Monday Musings: Babcock vs. Mclellan


Last week, Bob McKenzie said on TSN 1040 that the Oilers would be at the top of Mike Babcock’s list of teams to join. Yesterday, Elliott Friedman wrote that the Oilers were focusing on Todd McLellan and that another NHL team told him they felt an Oiler-McLellan deal was very close. 

This must seem a bit surreal for Oilers fans. Two of the top free agents coaches are very interested in coming to Edmonton. I assume those claiming free agents don’t want to come here will finally realize that suggestion, which was never 100% accurate, had very little to do with the city of Edmonton and everything to do with the state of the Oilers franchise.

With Bob Nicholson and Peter Chiarelli at the helm, Connor McDavid set to join the franchise in June and Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Oscar Klefbom, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse on the team or in the system the Oilers are no longer considered the least desirable team in the NHL

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With Babcock and McLellan both possibilities, who do you think is a better fit?

I’m a firm believer a coach is only as good as his players. A coach won’t make a “D” team a “B” team, but he might be able to turn an “A” team into an “A+” team.

The Oilers have had five different head coaches in the past six seasons, and the best winning% amongst  them was Ralph Krueger’s 39.5%. Were the coaches responsible for some of the losses, yes, but none of them had much of an NHL roster to work with. Babcock and McLellan might have been able to get a few more wins out of those teams, but they wouldn’t have been much closer to the playoffs. The team simply was not that good.

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What will Babcock or McLellan bring to the Oilers? 

Babcock has the better head coaching resume. 

He’s won one Stanley Cup, lost two other Cup finals, has made the playoffs 11 of the 12 seasons he’s been a head coach and he’s won two Olympic Gold medals.

Babcock is more demanding than any of the four coaches Hall and Eberle – the two longest serving Oilers- have had during their five-year careers. He is hard on his players, and it would be interesting to see how this group responds to a coach like Babcock.

McLellan has had incredible regular season success. Only Pittsburgh and Chicago have won more games than the Sharks did with McLellan behind the bench over the past seven seasons. His players like playing from him and he’s overseen the development of many good young players in San Jose.

McLellan and Babcock have had very similar records since the Red Wings won the Cup in 2008. 

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McLellan left the Wings after their Cup win to become the head coach in San Jose. Here are their records over the past seven seasons.


2008–09 82 51 21 10 112
2009–10 82 44 24 14 102
2010–11 82 47 25 10 104
2011–12 82 48 28 6 102
2012–13 48 24 16 8 56
2013–14 82 39 28 15 93
2014–15 82 43 25 14 100
Totals 540 296 167 77 669


2008–09 82 53 18 11 117
2009–10 82 51 20 11 113
2010–11 82 48 25 9 105
2011–12 82 43 29 10 96
2012–13 48 25 16 7 57
2013–14 82 51 22 9 111
2014–15 82 40 33 9 89
Totals 540 311 163 66 688

McLellan’s Sharks have won five playoff series in the past seven seasons, while the Red Wings won six under Babcock. The difference being the Red Wings made it to the Cup finals in 2009, while the Sharks only made the conference finals in 2010.

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During the past seven seasons Mclellan won 311 regular season games, Babcock won 296 and the Oilers organization won a paltry 194.

Both men would garner instant respect from their players — not that this group disrespected the previous coaches, but these two have won a lot of games and this group of Oiler players are desperate for wins. I’d expect them to hang on every word of Babcock or McLellan.

It is extremely difficult to say which coach would automatically be better.

Babcock’s resume is longer, but over the past seven seasons McLellan has had a bit more success. Both coaches have proven they can teach young players and aren’t afraid to use them in important situations on the ice.

The major aspect that neither will have in Edmonton is veteran superstars to lean on. There is no Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau in Edmonton: Players with extensive playoff and international experience. 

Edmonton possesses a lot of potential, but both Babcock and McLellan would be coming to a team that is far less talented and experienced than the teams they inherited in San Jose and Detroit. 


Signing either of them would be a smart move for Chiarelli. I don’t see an obvious negative in either one. The difference is that Chiarelli has to find out what is Babcock’s motivation. Is it money? Is it a new challenge? Is it wanting more say in player personnel?

If money is the motivator, and I’m not saying it is, then that would be the only red flag for me. 

The one thing that intrigues me about McLellan is that for the past two seasons he’s had to endure a very unsettling situation in San Jose. His GM, Doug Wilson, was doing his best to stir up controversy within the team, but despite all of that we never saw or heard that McLellan lost the respect of his players. The coach has to side with his GM if he wants to keep his job, even if he disagrees with him — which McLellan did in the case of playing Brent Burns on defence — and I think McLellan handled that situation incredibly well.

He has shown he can deal with adversity, and he’ll face some in Edmonton.

I’m certain the first question both coaches asked Chiarelli was, “What do you plan on doing about the defence and goaltending?”

Edmonton has McDavid coming, a top-ten scorer in Hall, a three-time 60-point player in Eberle and some other very promising pieces, but they also have some huge question marks on the blueline and in goal.

It sounds like Chiarelli will land one of McLellan or Babcock, and that will put the Oilers another step closer to respectability. 

I wrote last week that I thought it would be McLellan and I’m still leaning that way. Who do you think it will be? Why?


