Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There is no way to sugarcoat what happened to the San Jose Sharks in the 2014 playoffs. Plain and simple, the Sharks choked away a 3-0 lead and handed the opening-round series to the Los Angeles Kings.
San Jose was then was forced to watch as its fellow Californian club skated to a second Stanley Cup title in three seasons.
The way head coach Todd McLellan sees it, his team can't simply put the postseason collapse in the past and forget about it because doing so would be an impossibility.
"I don't think it's gone. I don't think it will leave," McLellan recently said in an interview with NHL.com.
The fact that McLellan is still around to usher his team through this difficult situation was a surprise to many people, but Sharks general manager Doug Wilson bucked the system by not firing his bench boss following the heartbreaking loss to the Kings. After all, in the NHL where head coaches can have a notoriously short shelf life men have been given the axe for much less.
While he didn't pin the playoff meltdown directly on McLellan, Wilson did refer to the Sharks as "a tomorrow team" in his post-mortem address to the media. Armed with that phrase, the hockey world jumped to conclusions and figured Wilson was ready to clean house, meaning nobody was safe -- including mainstays Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.
In the end, the Sharks decided to hold onto Marleau and Thornton, but they did say goodbye to oft-injured forward Marty Havlat and veteran defensemen Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart. All in all, it looks like this "tomorrow team" is more like an attempt at rebuilding on the fly.
Rather than overhaul the entire operation, the Sharks instead hope to build around a core group that includes not only Marleau and Thornton but also fellow forwards Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski as well as No. 1 defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
"I think a lot of people, especially in the media, immediately went to, 'Well, they're going to trade Thornton and Marleau.' That's not the case. We believe that those two are part of the solution, not part of the problem," McLellan told NHL.com. "We think we have a very good hockey club and we think we need to tinker with a few things and continue to push forward."
So, it seems the Sharks, a team that hasn't missed the playoffs since the spring of 2003, is not yet ready to forgo a shot a winning the Cup in order to begin a complete rebuild.
One of the reasons San Jose kept its veteran group largely intact was the club hopes leadership can help the team use last spring's playoff loss as motivation. Since McLellan believes forgetting what happened against the Kings to be an exercise in futility, he expects his Sharks to learn and grow from the unpleasant experience.
"The defeat was and still is, it stings a lot," McLellan opined. "We have to look at what we did well and didn't do well in that series and also the fact they (the Kings) won three Game 7s on the road against very good teams. So they were the champs. There is absolutely no doubt about it. That could mean we have a group that is close but still has to figure out a way to close the deal."
Although the Sharks organization believes it has the ability to reload and challenge for a Stanley Cup soon, they will have a tough time converting the non-believers. Last spring's deflating playoff exit summed up the last decade of San Jose hockey perfectly, as the franchise followed up another promising regular season with its latest postseason disappointment.
The difference this time is San Jose is choosing to hang onto some of the bitterness. The danger in trying to use the collapse as a motivational tool is some players could become obsessed with the past and buckle under the pressure to atone for the 2014 playoff loss.
One of McLellan's tasks for 2014-15 is to make sure his team doesn't wallow in misery about what happened in the spring. There have to be some positives to salvage from last season's debacle and Wilson must believe McLellan can uncover those nuggets of wisdom and set the Sharks on the right path.
If McLellan can't turn the lemons into lemonade, however, it may be time for the complete overhaul many folks expected this summer. Of course, the stakes are high for the Sharks brain trust because chances are neither McLellan nor Wilson will be around to oversee San Jose's next rebuild attempt.