To be fair, it was time for Todd McLellan to go.
Despite over 300 wins, two Western Conference Finals appearances and a reputation as one of the NHL’s better coaches, the writing was on the wall last year — San Jose missed the playoffs for the first time in the McLellan era, and Sharks GM Doug Wilson all but admitted the dismissal, which was classified as a mutual parting of ways, had to be made.
“Sometimes a change is best for all parties involved,” Wilson said.
So, enter veteran bench boss Peter DeBoer, set to coach his third NHL club after being let go in Florida and New Jersey.
Known for his demanding style and strong tactical acumen — “He’s technically as sound as anyone,” said former boss Lou Lamoriello — DeBoer was brought aboard in late May and wasted no time outlining his goals and plans for the upcoming campaign.
Chief among them?
First, Getting back into the playoffs. DeBoer seemed to downplay Wilson’s previous notion that San Jose was a “tomorrow team,” saying he expects a “big bounce-back” after the team missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
“The expectation is to win right now,” DeBoer said. “Regardless of the ages or the birth certificates of the players, there’s a tradition here of winning and of challenging to go deep into the playoffs. That’s my expectation.
“I think that’s [GM Doug Wilson’s] expectation, and I don’t think anyone’s looking for anything less than that here.”
Second, the team is going to have a captain.
This was a point of contention throughout McLellan’s final year in San Jose. The decision to strip Joe Thornton of the “C,” then re-implement him as one of the club’s four alternates — the Sharks played without a captain all last year — basically blew up in McLellan and Wilson’s faces; the issue ate away at the team all year long, to the point where one of the club’s leaders, Logan Couture, classified the club’s culture as “not great” by year’s end.
“It’s not something we are going to drag around as a distraction this year,” DeBoer explained, per NHL.com. “We’re going to move past that.
“I think the players are ready for that too; they just want to play some hockey and get this thing back on track.”
But big questions still remain. Specifically, will DeBoer’s playoff proclamation and anointing of a captain really make any difference?
The Sharks are, at their core, still the same team built around the same group of veteran players. Sweater letters or no, Thornton and Patrick Marleau carry major influence in the room, as will Joe Pavelski (who enjoyed his greatest success under McLellan) and Couture (a favorite of McLellan’s).
To his credit, DeBoer knows he’s inheriting a veteran-laden team that, as he put it, has “hit a little bit of a rut here.” His objective is to try and steer the group back on track by reinvigorating the leadership group that was already in place.
A good plan, sure. But not the easiest to execute.