McLellan’s biggest challenge

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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  • Lyxdeslic

    I have to say I am so impressed with McLellan’s ability to articulate and answer questions directly without top-toeing around them. From his initial interview after being named Oilers head coach he was honest, direct and well spoken. I think young players need a coach with great communication skills and he definitely ranks off the charts in that department. Hurry up October.

  • Real Hockey Fan

    The thing that McLellan has gong for him is that he’s coaching the Oilers and just getting a sniff of the playoffs will have the fans calling him a hero. Stanley Cup??? I’ll believe it when I see it. If he couldn’t win anything with the Sharks hows he going to win with the Oilers? Call me crazy but I just don’t see it. The Oilers need three or 4 McDavids. And a couple on D. Call me stupid but thats just my opinon like it or not.

    • DaveChamp

      I’m not into calling people names. I might think it but I wouldn’t outright just call you stupid.

      Who do you think they should have signed that was available and has a better resume than Todd?

      • Real Hockey Fan

        Todd McLellan is a poor man’s Bruce Boudreau. Both guys can’t win the big game. It’s good both are coaching in the same conference because if they ever met in the Stanley Cup Finals no team would win the cup that year.

    • DaveChamp

      Too many examples of players, coaches moving to different organizations and finding success. Darryl Sutter comes to mind, who was basically run out of Calgary to win two cups with LA. There is a lot of work to be done, sure and no guarantees, but he is an elite coach and I for one am looking forward to see what a coach of his calibre can do with this group.

    • fran huckzky

      You said “call me crazy”. Crazy doesn’t quite describe your mentality. Dumb, stupid,ignorant are three adjectives that would apply and I am sure there are many more that would be even more descriptive. Crazy is amental problem. you have an intelligence problem

    • Joy S. Lee

      Ok, you’re stupid, and I don’t like your opinion. Hey, you asked for it.

      Truth is, skepticism is easy, it doesn’t require one to think at all – just cast doubt – perhaps it’s why you’ve mastered it. However, K-Mart made a rather significant response to your question about what has he ever won in comment #9, which you appropriately ignored.

      The NHL is a 30-team league at the games’ highest level, with big money involved. Only one team wins per year. Statistically, a 30-year cycle would see your team win it 3-4 times per century. Think about that. Now, here’s my question for you: does each year’s Cup Winner mean that the other 29 coaches simply cannot get it done… that they are all failures?

      Your generalized statement is weak. The question you should be asking is whether he will make this team better. I’m confident that he will. The rest is up to the players.

      Besides, overlaying the past upon the future and saying nothing will change is akin to denying the entire nature of existence. Change is certain. Change could include a Stanley Cup in Edmonton, under the guidance of Todd McLellan. You base your entire theory on past momentum never shifting, when tomorrow is a new day with a new and improved organization and direction. It’s very short-sighted on your part, don’t you think?

    • How much a coach has won before is only part of their resume. Dan Blysma has more cups than Mclellan does that make him better? Scotty Bowman never won a cup in St Louis. Did that make Montreal hiring him a bad move?

  • DaveChamp

    Actual accountability of both young players and veterans will go a long way to ensure the competitive nature of the team. It’s time to start benching players that keep making the same mistakes and refuse to put the team over their own egos.

  • DaveChamp

    One thing they have lacked through all of the bad years was an agitator. Someone who distracts the other team like Linseman, Tikkanen or Steve Ott types. This type of player changes the focus often rallying his team mates and getting them motivated. I think Greg Chase may be that type of player, he’s probably not ready but we need that somewhere in the mix and I don’t see it on the roster right now, its not a goon either but a abrasive in your face guy.

  • vetinari

    The difference between Eakins and McLellan is like the difference between night and day. McLellan seems like he’s already identified a huge issue with this team (phoning it in and not fighting through games when down) and has plans to deal with it.

    Not expecting him and the newbies to push us into playoff contention just yet but if they at least learn to fight back after going down a goal or two, and ice time is distributed appropriately between those that buy in and those that tune out, it could mean another 10-15 points in the standings by that change alone. Throw in better goaltending and better defence and playoffs may be closer than we think.

  • Real Hockey Fan

    The argument that a coach has to have previously won a Stanley Cup in the past to be capable of winning one in the future is so stupid I can’t believe anyone is dumb enough to still make it.

    Of the last 25 cups, 18 were won by coaches who hadn’t won it as a head coach before.

      • Mark Moose-E-eh

        No, but they made the playoffs, and won a round in the playoffs, which sadly more than the Oilers can say.

        I count cups as well, but credit where credit is due. Hartly took a team that had no business winning, and had them buy into the idea that there was now game they couldn’t win. Even when they were losing they battled back. Calgary had the most games won after trailing going into the third. Or in other words they had the most 3rd period comebacks of any team.

        That to me shows they never did exactly what this article talks about the Oilers doing. They never gave up.

        Now of course I have my theories and such as to why for the last five years the Oilers have been quick to throw it in, and it starts from the top down. But that still does not excuse the fact that down the road, our rivals were putting on a clinic all year about how playing as a team and playing to win are just as if not more important as having talented players.

