Mclellan not happy with game management

Todd McLellan liked the play of a few players last night. He was impressed by Griffin Reinhart’s ability to always make the right play. He liked Justin Schultz’s play at EV, PP and on the PK, and was also impressed when Schultz uncharacteristically sped to the defence of Oscar Klefbom. McLellan wants this team to stand up for each other, and it was a step in the right direction.

However, McLellan went out of his way to point out one aspect his team must drastically improve.

“I didn’t think our game management was particularly good at
all,” said McLellan.

“Not understanding situations. Who is tired on the ice, who isn’t. Where
are we in a shift, where are we in a period. Situational play that has to
improve immensely for us to have success.

“We can talk about systems and all that stuff tomorrow, but moreso
we will spend some time reviewing situations. What are you reading? What are
you thinking? Why are we executing this way, when we should maybe be doing it
that way,” continued McLellan.

I’ve long believed the chatter about systems is overblown. Systems aren’t much different from one team to the next. There are few different types of forecheck and two or three different defensive approaches.

But how a player sees the game and reacts is often what creates mistakes and odd man rushes, not just the system.

In his brief time in Edmonton McLellan has stopped practice on many occasions to address a lack of focus, but more often he stops it to discuss why a player did what he did. It becomes a conversation between the coach and player.

He doesn’t just tell the players to be in this position or that position. He explains WHY they need to be there.

He went out of his way in the post game presser last night to discuss game management. He wasn’t happy with it. He wasn’t mad or upset, but he wanted it to be known his team didn’t think their way through the game very well.

Those habits will take some time to change, but McLellan seems determined to make it happen.

Last season, we discussed how often the Oilers just gave the puck away. They would pass it to the wrong spot, or move it when they weren’t pressured. They made plays that other teams simply didn’t make, and after listening to McLellan he is determined to ensure his team learns how to manage the game better. They have skill, but they need to combine that with smarts and determination.

McLellan has a reputation of teaching his players, more than just coaching them. He won’t be able to fix all the mistakes right away, but I’m curious to see how differently this team plays in game 40 compared to opening night.

If we watch closely, I suspect we will see a significant difference in how they attack, when they attack and where they attack.

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  • It was just one meaningless preseason game, but I feel it should be said again. The way Schultz played last night was shocking. I really do hope he keeps it up and is more engaged in the game. He deserves props until its a more regular part of his game.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    Coaching will probably be the biggest game changer for the Oilers this year.

    I don’t know when the last time was that I’ve had such a confident feeling about the coaching on this team.

    Maybe not since John Muckler left.

    • wiseguy

      You know what is refreshing? The coach says things during a scrum that reporters/bloggers and fans repeat and discuss for a few days because it is a new thought (at least around here), makes sense to all of us, and he commands our respect and attention. If he can do this to us, he definitely will have the player’s attention as well.

      Eakins lost the respect when he started talking about fitness, removing memorabilia, and seemed to repeat management and media talking points. The exception was the swarm, which didn’t work out well in retrospect especially when he started blaming the players for not understanding the basics of hockey.
      The warning is that until the wins/losses start adding up, it’s difficult to know if anything McClellan does will work but he at least has a great NHL track record to earn him our trust.

      • Anton CP

        Memorabilia, donuts, ping pong, tough intense practices – you name it, he removed it. He replaced it with ‘wear spandex shorts, join AF every morning at 6am to work out in a way that really has nothing to do with hockey, listen to me as I’m the coach and I know better, ride a mountain bike and ditch your car/truck, and don’t trash talk me or I will bench you.’ Smid and Bryzgalov both commented on the lack of intensity at his practices; he was always looking to the sky and flicking his rapidly thinning hair and initially talked the talk. He was soon caught out – probably after the fist 5 games. Why he was kept around for 1 1/2 seasons is WAY beyond me. Krueger was good, but inexperienced, Renney was excellent but not demanding enough, Quinn was a red faced blusterer during his tenure (and who can blame him) and Todd Nelson was good but also inexperienced. The last head coach who really had control of the team was MacT back in 2006 – he had the players and the balls to make it work and I think Todd McLellan will do wonders with this group, and pretty soon.

        • Anton CP

          Due to the failure of his short GM tenure that MacT was largely ridiculed for his performance. If MacT wasn’t over-promising and makes ridiculous comment then maybe he won’t get this much disrespected from fans. However when MacT was the coach for this team that he did a great job (other than his goalies decisions) to keep the Oilers matter with lackluster rosters.

  • freelancer

    It’s been said a few dozen times by many posters on this site but it is promising to hear McLellan talk like this. This is a key issue this team has had for years and I can’t remember the last time I heard an Oilers coach articulate this.

