Todd Mclellan has coached 540 NHL regular season games. He’s won 311 of them and coached the San Jose Sharks to the playoff in six of his seven seasons. He was let go after missing the post season last year with 89 points. He knows what it takes to win in the NHL and at his first press conference as Edmonton Oilers head coach, he made one comment about the Oilers which really stood out for me.
I asked him to assess the Oilers through the eyes of an opposing coach.
“One, they scared you because they could beat you 7-2 on any given
night, and there were other nights where we had our way. And that’s the
consistency (or lack thereof) that we will try and fix here. I think
there were games where if you could get off to a good start and push
them out of games, and the mental aspect of them not being in it for the
whole night, you thought you had a chance to succeed.
“That is something we will have to change.
“There are going to be games where it is not going your way, but
you are not out of it, you have to fight through it. You have to keep
going. They haven’t had a lot of success, as far as wins go, so we will
have to find other ways to build that mental strength. That comes before
the games are even played. That comes in practice, in meetings, being
good teammates. We have some things to work on.”
I love his honesty. You’ve watched the Oilers for the past nine years, and I’m sure on many nights you saw exactly what Mclellan described. I’ve seen it often, and I’ve long believed until this team becomes more competitive in the small areas they will not be successful.
Having more talented players will help, and the addition of Connor McDavid, Andrej Sekera, Mark Letestu and Cam Talbot should make them more competitive, but the majority of the same players are here and they need to become more consistently competitive.
I spoke with Mclellan at the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation first annual golf tournament yesterday. He discussed the importance of his players helping out in the community, which is extremely valuable, and how yesterday was a good way to start team building. Smart.
Then I asked him about the above comment from his May press conference.
How will he ensure his team doesn’t get discouraged early in games this season?
“We have a plan for that. The first thing is to address it. We have to lay it out on the table for the players. I’m a big analogy guy. It is like playing cards. If you are dealt a bad hand you can stay in the game for a little while. You find ways to stay in the game and work your way deeper into it. We need to push deeper into games when it is not going well for us, that is part of growing as a team.
“There are things in practice that I believe we can do to push them further. Not have drills end as quick, second attack type drills, so the mentality is we will keep going rather than let up and rest in the corners. It is a combination of things, an every day approach. We are going to try and grow our mental strength like we will our skill set,” said Mclellan.
Too often the focus is on line combinations and defence pairings, but the root of the Oilers losing wasn’t simply players; it was how inconsistent the team played. On many nights the Oilers did not match the work ethic and competitive desire of their opponents.
Mclellan’s biggest challenge will be teaching his players that in order to win regularly in the NHL, you need to have a consistent effort. You can’t only play hard when things are going your way, you need to fight through adversity and battle back when teams score early.
Last season, Buffalo was the only team with fewer wins than the Oilers when the opposition scored first. Buffalo was 4-37-5 while the Oilers were 8-32-8. The New York Islanders, 18-13-2 were the only team above .500 when the opposition scored. No one should expect the Oilers to be .500 next season, but they have to have more resolve and win more than 8 of 48 games.
I’m curious to watch Mclellan’s practices and see how he will try to instill a no-quit attitude into his team.
The tour stops in Edmonton on Thursday, September 17th at the Pint off Whyte. Join me, Jason Strudwick, Mark Spector, Bob Stauffer, Joanne Ireland, Derek Van Diest and Chris Johnston for a fun night of hockey talk, chirping, and story telling.
You can get tickets here. Use the promo code “Gregor” and you will get a 25% discount. See you on the 17th.
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