        I get that scrums get Hall and Eberle off their game so they avoid them, but that doesn’t mean they can expect to win if they don’t play to win for a full game.

  • Wax Man Riley

    I agree with this all G… McClellan is right.

    In the last two years especially (under Eakins) I saw this team fall flat on its face so very many nights/games and not even show any proper pride at all.

    I saw this team play far better under Nelson and that pride was there quite a bit but at the same time, the players were seemingly getting some confidence back.

    McClellan is an excellent coach with great history background (his staff included) and I can see him already focused on the changes that need to come forward and that includes a better game structure system. I love it.

    Its not always the coach that doesn’t win the cup… the players (in his days with San Jose) are the ones who had to perform…and they didn’t when the playoffs came.

    Not ALL on McClellan as much as some whiners for this year seem to believe.

    I have a renewed faith this year with the Oilers under Chiarelli and McClellan …after these last few years and I am so excited to finally see all that skill and potential show up and di what many always knew they could… plus see all what McDavid brings also…lol.

    New Season…new team structure … new players… Lets Go Oilers!!!!

  • TKB2677

    The biggest thing that McLellan needs to do is get the team to play a more consistent game. When they play, the Oilers have shown they can hang with a lot of teams in the NHL. The problem is they don’t play consistent enough most games.

    That being said, it won’t matter what McLellan does or who plays defense if the goaltending plays like they did last year. The Oilers defense and system play didn’t help things but both goalies were flat our awful last year. If the Oilers get even average NHL goaltending, they will be in the hunt.

  • This will be Mclellan’s 8th year coaching.

    Quenneville has the most cups of any active coach with 3, and he didn’t get his first for 13 years. Let’s not get carried away with “we want clutch coaching”.

    Babcock has one cup to show for his 13 years of coaching. Is that clutch?

    It’s much much harder for coaches to win cups than people seem to realize.

  • SickFloBro

    Flames fan here – McLellan is a great coach. K_Mart already wrote this, but … “311 NHL games as Head Coach. World Championship as Head Coach. Stanley Cup as Assistant Coach. Calder Cup as Head coach” is a pretty strong resume.

    Honestly, when the news broke that TM was officially going to be the next bench boss of the Oilers, my friends and I all collectively groaned. It’s going to be fun to watch the BoA again.

    Also, quit feeding the trolls.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Joe Thornton and Patty Marleau are not playoff type players. Both are complimentary players that need a more abrasive and mentally tougher player to lead the pack. No coach could get the Sharks over the hump. The missing puzzle on the Oilers has been a player like Nurse, he will lead this pack and I could only imagine that mean streak will help Todd a long ways in the playoffs. Teams win with a stud blueliner. Nurse has shown some of those qualities and he will only get better. I digress…

  • Derzie

    Having seen what resiliency can do for our Flames, I am happy for the Oil fans that the new coach is addressing the number one problem that we see from the outside looking in: Underachieving team with too much quit. As a Flames fan I don’t like that Todd is on the case though 🙂 Seriously, good on Todd. Sounds like a keeper.

  • Lyxdeslic

    Hopefully a new coaching team will change the force of Oilers evil, which is not showing up for every shift, and often total games!.

    They have proven that on talent alone, they cant get out of 28th. place!

    So unless they start playing as a five man unit, going in both directions, the results will still be 28th place in the NHL.

    Stop playing for yourself, and start playing as a team in all aspects of the game.!!!!!

  • Lyxdeslic

    I expect Todd Mclellan and Doug Wilson had some issues with each other. Hopefully he won’t have the same problem here and that will help him be a better coach.

  • Natejax30

    McLellan is a great coach, glad we got him.

    Our lineup is just as strong as San Jose. Pick a player and I’ll point you to an oiler that is just as good. It’s hard to play consistently when playing for a rookie coach that is “trying things”…

    McLellan will put this team “together”…and when this team comes together, look out.

    Oilers make playoffs in 2015-16, I am betting on that.

    And the coolest part is that the young players who endured the garbage years are here to enjoy it. Great job Chia for improving our team and keeping it together all at the same time.

    It is a great time (finally) to be an Oiler fan.

  • Mark Moose-E-eh

    So many comments referring to whether or not McLellan can win or insinuating that he can’t, because his coaching history has no Stanley victories as a head coach.

    The focus should be on whether or not he is one of the pieces that improves this team.

    The Oilers needed many quality pieces for quite some time, many of which have been put in place on and off the ice recently. I for one believe this team finally did the right thing by hiring a good “NHL” head coach, filling one of those necessary holes. Todd McLellan is an intelligent, hard working coach that knows how to communicate and motivate this team. Isn’t that what we want?
    Todd McLellan won’t win a Stanley on his own, for it takes the efforts of everyone involved with the Oilers to do their jobs and get this team rolling in that direction. Let the man do his job, which he will, and hope that the remaining pieces will continue to be filled

  • NJ

    We are all a little bit crazy after 9 years of suck and then THIS happens (McAwesome and the changes)… However we are trying to limit the stupid on ON to the Flames fans who constantly troll us.