Doug Wilson has a difficult choice to make this day, perhaps the most difficult of his career as general manager of the San Jose Sharks.
Specifically, when to tell Hasso Plattner his ownership isn’t working.
[KURZ: Dreadful road trip ends with loss in Dallas]
Of all the things that explain their rancid run of form in February (five points out of a possible 20, fewer goals scored than any other team in the league, and a general roster-wide lassitude), the one major change came on January 31, when Plattner finally voted his stock and became the principal and majority stockholder of the Sharks.
Oh, they also dealt for Tim Kennedy, but I’m pretty sure that nobody wants to take away his two goals this month by shipping him out.
That leaves Plattner, and while he does have more money than anyone in the NHL except David Thompson in Winnipeg, facts are facts.
The Sharks are 2-6-1-2 since the announcement elevating him to the organization’s new overlord January 31, and have fallen from second place in the Western Conference to a four-way tie for sixth, two points out of 12th. They have the worst record and the worst goal differential (-15), and have converted only 25 percent of their available points while their four Pacific Division rivals are converting at 70 percent.
Those are fancy ways of saying two things.
1. They’re playing some brutal hockey.
2. Anaheim, Dallas, Los Angeles and Phoenix are not.
In a 48-game season, 10 games represent a huge chunk, which means controlled but earnest panic is not uncalled for. The Buffalo Sabres fired their head coach of 239 years, Lindy Ruff, earlier this week because of a poor run of form and the worst defense in the league.
The Sabres, though, hadn’t booked any good will in January, while the Sharks had won their first seven games. Granted, they were starting to lose their edge near the end of that streak, looking profoundly ordinary in shootout wins over Anaheim and Edmonton, but they were 7-0, and at last look, that’s the best you can do in the games allowed.
No longer. Their penalty kill has been fixed but the power play has died. They still get almost no useful participation from their third or fourth lines. Ryane Clowe’s historically short fuse is now down to the nub, and Joe Thornton has been in two throwdowns in eight days.
Tempers, in short, are fraying as the boys keep playing, and the mere tweaking of systems seems like a less viable option with every added day.
But changes can’t just be of the show-pony kind, like firing coach Todd McLellan. There is no good reason for that, and it doesn’t change the real problem. A trade of someone in the veteran core would be more efficacious in showing the boys that enough is enough, but the other 13 have been so ineffectual that that seems more like cutting off your face to spite your nose.
And Wilson himself is safe. Plattner said so.
That leaves only Plattner himself, and it is interesting that Wilson never said HE was safe. It would certainly get everyone’s attention, as it would be probably the first time in memory that a man worth $7.2 billion got canned by a guy making .00013 as much.
Wilson only has to stand up and do it. It would be a serious message to send to the dressing room before Tuesday’s game against lowly Colorado:
“I didn’t want to fire Hasso. I love Hasso. Hasso can buy and sell my family eighteen times with the change in his freaking shoe, for God’s sake. But I don’t know how else to get through to you guys. This isn’t good enough, and if this doesn’t get it done, I’ll keep showing up and firing people until it does. Malcolm Bordelon works in finance, but I’ll disappear him if I have to. The season ticket sales people . . . the PR staff . . . the fans . . . I’ll even try to fire my wife, though frankly she scares me. Trust me, none of you want to see my wife when she’s got a face on.”
Frankly, the time is now, which is to say it’s a slow news day. This is Doug Wilson’s moment to make a long-overdue statement, and to fail to do so means taking a season that so intrigued early and making it a loss leader.
And if that happens, maybe Plattner decides to get him.