Big changes likely if Sharks don't improve

The San Jose Sharks began a potentially make-or-break stretch of their season -- with 11 of 13 games at home -- with a shootout loss against the visiting Florida Panthers on Thursday night, continuing a mediocre start to the season.

Changes could be coming if wins don’t.

The Sharks began their rebuild last summer -- and in fact have been piling up draft picks for two years -- and the plan is to continue to get younger ahead of next season.

The question is whether that plan has been accelerated by the team’s play.

Because you can be sure that losing twice this season to both the 29th-place Columbus Blue Jackets and the 30th-place Buffalo Sabres, and now twice to Florida (7-5-5) sure can’t sit well with management. Neither can losing eight straight games to the Sabres (0-7-1), dating to 2010.

If the inconsistencies continue during this stretch of home games, I would bet on Sharks general manager Doug Wilson speeding up the youth process, which means veterans such as Tyler Kennedy, Andrew Desjardins, Adam Burish, Scott Hannan and even goalie Antti Niemi (an unrestricted free agent on July 1) all could be in play, although the Sharks really like Niemi. Most of those guys, and maybe more, likely won’t be back next fall.

There are young players who have developed and are ready for bigger roles in the organization. While it’s almost certain they’ll have NHL jobs next fall, they might even get spots by January if the team’s topsy-turvy play continues.

What’s also in question, I would surmise, is the future of the coaching staff if the team’s play doesn’t improve in this stretch.

Coach Todd McLellan is tremendously respected around the league and he wouldn’t be out of a job long if he was dismissed. But if the inconsistent play continues -- keeping in mind the losses to bad teams they've already had this season -- it wouldn’t be completely out of the question for Sharks management to consider a coaching change.

I think given the direction of a Sharks team that’s rebuilding, there are lots of possibilities to ponder if the team’s play doesn’t improve.