SPORTS

Uncertainty awaits Sharks after drama-filled season goes off the rails

03/27/2015 04:50 EDT | Updated 05/27/2015 05:59 EDT
PHILADELPHIA - Logan Couture can still remember blowing leads to the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators in consecutive games last month, losses that killed the San Jose Sharks.

"Those hurt," Couture said. "Good teams find a way to hold onto the lead and win that game. We didn't."

Until February, the Sharks looked like a good team and more importantly a playoff team. For all the talk about last spring's collapse in losing a three games to none series lead to the Los Angeles Kings and a tumultuous off-season San Jose looked like it could make the playoffs for the 11th straight season.

Then the bottom fell out. A 3-8-2 stretch coupled with runs by the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames pushed the Sharks down the standings, and four losses in their past six ended their chances.

Couture said it has been a "different" year. Defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic described the season as a challenge.

"Everybody got better last year, everybody got better this year from last year," the Canadian Olympian said Friday after the Sharks' practice in Philadelphia. "Every team has ups and downs. It's the teams that get out of it quickly that are more successful. We didn't do that in February."

The Sharks held a playoff spot until the day of their Stadium Series game against the Kings on Feb. 21. They've picked up just 12 points since.

But this up-and-down ride has been going since Sharks lost to the Kings in the first round of the playoffs. Last summer general manager Doug Wilson talked up a rebuilding project, and Joe Thornton was removed as the captain and reinstalled as one of four alternates.

"Our season started right after Game 7 last year against L.A.," coach Todd McLellan said. "There's been decisions that have been made that make it hard for everybody, but they're decisions that have to be made."

Explaining where things went wrong during the course of this 82-game season, McLellan said the Sharks' play dipped while competitors' rose.

"Teams that you're competing with to solidify that 6-7-8 spot did a better job of elevating their play and beating our hockey club, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves for that," he said.

Off the ice, there has been no shortage of drama. At a season-ticket-holder event earlier this month, Wilson said the team stripped Thornton of the C because the "pressure and stress" of the captaincy was getting to him.

Wilson said a few days later that he wasn't worried about the timing of the controversy. The Sharks lost four of five until beating the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night, but Vlasic insisted it was not a distraction.

"Personally and as a team it doesn't affect us because it doesn't affect how we play, and you can't control that," said Vlasic, who called Thornton one of the most popular players on the team.

At the NHL general managers meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., last week, Wilson said Thornton "is not going anywhere" and that he has not and will not ask the soon-to-be 36-year-old to waive his no-trade clause. Given the Sharks' up-and-down season, there's plenty of uncertainty on the horizon, including whether that will be Wilson's call to make and who will be behind the bench.

Changes are expected after just the sixth season without a playoff appearance in franchise history. Still, Couture and Vlasic said they can't worry about that future right now.

"You don't. It's not my job to do that," Couture said. "Our job's to go out and play hard for the rest of the season."

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