When a hockey team goes slushy, no one avoids getting soaked and messy. Doug Wilson, the Sharks' general manager, is not yet drowning in exasperation over his team's lousy month of hockey to date. But he is well-aware of the fans' fury and their calls for drastic measures.
For the record, Wilson said that coach Todd McLellan's job is safe. McLellan's contract extends beyond this season. Wilson plans to honor it.
"I believe in our coaching staff," Wilson said. "It's the same staff we beat Detroit with."
He was referring, of course, to last spring's playoff victory over the Red Wings. That series, which propelled the Sharks into the Western Conference finals, was the last time anyone felt very chipper about our beloved Los Tiburones. They lost to Chicago in four straight, took off for the summer, came back to work and seemed to forget that they are an alleged elite team.
The coaches may be safe. The players aren't. If the Sharks do not quickly reverse course and end the slushiness, Wilson said he won't rule out a minor roster shake-up -- or a major one. The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 28. If nothing changes, the Sharks might actually be sellers instead of buyers. And should be.
"The decisions I make are based on what's best for this organization," Wilson said. "And that will not change."
Wilson was pondering all of his options as he watched the Sharks finally end their wretched spiral Saturday night. The 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues felt good and stopped the bleeding. But the exasperating wounds from a six-game losing streak will not be healed in one night. Or one week.
Nine days ago, Wilson addressed the team before a practice. Afterward, alternate captain Ryane Clowe said that the general manager basically gave his players 10 games to get their act together or face the consequences. The Sharks promptly lost their next four. That erased any good will they ad built with victories at Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago.
"The structure we have in place has not been adhered to on a consistent basis," Wilson said. "We've seen glimpses. But not consistently."
Which Sharks are most at risk to be traded? We can all name the usual suspects. We can also come up with reasons those usual suspects might stay put.
Among the team's younger group, Devin Setoguchi has been an offensive disappointment since his 31-goal season of 2008-09 and continues to be challenged on the defensive end. On the other hand, he is one of the fastest skaters on a roster that increasingly looks slow. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is an ongoing cipher on defense. But the NHL's talent pool on the blue line is so shallow that Wilson may be reluctant to trade a player before his 24th birthday.
That leaves the veterans. The only players with no-trade clauses are Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Dany Heatley also reportedly has one with some limitations. Older defensemen Niclas Wallin and Kent Huskins are on shorter-term contracts. But if they leave, who replaces them? Defense is the Sharks' greatest need.
The best result, obviously, would be for the players to pull their helmets out of their you-know-whats and start playing steadier, smarter hockey. No matter how bad this month has been, playoff doom is no certainty.
For reference purposes, you can check out 2005-06, the season in which Thornton was traded to the Sharks. That team lost 10 consecutive games at one point but recalibrated to close strong and won 16 of its final 22 games to earn the No. 5 seed in the West, before beating Nashville in a first-round series.
No doubt, McLellan has a tough task ahead. Last week, he went back to basics by explaining the fundamental concepts during a whiteboard session. Psychologically, he chose to poke the players' pride rather than wear out their legs with "bag skate" practices with no pucks and back-and-forth drills until someone drops.
"That would probably make me feel good," McLellan said. "I'm not sure it's going to make the 25-minute forwards feel good."
Someone needs to start feeling good, soon, or all bets are off -- although Wilson's job is in no immediate danger. For one thing, it's not clear that the franchise's ownership would know where to turn if it ever fired him. For another thing, after last summer's resignation by franchise CEO Greg Jamison, it has remained unclear who is calling the shots up top.
Wilson said his bosses are the same people to whom he has always reported -- the total Sharks' ownership group. And even though Jamison has moved out of his HP Pavilion office, he remains a part owner and is one of the group's two most significant voices. Venture capitalist Kevin Compton is the other.
For everyone in the organization, the next two months must be slush-free. Keep in mind that early January was supposed to be a softer portion of the Sharks' schedule. Starting today, 13 of their next 17 games are on the road. That includes just three home games in February. Wilson knows what he needs from his men, wherever the puck drops.
"We need to see them be ready for every game," Wilson said. "We need to see them go one shift at a time and realize it might go 65 minutes. We're playing playoff hockey right now."
And if the Sharks should continue to slurp and slip? Wilson is purposely vague but hints that he might do "something unique." Maybe he knows a doctor who can perform attitudinal transplant surgery.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.