Joe Thornton

Thornton now has harsh words for McLellan as Sharks mess festers

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Bad feelings tend to flourish when teams suffer from losses and disappointing seasons, but it’s difficult to think of many situations where players and executives aired their grievances as publicly as the San Jose Sharks have.

It’s really been a mess since last summer, and if you expected media availability to be full of no-comments or diplomatic responses, then you probably weren’t close to Joe Thornton.

Not that long after Thornton told his general manager to shut his mouth, the Sharks’ former captain and frequent lighting rod made sarcastic comments toward his head coach Todd McLellan this time around, as CSNBayArea.com reports.

Q: There’s a lot of focus on the coaching staff. Do you sense any need for change?

Thornton: “I have no idea. Todd has to talk to his family. Maybe he should talk to this family as well in here. We’ll see what happens.”

Sheesh, that’s a little salty, huh?

It wasn’t the only sign that Thornton, 35, has some hard feelings for a coach who may or may not return next season. This seemingly sarcastic comment from his brother (and agent) about McLellan coaching Team Canada at the 2015 World Hockey Championships also suggests that all is not quite well:

For those wondering why the Sharks don’t just trade this problem away, do note that Thornton has a no-trade clause, so it may not be such a straightforward process … and that’s assuming they’d want to deal a guy who still is a big difference-maker on the ice.

The malaise hanging over the franchise is quite obvious, and it hasn’t been lost on players like Logan Couture, who admitted that he doesn’t think the culture is “great.”

Whether the Sharks make some big changes or largely stay put, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this franchise raise a few eyebrows before training camps for 2015-16 kick in.

McLellan mum on future with Sharks

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The Sharks were officially eliminated from postseason contention Monday night, meaning that — for the first time in 12 years — there’ll be no playoff hockey in San Jose, and the club’s final two games of the season hold zero significance.

Well, that’s not entirely true. They seem to be significant to head coach Todd McLellan.

“The teacher and his classroom, the last few days of school and we’ve got two games left,” McLellan said, to the Mercury-News. “Those are important days.”

That’s pretty much all McLellan was willing to say on the matter of his future in San Jose, deflecting questions about whether he’d be back next year.

“I don’t want to talk about anything until we’re done,” he explained. “There’s a lot of evaluation that has to go on. Now, I want to enjoy the team for a couple of games and then we’ll deal with that after.”

There are major rumblings that McLellan will be turfed at season’s end. Though he’s achieved a remarkable level of success over the last seven years — the Sharks went 310-162-66 on his watch — the team suffered a significant blow during last year’s playoff collapse to the Kings and never seemed to recover. San Jose appeared to be a rudderless ship for long stretches of this season, with McLellan often questioning his club’s identity.

There are also suggestions McLellan will be part of a large-scale housecleaning.

Given how badly things went both on and off the ice in San Jose, GM Doug Wilson is under fire as well. The fifth longest-tenured GM in the league, Wilson’s held his post since 2003 — in lockstep with the organization’s consecutive playoff appearance streak — and the Sharks owe most, if not all, of their identity to his vision and handiwork.

And that’s what might cost him his gig.

San Jose lacked consistency and leadership this season, and Wilson’s fingerprints were all over it. He called the Sharks a “tomorrow team,” but also said the goal was to make the playoffs. Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy, reimplemented as an alternate, to which Wilson gave a hamfisted explanation in front of a group of ticketholders in mid-March, to which Thornton replied “Doug needs to shut his mouth.”

Last week, a report from Sportsnet claimed that McLellan — who has one year remaining on his contract — had an opt-out clause should Wilson be fired. Though the accuracy of that report has been called into question, it only fueled the fire that the Sharks could be in line to hire both a new GM and head coach this summer.

As such, it’s not surprising to hear McLellan dodge questions about his future in San Jose. Though the writing may be on the wall — lest we forget, he’s already been tabbed as one of the premier coaching candidates for teams in need this summer — McLellan probably figures it’s best to leave the talking to the players, like Joe Pavelski, who addressed the HP Pavilion fans after the team’s final home game of the season on Monday.

“I just want to say that nobody on this bench is satisfied with the position we’re in right now,” Pavelski following a 5-1 drubbing to Dallas, also per the Merc. “It’s disappointing for us. We expect more out of each other.

“But with that said, we really appreciate the passion and energy you guys bring to the Shark tank every night for us. And we’ll do better next year.”

Remembering the now eliminated Sharks, Stars

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As this is being written, the San Jose Sharks are playing against the Dallas Stars. It doesn’t matter much who wins.

