Todd McLellan and Enforcers

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Todd McLellan joins the Edmonton Oilers from a team that employed both Mike Brown and John Scott, so it’s perhaps reasonable to think that he’s a coach who places a lot of value in the enforcer role. However, prior to that he worked for a Detroit team that wouldn’t know what to do with an enforcer if one had fallen into their lap.

How does the coach use players of this type?

McLellan’s Record

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McLellan’s teams have generally employed tough players. We might list Ryane Clowe, Jamal Mayers and Andrew Desjardins as regular players who also had the ability to fight frequently, and in most years the San Jose Sharks had one or more of these plyers on the roster. Edmonton hasn’t had a lot of these guys in recent years.

But what about out-and-out enforcers? The Sharks seem to have blown hot-and-cold on this player-type over the years, with the recent additions of Brown and Scott ending a long stretch without designated pugilists. How did McLellan employ these players when he had them?

2014-15: Brown lost massive chunks of the season to injury, but played a regular shift when healthy, averaging 8:12 per game (mostly on a line with Desjardins and Scott). Scott missed some time with suspension and wasn’t an everyday player the way Brown was even when available, but he played when dressed, averaging 7:27 per game. San Jose got hammered pretty bad on the shot clock when these guys were on the ice (especially together) but managed to get away without being outscored.

2013-14:Brown played 48 games after coming over in trade from the Oilers, averaging 7:22 per game for San Jose. He was the only true enforcer on the roster. A good San Jose team was lit up by the opposition when he was on the ice and somehow the club got out-scored 19-9 in just a half-season in low minutes with Brown on the ice.

2011-13 didn’t see the Sharks employ a true enforcer, though they did employ Desjardins and others who could fight in addition to playing hockey.

2009-10: San Jose had three enforcers, and both saw a fair number of games. Brad Staubitz played 47 contests and averaged 6:12 per night, while Jody Shelley appeared in 36 games and averaged 6:33 per contest. McLaren played 23 games, averaging 6:02 in ice-time. Of interest: the numbers for all three weren’t wretched, with McLaren in particular managing a career-high six points in his short stint with the team.

2008-09: McLellan’s first year in San Jose saw the team employ two enforcers, with Shelley a holdover who arrived the year before and Staubitz a graduating prospect. Shelley was nearly a full-time player, while Staubitz appeared in 35 games; both players averaged a hair over six minutes per contest. Staubitz had pretty reasonable shot numbers and broke even in on-ice goals, while Shelley’s on-ice shot numbers terrible but his line was outscored by the familiar 2:1 ratio.

McLellan’s Options in Edmonton

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Matt Hendricks isn’t a true enforcer, rather filling a defensive specialist slot, but like a lot of players who McLellan had in San Jose he can play regular minutes while also adding a pugilistic element. I think there’s minimal doubt he’ll be a favourite of the new coach and even if he slides performance-wise at age 34 (and without his regular partner Boyd Gordon) he’s likely to be a regular.

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It’s been suggested elsewhere that the arrival of McLellan is good news for Luke Gazdic, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Gazdic fits the mold of a lot of guys that McLellan had early on in his head coaching career (right down to getting outscored by a 2:1 ratio), and for the most part those guys played 6:00 per game when they played at all.

That’s not to say that Gazdic won’t get a push along the lines of a Brown or a Scott. We don’t know what role McLellan played in the team deciding to acquire those players, and we don’t know if the years the Sharks mostly avoided the type reflected the wishes of that team’s then-head coach. It’s possible that Gazdic becomes an everyday fourth-line player, particularly given the lack of pugilism at other places on the roster.

We just don’t know. McLellan’s record has some ambiguity on this matter. My guess is that he’ll mostly follow the example set by his predecessors in Edmonton. That means using Hendricks quite a bit and Gazdic often but not every day and not in a lot of minutes.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • bazmagoo

    Oiler improvement this year will come from backend if we hope to become more competitive and special teams play . Secondly from McDavid , and 3rd from improved team play . 4th – from a reluctant soft young core playing a grittier heavy game . The 4th might be the biggest challenge and big strides might not be made there with some , but overall as a team should see an improvenment . Will it be enough to start climbing in the standings ?

  • camdog

    If Gazdic looses some muscle mass and gains a step maybe he’ll lose that “enforcer” hash tag? Gazdic with another gear could be a wrecking ball out there. With a real NHL coach we will soon know what Gazdic can be. I know people talk about developing hockey players, but then they don’t want to spend the time to actually develop said player. Hopefully instead of telling Gazdic he’s an enforcer and nothing more, the organisation is pushing him to be more.

