Thoughts on the next Shark head coach

So Babcock ended up in Toronto, which surprised me a bit at the time but in hindsight, not really. And McClellan ended up in Edmonton, which didn’t surprise me at all. Now that Babcock has settled into his new challenge, I expect the rest of the coaching positions to start filling fairly quickly.

Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy had a great summary of the winners and losers as the dust settles in Detroit — in reality, Detroit isn’t a loser here, since if you think about it, Babcock hasn’t gotten the team deep into the playoffs for a number of years and was clearly thinking he needed a fresh challenge. This trend of coaches deciding they need to move before teams fire them is an interesting one that I am curious to see if it continues (my guess: yes)

But what does this mean for the Sharks? The Sharks were never seriously in the Babcock sweepstakes and weren’t going to put up the kind of money for a coach that the Leafs did. There are plenty of candidates, and if you read the various sources, Peter DeBoer is a leading candidate, as is Dan Bylsma (my original idea as a good choice). Rob Zettler (ex-Shark, ex Vancouver Giant and current Syracuse Crunch coach) was another candidate that’s been talked about, but one other name has surfaced that intrigues me: Dave Lowry, another ex-Shark currently coaching the WHL Victoria team.

Lowry was a good player — like Zettler, not the most talented guy on the team, but always played smart and hard and the kind of player you could trust in the last minute of a key game to get the job done. Both of these guys were also strong locker room influences in setting attitudes and work ethics for other players to follow — the classic “lead by example” type of behavior. Both are proving to be solid coaches and good motivators at the lower levels and both look, to me, to be NHL coaches sometime in the future.

Will the Sharks go with an unproven coach? Or more correctly, unproven at the NHL level? I think it’s quite possible, especially if it’s a coach that Doug Wilson has a history with, and Wilson and Zettler shared the blueline together in the Cow Palace days. Lowry was a Shark after Wilson retired while Wilson was working for the NHLPA so his direct interactions are most likely through the PA.

I think any of these would make good and interesting coaches. I’m learning towards the Sharks ultimately going for one with some NHL coaching experience — Bylsma or DeBoer — but I wouldn’t bet money on it. And I think it’ll be done in the next couple of weeks. Whoever comes in has large shoes to fill.

Having said that, it’s become very clear that the Sharks needed a change. Some of the local media have tried to portray this move as an unannounced firing, and I don’t think that’s fair or true — but I do believe the reality is that McLellan with one year left on his deal had been told or knew that no contract extension was going to be offered. that’s a problem for a coach, because going into a season with your contract expiring you can be seen as a lame duck, and you can’t hold the “I’m not going anywhere” over the heads of a non-cooperative player. My read of the situation is that McLellan felt (or had been told) that he’d be let go once the contract expired, or let go if the season didn’t start well, and he chose instead to ask out of the deal rather than go into next season with that status.

And Doug Wilson certainly didn’t seem to try hard (at all, really) to convince him to stay. There’s been clear evidence that Wilson and McLellan disagreed on some player decisions — to name one, Wilson wanted Hertl played at center, while McLellan kept him primarily on wing. It’s also clear that not only did Wilson and Joe Thornton have their very public spat (now, officially, over, done and behind both of them) but McLellan and Thornton weren’t exactly dinner buddies, either.

McLellan could read the tea leaves, and rather than wait to be fired or let go, he decided to pull the plug and move on. I don’t blame him for that, and I think that’s a decision that works best for all involved. Coach gets an interesting new situation — and Edmonton has definitely done a lot to fix itself, fast — and Wilson can bring in someone more in sync with his views and philosophies. And with the players, there’s a new voice to listen to and follow, and it’s now quite obvious the old voice had worn out its welcome in San Jose.

This is the kind of situation where everyone wins in the change — there doesn’t have to be a loser. I wish McLellan nothing but the best (except when playing the Sharks), and I think this allows the Sharks to move forward with some fresh ideas — which I’ve been calling for all along. it’s just at the coaching level and not at the GM level, but I still think this can work.

Of course, we won’t know until we see how well the team plays and wins. But based on the list of names tied to the Sharks, I’m encouraged at the direction Doug Wilson is trying to aim the team.