SAN JOSE -- Next comes the fallout.
Is it time to blow up the roster?
Is Todd McLellan still the right person for the Sharks coaching job?
Does general manager Doug Wilson feel he is on the hot seat with majority owner Hasso Plattner?
The Sharks hunkered down Thursday, dealing with the disappointment of an epic playoff collapse. But that doesn't mean they weren't already preparing for the barrage of questions that will come Friday when players clean out their lockers, and both Wilson and McLellan are asked about the past and future.
Those questions will come because San Jose is now only the fourth team in NHL history to lose a seven-game series after winning the first three. Immediate answers, however, are unlikely.
Standard procedure calls for internal feedback that can take weeks before decisions are made. Still, the magnitude of this loss to the Los Angeles Kings might speed up the process.
A closer look at each question:
There is only so much "blowing up" that can be done.
In January, Wilson gave a strong vote of confidence to his core players by re-signing Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to three-year contract extensions with no-trade clauses. Similar restrictions are in place for Brent Burns, signed through 2016-17, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, signed through 2017-18, according to capgeek.com.
And that same source indicates Brad Stuart and Marty Havlat have trade restrictions on the year left on their contracts as well.
Wilson would appear to have the option of two cap-related buyouts under terms of the NHL labor pact. Speculation has centered on Havlat and his $5 million contract, but Wilson has prided himself on not having to buy out contracts in the past.
At 37, Dan Boyle is the senior Shark with a contract that expires June 30. He and the team were unable to reach agreement on a new deal during the season, and at this point, the team might simply decide to spend the money elsewhere.
Others in the playoff lineup with contracts about to expire are Tommy Wingels, James Sheppard, Jason Demers, Scott Hannan and Mike Brown.
At times like this, coaches know they are in jeopardy. And McLellan's postgame comments seemed to acknowledge that his future with the Sharks is uncertain.
"When I look at it, I look at it as they fixed their problems, we didn't. Our problems got progressively worse as we went along," he said, adding later: "I'm in charge, I'm responsible for the group that performs on the ice. I have to accept that responsibility,"
But McLellan also is regarded as one of the NHL's top coaching minds. Furthermore, Wilson cited McLellan and his staff several times this season for an exceptional job of steering the Sharks as they dealt with extended injuries to key players such as Raffi Torres, Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture.
Wilson also rewarded McLellan with a contract extension last summer that is believed to have another two years on it. And another consideration: Associate coach Larry Robinson is in the final year of his contract and, one month from his 63rd birthday, is said to be more interested in scaling back than taking an expanded role.
However it plays out, McLellan likely would not be out of work for long, as the NHL currently has four coaching vacancies.
The general manager
Here, the uncertainty kicks up a notch. Wilson reports directly to Plattner, who began taking a more active role in the team 15 months ago.
At the time, Plattner praised Wilson and the franchise's business model: Put a competitive team on the ice every season, make it into the playoffs and at some point, the Stanley Cup will come to San Jose.
But Plattner is a competitive man. That applies to the marketplace and courtroom -- where SAP, the software company he founded, has battled it out with Oracle -- or the high seas, where he and Oracle founder Larry Ellison were less-than-friendly rivals.
Maybe that Game 7 loss is too much for his nature, maybe not.
Plattner wants to stay in the background, advising the team's beat writers when he took over to direct all hockey inquiries to Wilson. What if the inquiry was about Wilson or his counterpart on the business side?
"Then I will say I am very happy with them," Plattner responded. "We have some problems in the season, but we are working on those."
Wilson has an impressive track record, but there are flaws.
His biggest outside acquisition last summer, forward Tyler Kennedy, was a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs. And, in hindsight, the re-signing of Thornton and Marleau might not look like a wise move.
What could matter is how Plattner views it.
One last thing to keep in mind. Though the Pittsburgh Penguins did file for bankruptcy in 1975 shortly after losing Game 7 of a series they once led 3-0, the other two teams on the list the Sharks are now on -- the 1942 Detroit Red Wings and 2010 Boston Bruins -- won the Stanley Cup the following year.
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