  • Did you know? Only one GM has won the Stanley Cup with two different teams. Tommy Gorman won a Stanley Cup as the GM of the Ottawa Senators (1920, 1921 and 1923), the Montreal Maroons (1933), Chicago Blackhawks (1934) and the Montreal Canadiens. (1944 and 1946). Gorman was coach and GM of the Maroons and Blackhawks. History says it will be very difficult for Chiarelli to become the second man to do it, but Glen Sather came very close last year.
  • I should also point out that only 10 men have won as GM with one team and then became GM for another. Gorman, Punch Imlach, Milt Schmidt, Bill Torrey, Cliff Fletcher, Glen Sather, Bob Gainey, Jay Feaster, Brian Burke and now Chiarelli.
  • Head coaches who have won a Cup for two different teams isn’t much longer than the GM list. Lester Patrick, (Victoria and New York Rangers), Dick Irvin,(Toronto, Montreal) and Scotty Bowman, (Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit). 
  • If you believe in odds, maybe it is best the Oilers hire McLellan because he has yet to win the Cup.

Recently by Jason Gregor:    

  • HockeyYoda

    When a player like Burns from the Sharks says McLellan was the best coach he ever had I took notice. That is high praise from a respected player and I think his players would go through a wall for him. He has my vote.

  • Jayz

    I don’t care which one they hire, either one brings instant cred to the Oilers. Even more important, how nice would it be to eliminate questionable coaching pedigree/abilities from the list of “What’s wrong with the Oilers?” Priceless.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Yak has never been sheltered with a veteran two way center and a veteran puck possession scoring winger.

    He has simply not been given the same opportunity other #1 picks have in the past.

    Yak can learn to back check… he takes a lot of heat for being Russian and i feel bad for him that local media has made him an outcast just because he is not a good ol canadian kid.

  • Jason Gregor

    I agree with NJ above on Yak.

    It may also be that there have been language issues and it would help to have another articulate Russian ensuring Yak is getting a clear understanding of expectations.

    Going some further: I have some suspicion that there is a Hall-led clique that excludes Yak, that does not welcome him and perhaps even teases him – and this has impacted Yak. He is different culturally, has brought his family to live with him so perhaps less mature in some ways (these are really boys and some grow up emotionally a bit slower), is manifestly child-like in his enthuiasm, and has been some coaches public whipping boy. All this – along with his threat as another 1st overall pick – could make him a target for teasing by some Hall-led group. Sure, all this is mostly just speculative, based on observations of body language on and off the ice, and the circumstances.

    Perhaps this helps interpret the decision to make Ferrence captain. But that would be ascribing some good, even intelligent, decision-making to the Oilers Organization, which seems unlikely.

    Nelson may have made headway where Eakins failed spectacularly with Yak because Nelson saw this issue and just helped Yak feel welcome.

    I expect that Yak’s success with the Oil will go from more likely to less likely in order from Nelson to McClellan to Babcock as HC respectively.

    The arrival of McDavid will surely add some more dynamics to this sorta situation to the extent it exists. Is #4 going to have to move over to let #97 be Alpha Male? It’s gonna be fun to watch.

    For sure this is largely conjecture based on a few snippets of observation – but so is a lot of what is posted here. Anyone spending time closer to the players might be able to comment – even media people – so how about it?

  • TKB2677

    So you trade a player in Eberle who you know will give you at least 25 goals and 60-65 pts every single year for at least the next 10 more years for a player in Yak who has grossly under performed and if he actually pans out will give you similar offense to Eberle. You do that because you think Eberle is soft and doesn’t give a crap about defense?

    Put a goalie who can stop a beach ball for a change and even a average NHL defense and you can probably shave off 10 pts off of every players +/-. So that puts Eberle at -6 and Yak at -25. Yak was dead last in +/-.

    Being a guarantee 25+ goal, 60+ point guy is pretty freaking good. I like having players on my team that I know exactly what to expect. Anyone know what Yak will be?

    • Jason Gregor

      The only quality offensive centre on the current roster is RNH. He started to improve his point totals with an actual NHL centre (Roy) and a better quality coach (Nelson). Now improve his coaching (Babcock or McLellan). Give Yak a quality centre (like McDavid). Give him more PP time. Give him some quality zone starts, instead of playing him on a checking line. Then you’re going to get to see what Yak will be.

      At the very least, you’ll be showcasing him to up his trade value like the Canucks did with Cody Hodgson and get a better return for him closer to the trade deadline or off-season.

    • NJ

      No. You trade Eberle because he is soft and sucky defensively AND because he has value, because he is likely but he cornerstone of any trade involving a top pairing d man.

      The issues are separate and the players are different players. Eberle is great and Yak has potential. He just has no value right now.

  • BobbyCanuck

    I would prefer Mclellan, I think our players are in a physcologically frail state of mind. We need a coach that can encourage and build player confidence.

    The harshness of Babcock may make them wilt.

    Why does Babcock need to go tour all the cities interested in him,the guy has been around for long enough, all he needs to know is we have a huge mall, and a wonderfull river valley

  • .

    I prefer Babcock but would be happy with either, since Q isn’t available. But if McLellan doesn’t get a gold at the World Championships this year, should that raise concern, given the strength of the Canadian team?