Both teams long since handed their fate over to others and Winnipeg officially eliminated Dallas and San Jose tonight with a 2-0 victory over Minnesota. It’s an awkward end to a pair of campaigns that began with a lot of promise.

The Sharks had a controversial summer that a columnist at one point described as a “nervous breakdown.” They had a 111-point regular season in 2013-14, but blew a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs. That would humiliate any team, but it was even worse for the Sharks because it played right into the popular narrative that they were a talented squad that collapsed under pressure.

That defeat could also be interpreted as the straw that broke the camel’s back because suddenly Sharks GM Doug Wilson was talking about them being a “tomorrow team,” although San Jose’s core didn’t change much from 2013-14 to 2014-15, with one of the more noticeable alterations being the ‘C’ removed from Joe Thornton’s jersey.

Indeed, the Sharks’ summer was seen as confusing, but the takeaway was that if they weren’t embracing a traditional rebuild, then it remained reasonable to expect this talented squad full of veteran players to make the playoffs for an 11th straight campaign. Obviously that didn’t happen though as the Sharks proved to be wildly inconsistent.

Dallas was a very different, but equally interesting story. The Stars had managed to squeak into the playoffs last year and their future seemed bright thanks to the young one-two punch of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Then they acquired Jason Spezza from Ottawa on July 1 and suddenly the conversation shifted to whether or not Dallas was a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Given that the Stars have missed the playoffs, it seems fair to call this season a disappointment, but there has certainly been a silver lining for them. The new-look Stars struggled initially, which didn’t surprise GM Jim Nill, but they are 28-18-5 following their loss to Winnipeg on Dec. 9 (not including the outcome of Monday’s game).

Dallas also saw the emergence of 22-year-old defenseman John Klingberg this season, adding to their hope for the future. If 20-year-old Valeri Nichushkin can stay healthy going forward too, maybe this season will eventually be looked back on as a growing pains campaign for Dallas on its way to bigger and better things.

For now though, San Jose and the Stars are in for a long summer.

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks, Avs hope to keep distant playoff hopes alive

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight with a doubleheader. The second game of that series will see the San Jose Sharks host the Colorado Avalanche at the SAP Center, starting at 10:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

Even in a best-case scenario, it’s difficult to imagine the Colorado Avalanche or San Jose Sharks storming to a playoff berth this season. Many members of each team seem to know that.

According to Sports Club Stats, the Avs boast a .1 percent chance to make the postseason while the Sharks have a 2.6 percent chance. You get the impression that mathematical elimination will just be a formality at some point.

Matt Duchene told the Denver Post that the Avalanche just want to make every game count, a sentiment that’s likely echoed by the Sharks.

“We’re both still fighting, and it’s not over until it’s over,” Duchene said. “We’re not done until we’re mathematically eliminated. If we go 6-0 in the last six games, we’re going to give ourselves a shot. We have to make these games count — all six of them.”

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Despite their current predicaments, the two teams boast some talent that could entertain on NBCSN tonight.

The Sharks employ a group of forwards that are talented enough that it’s tough to believe they’ll almost certainly be watching the playoffs on TV with the rest of us. For all the controversy surrounding Joe Thornton, he’s had a great season feeding Joe Pavelski while Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture also rank as big offensive threats. Don’t forget dragon-loving hybrid defenseman Brent Burns, either.

Colorado isn’t far behind.

It’s been a disappointing season for the likes of Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, yet the Avalanche are enjoying production from veterans (Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay) and guys deep in their primes (Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly).

Expect to see two desperate hockey teams on NBCSN tonight, then.

‘We have nobody to blame but ourselves,’ says McLellan of Sharks drop in standings

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On Feb. 1, the San Jose Sharks had a winning streak of three games. They were second in the Pacific Division. They were only 10 points back of the Anaheim Ducks for first.

Less than two months later, and with eight games remaining on their schedule in what has turned into a tumultuous season with the feuding of general manager Doug Wilson and veteran center Joe Thornton, the Sharks are facing the harsh reality that the playoffs appear very much out of reach.

They’re not mathematically eliminated. Not yet. But time is running out. And the teams ahead of them in the division — Vancouver, L.A., and Calgary — have, for the most part, continued to earn points and wins.

They sit eight points back of the L.A. Kings, current holders of third in the division.

For the Sharks, who fell to the Kings in a historical collapse in the opening round of last year’s playoffs, their season went off the rails last month, when they won only three times in 13 games.

“Teams that you’re competing with to solidify that 6-7-8 spot did a better job of elevating their play and beating our hockey club, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves for that,” Sharks head coach Todd McLellan told The Canadian Press.