Todd McLellan, most recently the head coach of the San Jose Sharks, has been out of work for all of a day now. Still, as the saying goes it’s the early bird that gets the head coaching candidate with a distinguished resume, which explains why Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman passed along a report on Monday that the Edmonton Oilers had already reached out to him.
ANA/WIN on Sportsnet. Hearing EDM has reached out to Todd McLellan. Will be plenty more…and his Worlds job will slow down the process
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 21, 2015
McLellan has spent a little over two decades in coaching, getting into it upon the completion of a brief playing career that saw him spend significant time in the minor leagues. The No. 104 pick of the New York Islanders in 1986, he would play in only five NHL games. Here’s what his coaching history looks like:
- 1993-94: Head coach of the North Battleford North Stars (SJHL).
- 1994-00: Head coach/general manager of the Swift Current Broncos (WHL).
- 2000-01: Head coach of the Cleveland Lumberjacks (IHL). The Lumberjacks were the IHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild and shut down when the IHL disbanded in 2001. Notable NHL’ers from this team include Pascal Dupuis and Richard Park.
- 2001-05: Head coach of the Houston Aeros (AHL). McLellan stayed on with the Wild, moving to their new team in the AHL. Notable NHL’ers from this team, include Brent Burns, Mikko Koivu, Zbynek Michalek and Mike Smith. Won the Calder Cup in 2003.
- 2005-08: Assistant coach of the Detroit Red Wings (NHL). Won the Stanley Cup in 2008.
- 2008-15: Head coach of the San Jose Sharks (NHL).
It’s a pretty impressive track record. He paid his dues in the WHL before advancing to the high minors, where he helped develop a number of important players for the Wild and won a Calder Cup. He worked under Mike Babcock for three years in a very good Detroit organization and picked up a Stanley Cup ring there before taking on his first NHL head coaching job in San Jose. The Sharks have been a very good team under his watch, but have failed to advance to the Stanley Cup Final despite having several strong teams and generally being competitive.
The only blemish on McLellan’s resume is the lack of a championship win as a head coach; otherwise it’s a sparkling record. There’s absolutely no doubt he knows his business, and there are going to be a lot of teams interested in bringing him aboard.
There really isn’t a parallel for McLellan in Oilers’ coaching history, as Edmonton has typically preferred to bring in new faces and allow them to learn on the job. Glen Sather jumped pretty much directly from the Oilers’ lineup to the head coaching position; Craig MacTavish had a brief period as an assistant coach before ascending to the top job. Pat Quinn had an impressive track record, but was well past his prime by the time he joined the club. Tom Renney is the closest match, though (with no disrespect intended) his achievements at the time of his hiring were less impressive than McLellan’s.
If the Oilers pursue McLellan, where would that leave Todd Nelson? It’s a difficult situation for both the team and the coach. Nelson has realistically proven himself ready for a shot at a full-time NHL head coaching job, and his familiarity with Edmonton’s young players is a big mark in his favour. However, he simply hasn’t had the opportunity to compare to McLellan in the experience department, and Edmonton could not be blamed for choosing the safer, more proven candidate.
Successfully wooing a candidate like McLellan might cost the team Nelson. Even if the Oilers tried to bring him back in another capacity—associate coach, perhaps—he will have other options around the league. He has a brilliant AHL track record behind him and experience as an NHL assistant coach; now he can add a fairly successful stint as an interim NHL head coach to his resume. Hypothetically, working under McLellan isn’t going to hurt his status around the NHL any, but there might be better opportunities available right now. He’s knocking on the door for a full-time job and eventually somebody’s going to answer.
With that said, the Oilers have to ruthlessly make the choice that’s best for their organization. The coaching position is going to be one of those tough decisions.