The Edmonton Oilers have been guilty far too often of signing the wrong people for the wrong money in recent years, so it’s a welcome departure from the same old, same old to see them continue what’s been a ridiculous off-season roll by getting it right with coach Todd McLellan.
As we all know, new GM Peter Chiarelli and CEO Bob Nicholson focused in on McLellan after he was let go by the San Jose Sharks right from the hop rather than wait to see what would happen with Mike Babcock. The way I see it, the Oilers got a bargain.
It’s not as much about the money – McLellan signed on the dotted line for $15 million over five years while Babcock made waves yesterday by inking an eight-year deal worth $50 million with Toronto – as it is about coming to terms on a value contract, even if the money involved matters not in terms of the salary cap. It’s about doing smart business.
That’s something, given the too-long or too-rich contracts we’ve seen handed to the likes of Nikolai Khabibulin and Nikita Nikitin under Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish in recent years, there’s been far too little of for far too long. Is Babcock a better, more accomplished coach? Maybe. Is he $35 million better? I think not. Neither did Chiarelli and Nicholson.
IT’S ABOUT THE FIT
Babcock and McLellan are both terrific coaches. Babcock’s regular season point percentage in 950 games with the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings is .627. In 540 games with San Jose, McLellan’s point percentage is marginally better at .637. In playoffs, Babcock has a winning percentage of .569 (82-62), McLellan is 30-32 for .484.
Babcock coached the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2008. McLellan was an assistant coach on that team. He left the Red Wings to take over as head coach of the Sharks for 2008-09. McLellan, despite pushing the Sharks to 50 wins or more three times and 100 points or more four times, never once got the Sharks out of the Western Conference.
Edge to Babcock? Sure, but from where I sit, there’s not significant separation when you take NHL and international experience into account.
There’s not a huge difference in style, either. While Babcock is a stickler for details and McLellan is more of a communicator, both are demanding and have very distinct ideas about how to approach the game and how they want things done. Both have very good track records doing things their way.
Whatever the reason Chiarelli and Nicholson deemed McLellan the better fit right from the start, what I know of both coaches has me thinking the guys running hockey ops in Edmonton made a good bet, and they did it at a good price. How often have we been able to say that about decisions coming out of the front office in the last five years?
ON THE SIDE . . .
Neither Babcock nor McLellan are going to turn the fortunes of their teams around without the right players. When I look at the rosters and prospects on the horizon for Toronto and Edmonton in the context of how the next couple of seasons will likely shape up, I’ll take Edmonton’s personnel every day of the week. The Maple Leafs had 68 points this season, the Oilers 62. I bet the Oilers finish with more points than Toronto next season.
WHILE I’M AT IT
The Montreal Alouettes signed Michael Sam today, creating a bit of a buzz on Twitter, including tweets like this:
Michael Sam, NFL’s 1st openly gay player, signs with CFL’s Montreal Alouettes http://t.co/TNvUbZqP8t
— Tim Cook (@T_Cook) May 22, 2015
Every time I see a reference to “openly gay,” it makes my skin crawl. It’s 2015 and you’d think we’d be past the point where a person’s sexuality is referenced virtually every time they’re mentioned. Clearly, we’re not.
I don’t want to be preachy, but I was born in the late 1950s in a distinctly different time in a distinctly different society. If I long ago reached the point where I decided a person’s sexuality doesn’t matter – and, frankly, is none of my business – why can’t everybody get there?
Sam’s sexuality shouldn’t matter. It does not matter. Our society includes gay teachers, politicians, plumbers and professional athletes. I don’t care about who Sam sleeps with. I care about whether he’s good at football. Then, there’s stuff like this:
Huge! First openly gay player to suit up in the CFL. A chance to prove his critics wrong. https://t.co/s9wUse1dyD
— Kevin Jesus (@GlobalJesus) May 22, 2015
I think Kevin is trying to be supportive, but if he’s talking about critics who think, to use the term loosely, Sam can’t play because he’s gay, it’s a lost cause. Those folks are gonna hate no matter what. Sam will prove the critics that matter wrong if he sacks a bunch of quarterbacks and makes a lot of tackles. The Alouettes are betting he can.
THE BAD OLD DAYS
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 22, 2015
Then, there’s this item about Slava Fetisov, who seems to be trying to re-raise the Iron Curtain, at least as it pertains to Russian hockey players, in an effort to keep the KHL afloat.
Fetisov, now the chairman of the KHL’s board of directors, was one of the several players who pushed the Russian government for the right to play in the NHL in the late-1980s, the bad old days when getting to North America to play hockey meant defecting.
Originally drafted in 1978 by the Montreal Canadiens, Fetisov didn’t get to the NHL until 1989-90 after being re-drafted by New Jersey. He was among a wave of Soviet players including Igor Larionov, Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov who fought for, and eventually won, the right to play here.
Now, Fetisov wants to close the door he helped kick open so many years ago. If the survival of the KHL means trying to return to the archaic ways of the 1970s, then Fetisov and his board members can start digging the hole right now. It’s a bad idea and it won’t fly.
GARY, GARY, GARY . . .
So, Gary Bettman still doubts that repeated concussions contribute to CTE – or at least he says he does with, it so happens, the NHL facing lawsuits over the issue, notably from the family of Steve Montador.
Speaking to reporters in Chicago Thursday, Bettman said:
From a medical science standpoint, there is no evidence yet that one necessarily leads to the other. I know there are a lot of theories, but if you ask people who study it, they tell you there is no statistical correlation that can definitively make that conclusion.
Denial of the obvious at the highest level.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.