Now that San Jose’s gone down in infamy — just the fourth team in Stanley Cup playoffs history to blow an 0-3 series lead — one big question hangs over the organization:
Will Todd McLellan be shown the door?
The 46-year-old — who, earlier this year, became the franchise’s all-time leader in games coached — could be out of a job soon. While the collapse to L.A. falls on the players, McLellan did take a big risk by parking longtime starter Antti Niemi in Game 6 in favor of playoff rookie Alex Stalock, which didn’t pay off, and then went back to Niemi in Game 7, though many figured the damage was already done by then.
Why? Well, possibly because the decision wasn’t all about goaltending.
It might’ve spoke to McLellan’s overall comfort level (or lack thereof) with the series on the whole. Niemi wasn’t great in Games 4 and 5, but was he really the issue? San Jose only managed three goals over those two losses after scoring 11 in the previous two wins, and the club’s vaunted power play fizzled in the second half of this series, going 0-for-15.
Parking Niemi also came at the same time Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the team’s best defensive defenseman, was ruled out of action…making it even tougher to explain why McLellan would make another significant lineup alternation.
As such, it’s worth asking — was putting Stalock in for Niemi a panic move? Or one designed to wake up the Sharks?
If yes, that could be an issue. Remember that, at the time of said yanking, the Sharks were still in reasonably OK shape; they held a 3-2 series lead and a pair of close-out opportunities, in a series almost everybody picked to go six or seven games. What’s more, McLellan’s comments after losing Game 7 — y’know, ones about why the Sharks collapsed — had nothing to do with goaltending.
“Our problems got progressively worse as we went along. We were awful off the rush. … Every day we came to the rink and we tried to stress that about giving outnumbered rushes,” he said, per CSN Bay Area. “We were never able to fix it. It’s frustrating, because during the year we were pretty good in those areas.”
He wasn’t done there.
“[Another] problem we ran into was getting them to understand that those 6-3, 7-2 games weren’t going to keep coming,” McLellan said of his team’s early victories over the Kings. “They’re too good a team for that.
“They were the better team. That was quite evident.”
The counter argument to firing McLellan is that he’s regarded as a very good coach and, should he get turfed, would almost instantly shoot to the list of likely candidates for vacancies across the league (Vancouver has been on McLellan watch for a couple days now.) Coaches with career winning percentages of .654 don’t become available very often and let’s re-iterate what was said at the onset of this post — the players are the ones that lost that series, not McLellan. Also, patience can be a virtue in these instances. Boston didn’t fire Claude Julien after its 0-3 collapse to Philly in 2010 and, a year later, he led the B’s to a Stanley Cup.
With all this in mind, we’ll turn it over to you: Should McLellan stay, or should he go?