  • BobbyCanuck

    I do not think that truculence/feistiness/grit are hard coded DNA characteristics.

    These are character traits that can be built up in a person as long as one provides the correct motivation/mentoring/instruction.

    How is a player that has never had to fight or use his stick/elbows to create space for himself supposed to figure it out?

    The new coach recognizes that this is a hole in the team/culture that needs to be fixed. A lot of time will be spent in training camp on determining which players are coachable and which ones are not.

    Injuries happen it’s a part of the game, but I do not want to see Hall or McDavid break there hand again casue they felt they had to fight.

  • hagar

    Just send Gazdic out early and tell him to hit anything he can catch.

    Make him start the game within the game…

    These kids need a push, and they need to be forced to play as a team.

    We need to start, instead of reacting(or not reacting, as is usually the case), to all these physical games.

    Who’s scared of Patrice Bergeron, or David Kreijci? Nobody.

    But the Bruins as a team….different story.

    Nobody is really intimidated but Anze Kopitar.

    But the Kings don’t get pushed around.(Nolan, King, etc…)

    This is a team thing, one that Gazdic, if used properly, would help.

    People want to believe that “enforcers” are dead, but the job description just changed.

    Fighting isn’t as important, but the physicality and intimidation are as real as ever.

    Hockey, as fast as it is, with the hitting and contact, will always have a physical element that may go over the edge, and you still need “that guy” on your team, be it Gazdic or Hendricks.

    Plus, when there are fights, I like my team to win, and Gazdic is pretty good at it….

  • Tikkanese

    I’m not sure why some of you are saying Gazdic needs to get faster. He might not be Hall fast but he skates very well. I’ve seen him hammer some of the best skaters in the league. Ask J-Bo if Gazdic needs to be any faster. Gazdic might be the best skating pure enforcer in the game today.

    I’d like to see Gazdic get a shot at the PK. He skates well enough for it. You know he would willingly stop a Weber slapshot with his teeth to help his team. Give him a shot at it in camp and see, can’t hurt to try.

  • Wrecking ball players can and do make a difference in how the entire team plays. We all saw this in full effect during the Playoffs when Calgary’s Ferland was all over the ice laying out the Vancouver Canucks. Gazdic is the Oilers’ version of this kind of player.

    The deterrent thing is overhyped. What his type of play does more than anything is makes everyone else play taller, with more energy, with a bit of edge. Nobody wants to look like the softest guy in the room.

    That’s how it works.

    Gazdic is my kind of player. I’d take 2 more of him if we could find them. Tough hockey is what is needed to compete in the West. We already have all the skill needed. Some grit is absolutely necessary also.

  • Basshole39

    Oilers have made great progress in all areas except SKILL PLAYER PROTECTION and overall team ENFORCEMENT. Oil desparately need a couple more SUPER HEAVIES in the system!!!!! Look at the DUCKS – quack, quack!!!!

  • Basshole39

    If you start a fight within 10 seconds of hopping onto the ice, you’re most likely not going to be the cause of a goal against.

    I’m sure the analytics guys can back me up on that.

    Though first 9 seconds have to be some heavy duty industrial grade chirping in order to prevent an instigator penalty.

    (none of the above statements were serious)

  • Basshole39

    @Copper
    I wish I read your response sooner…. and that the media can answer these…

    Did you like the no police defence/and or okay when Avery (NY Rangers) suckered Smid instead of a fair fight????

    Did you like it as okay a play when Larsson (Senators) was cut on his ankle for the season by a deliberate Cooke???????

    Did ya enjoy Raffi Torres jumping hard with intent to take out a player????

    If you can answer these questions and tell me how to stop that type of BS then I will agree and listen to you.

    Other than that then stop talking and let me as a coach tell my team to get those Mother F..k..rs…. who try to injure me good to best skilled guys

  • pynetime

    Maybe things will be different under Todd McLellan but I can”t forget when Ryan Garbutt stuck a knee out on Taylor Hall during Luke Gazdic’s first game of the year and nothing was done about it. There’s a chance that it was Dallas Eakins who made the decision for Gazdic not to beat the crap out of Garbutt but if that was the case, why was he even dressed if you’re not going to deploy him properly? As with lots of the Oilers problems the last few years this could be a case of an incompetent head hoach. But if Gazdic has lost his willingness to engage (I don”t believe that to be the case) we need to move on. If McLellan doesn’t have the desire to deploy Gazdic in the only way the player is really able to contribute, we need to move on. If McLellan wants him there to keep the opposition honest and he succeeds in that role then he can be a useful asset.