybe one of the two can remain in San Jose, but it makes sense in many ways for at least one to move along. And really, if the Sharks aren't going to be Stanley Cup frontrunners in the next few years, wouldn't it appeal to Marleau and Thornton to try their luck with a franchise that will contend for a championship? They've earned the right to say no, but there must be a way Wilson can sell them on the upside of life outside Northern California. They too have to understand that having the same mix of players won't be productive for anyone involved.
McLellan's appointment to the Team Canada World Championship coaching job is an endorsement of his abilities and an indication of how rapidly he'll be snapped up once the inevitable happens (this Wednesday, next Wednesday or a Wednesday a year from now) and he vacates his current position. The path ahead for the Sharks isn't so apparent, but the one option that has been a staple in San Jose under Wilson's 13 years on the job – eschewing a trade of a key component in the name of team-building – is the one option that he cannot choose this time around.