DALLAS -- No matter how you slice it, the season-long road trip that ends here tonight against the Dallas Stars has not been a tonic for whatever ails the Sharks.
Sure, a victory would make the final record a more respectable 2-3-1 as opposed to the alternatives. And, yes, two of those losses were to a Chicago Blackhawks team that now holds the NHL record for, stating it simply, best start ever at 14-0-3.
But one-third of the way through the season, San Jose continues to be on a downhill slide after elevating expectations by going 7-0-0 out of the chute. Now at 8-5-3, that's the kind of bad sequence of events that can lead to everything from major trades to coaching changes to dismissals in the front office if things continue to go badly.
With Lindy Ruff's firing this week, it's a pretty safe bet that Todd McLellan's name is close to the top of most lists of other NHL coaches on the hot seat.
However, that may have been true before this lockout-shortened season began, considering how things finished up in San Jose last spring. And it didn't help that GM Doug Wilson, while apparently reassuring McLellan privately that his job was safe, refused to do so publicly until eight weeks after the Sharks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the St. Louis Blues.
When he finally did tell the media McLellan would be back, Wilson did nothing to dispel the notion that both he and his coach would be on the hot seat based on the disappointing finish to 2011-12.
"We look at it that when you sign up for this business, you're on the hot seat," Wilson said. "That's the way it should be. You set high expectations, and we're all big boys."
McLellan himself has matter-of-factly and dispassionately discussed the subject twice in the last eight days. The first was in response to a question about poor results increasing the possibility of trades to shake things up.
"I think everybody needs to be concerned about the performance of the team — players, coaches, trainers, managers. We're all in it together," he said Feb. 15 after the initial loss to Chicago on this trip. "When you start pointing fingers at one individual, there's three pointing back at you."
Then he added:" Let's all clean up what we do, whether we're a coach or a player, and perform to our abilities."
More recently, the subject came up on an off-day after the Sharks ended their skid with a squeaker of a 2-1 victory in St. Louis. His response was a variation of what he had said earlier.
"Our staff as a whole — right from the top on down, there's pressure on us to perform," McLellan said. "Had we not played as well as we did early in the year, I think there would be a lot of questions as to whether this team could do it or not. We did do it.
"Circumstances can change, teams can catch you a little bit," he said. "But I still think this group is capable of performing at that level and if they don't, there'll be changes. It's as simple as that."
All of which simply means McLellan is a man who lives in the real world.
None of which is to suggest that he will be fired or should be fired. Wilson doesn't tip his hand on minor matters, let alone something as significant as this. In truth, nobody in his position would be foolish enough to send signals that a coaching change is imminent. When it happens, it happens.
The fact that the Sharks brought in two new assistants last summer without previous loyalties to McLellan does seem like a Plan B should things falter. But the prime candidate, Larry Robinson, has made it clear for years now that he no longer wants to be a head coach in the NHL. Would he consider being an interim head coach? Who knows.
The reality is that the Sharks are, for now at least, looking more like pretenders than contenders. And it's fair to look beyond the coaching staff and the performance of those on the ice in trying to assess the situation.
Wilson's major trades successfully kept the Sharks among the NHL elite for years, even if a trip to the Stanley Cup finals has continued to elude them. But the tinkering that has gone on recently has been more questionable.
Jamie McGinn, for example, obviously fell out of favor last season. At the time, the deadline deal to send him along with well-regarded prospects Michael Sgarbossa and Mike Connelly to Colorado for Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi seemed a head-scratcher, but the Sharks did need to fix their penalty kill in a hurry.
Yet the fact Winnik was about to become an unrestricted free agent added risk to that trade and when he landed in Anaheim this season, that tipped the balance against the Sharks. Galiardi stayed, but his numbers do not come close to matching McGinn's here, or with the Avalanche.
In Colorado, McGinn has provided important secondary scoring — something in very short supply in San Jose these days -- with 11 goals and 24 points in his 32 games with the Avalanche.
Wilson also added Adam Burish to the roster, rewarding the free agent with a four-year, $7.4 million contract. Nobody expected Burish to become a major point producer, but he has zero through 16 games. And if he was brought in to be a high-energy agitator, well, there hasn't been a lot of memorable moments on that front either. To be fair, Wilson's other offseason move, the signing of Brad Stuart, has improved the defense.
Going back another year, the jury is still out on the major trades with Minnesota. But it is safe to say that Brent Burns and Marty Havlat haven't been the difference-makers that the Sharks might have hoped they were getting.
Burns, to be fair, had an admittedly tough adjustment period and was starting to show signs of progress before an undisclosed groin injury late last season. A second and even more mysterious injury during the lockout, however, kept him out of the first 10 games this season and he has struggled since his return, looking particularly uncertain on the play that led to Chicago rookie Brandon Saad's game-winning goal Friday night.
Havlat, too, had to deal with injuries last season. But he says he is healthy now and his production still has tailed off.
All of which is to say that there is plenty of shared responsibility — including the players, of course -- for the fact the Sharks are losing far more than they're winning these days.
The wild card in what may happen next -- if anything -- is the ownership change that, curiously enough, coincided with the start of the Sharks' current slide. Hasso Plattner appeared to be in sync with his predecessors, praising the job Wilson has done running the hockey department and emphasizing that he didn't see the need to change anything.
That, of course, was a little more than three weeks ago. But Plattner is a competitor on major stages from business software to big-time sailing. And he does give you the impression he doesn't like losing.