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 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
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.
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.
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