SAN JOSE — The first domino in what could be an off-season of major change was tipped over Monday when coach Todd McLellan and the Sharks agreed to part ways after seven seasons.
And unlike a few miles away, where coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers were involved in a messy divorce, there was no sign of bloodshed this time.
After the team was eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season, McLellan and general manager Doug Wilson discussed the future of the team. At that point, both sides agreed that a permanent separation would be best for all concerned.
“I participated in the decision,” McLellan said. “I certainly did.” “I would say it was mutual,” said Wilson, whose own future will be determined in the days ahead.
Assistant coaches Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft and video coordinator Brett Heimlich also were released from the organization.
At the recent sitdown, McLellan asked about the short- and long-term plans for the team. Obviously, he did not like everything that he heard a that time.
“I felt, with some of the answers I got, it was time” to leave, McLellan said.
While Wilson said he expected the team to be a playoff contender next season, most hockey insiders believe it is years away from contender status. It finished in fifth place in the Pacific Division with a 40-33-9 record.
That fact played a considerable role in McLellan’s decision to leave with one year remaining on his contract.
“This team clearly is in a rebuild,” McLellan said.
Rather than pay a lame-duck coach who wasn’t entirely on board with the game plan, Wilson wasn’t about to stand in his way. Like McClellan, Wilson considered the team to be underachievers this season, which also entered his decision.
“We had a team that should have had better results,” McClellan conceded. “We had a team that could have produced more wins than we got.”
Asked about what he wanted in the next coach, Wilson made a pointed reference to the inability to meet expectations when he said, “The guy that can basically get the most out of our players. And when you look around the league right now, teams that are trending well, playing hard, holding people accountable.
“I mean, our coaching staff was a very good coaching staff and did all those things. We’re now looking for someone to come in and take us to the next level. It will not be a rush. As I said, there are people who will become available shortly. We will not be limiting it to one pool of coaches either. It can be coaches from all aspects, whether they be college, junior, NHL — there are some really quality, talented people out there. We’ve got to make sure we make the right selection so it’s another seven, eight, 10 years with the right guy.
McLellan’s name has been linked to vacancies in Edmonton, Philadelphia and Toronto. Detroit is another possibility, as coach Pete Babcock is not under contract after this season.
“I’m open to anything, really,” McClellan said.
The 47-year-old McLellan has been the Sharks’ coach since 2008-09, when he succeeded Ron Wilson behind the bench after being a Red Wings assistant.
McLellan guided the Sharks to Pacific Division titles in each of his first three seasons, but it was unable to sustain success in recent years. He had a 311-163-66 career record with the team.