This one is going to take a long time to get over. Up 3-0 in the series against the Los Angeles Kings, they looked like a team poised to finally break through and seriously contend for the Stanley Cup.
And then came the collapse for the San Jose Sharks.
It’s hard to even call it that, since so much of it was predicated by the Kings playing so well and being such a good team, but all San Jose needed was one more win. The best teams find a way, and San Jose didn't.
So now what?
That’s the impossible question facing GM Doug Wilson, who thought the Sharks had everything put in place to succeed. Here’s a look ahead at some of the tough decisions he’ll have to make:
1. Seriously consider a starting goalie change
Antti Niemi had his moments in Game 7, but in the first five games of this postseason he had a save percentage of .882. In 61 career playoff games, Neimi has a save percentage of .907, which isn’t going to get it done for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Alex Stalock outplayed Niemi during the regular season, with a 12-5-2 record and .932 save percentage, but isn’t necessarily the guy you want to pin your hopes on next season either, considering his lack of a track record.
If Wilson clears salary and can move Niemi and his reasonable $3.8 million cap hit, that creates room for a veteran goalie. Ryan Miller spends a lot of offseason time in California and might be an intriguing option for the Sharks if he and the St. Louis Blues cut ties.
2. Add a top-four defenseman
Ideally for them, the Sharks bring Dan Boyle back at a discount and without the term he might get on the open market. But considering the first-round exit, they’ll have to at least consider letting him walk if the demands are too high.
If the Sharks can find a way to move Martin Havlat and his $5 million cap hit, that would give them some currency to add another defenseman, which would help the cause. The challenge is finding one.
Assistant coach Larry Robinson has done an outstanding job shaping the defensemen on the roster like Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, so perhaps there’s a younger reclamation project with a high reward the Sharks can bring in and let Robinson mold.
3. Don’t make Todd McLellan the scapegoat
After the stunning series loss to the Kings, fans will want blood. The target will move to the coach as it always does, but firing McLellan is not the right call. He needs to return.
There will be second-guessing of how Todd McLellan handled his goaltending, which is fair, but when you look at the big picture and the success he’s achieved in San Jose, a coaching change would be a step back. Any time teams line up to hire the coach just fired, as would be the case for McLellan, that’s a sign that perhaps he’s worth keeping.