    • kranger

      Agreed, I don’t want to be beating the same drum either but some of the sound bites coming from McLellan make me extremely happy. He is exactly the right guy to mold these kids into complete players.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I’ve been saying all summer (*smugface*) that McLellan’s coaching will potentially have the biggest impact this season. Adding McDavid, Sekera, Reinhart, et al. is all well and good, but it means nothing if the team doesn’t have direction.

    Listening to McLellan speak about the game really illustrates how terrible Eakins was.

  • 916oiler

    Remember when the media mob made excuses for Eakins?

    Cristoffer? looked good last night, he seems to understand the game well. A little work and I think he could develop into a solid bottom forward.

  • pkam

    Really great article.
    I’m really starting to like McLellan.
    As a fan base we will need to remain patient but as Gregor suggests by game 40 I’m sure this team will have turned the corner and will have become a club that plays >.500. The last half of the season should be fun.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I’m getting so tired of picking on Dallas Eakins. He had 4 skaters and a tonne of garbage to work with. Chopping wood and carrying water was as good a place to start as any. How could he have been expected to maintain credibility in the room when the same GM who hired him was handing out Norris trophys to his worst defender while working the phones to ride the best one had out of town? You can’t tell players that good play will be rewarded when your boss is telling you to make Jultz look like a star. Remember the center depth that MacT had the gall to saddle him season? How can he be blamed for the team’s fortunes when he didn’t even have a team to work with?

    • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

      The fact that, in a year and a half of him “coaching”, I saw him speak to the players on the bench twice. And one of those times was to berate Hall for getting water on him. That’s not coaching.

    • CMG30

      Good for you! It’s fashionable on this site to talk about Eakins as if he was the worst coach in history but the reality is much more complex.

      Eakins was a rookie coach stuck with a team that had terrible defense and who had the misfortune of obtaining the worst goaltending in the league. You’re completely right when you point out that the GM had no interest in improving the team when the problems surfaced. In fact, one suspects that Eakins was not tasked with winning hockey games and was instead tasked with ‘teaching’ thus the lack of urgency in training camp and the slow pace in practices.

      None of this should be taken to say that Eakins was a fantastic coach, his flaws are well documented and we’re extremely lucky to have landed TMac as a replacement. Still, Eakins was not as bad a some on this site like to portray him, especially as many of those who do continue to trash Eakins were incensed by his presence the moment he was hired.

        • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

          Have to agree – he will go down in history as the worst ever Oilers’ coach. I said it once and will sat it again – he talked his way into the job and coached his way out of it. He should have been fired LONG before his 18 months. In future, any teams interested in him should be told “buyer beware.” I feel so sorry for the AHL Gulls.

      • Anton CP

        I firmly believe the only possible reason Eakins was hired and retained for almost 2 years was he was the logical candidate to enable the possibility of drafting McDavid in 2015….. Excellent example of long term planning

  • This Schultz “aggression” will be like me on a diet. It will last about a week and then be back to the same as the last 10 years.

    You cant teach aggression. A player either has it in them or they don’t. If the Oilers want to be a more aggressive team that sticks up for each other then some player changes are required.

  • TKB2677

    The Oilers have a coach that wants to teach his players habits that win hockey games in the NHL. What a novel idea. For too many years the Oilers players thought they could beat teams by out skilling them which isn’t possible. This is LONG, LONG overdue for this team. The Oilers players have probably learned more in the last week then they have in years.

  • TKB2677

    I can’t help but think the biggest change here is having a manager unafraid of hiring someone who might sound smarter than himself. There is no way Todd gets consideration with any of the old clowns. We would have another AHL coach for yet another development year if any of the three previous bozos were still in charge.

  • Anton CP

    Eakins successes in AHL with Marlies was largely due to he was coaching a bunch of underachievers. Leafs did not have many prospects in their AHL teams, they had lots of AHL vets which playing in AHL is the only professional rank that they can actually be in. The W/L column is not what AHL’s parent team concern about, they were mostly care about their prospect’s development.

    Like I said many times before, Eakins maybe can do well if he is coaching a veteran team, but the Oilers were largely not a team of seasonal vets. His gimmick failed to work because most of the rosters did not understand how Eakins wants them to executing it. The focus on fitness is also something that is more served to seasonal vets, youngsters cannot be unfit and still makes to NHL. The whole Eakins experiment were a whole lot waste of time because they had the wrong coach.

  • Anton CP

    The space between the players ears is still rather empty or muddled . Eakins did little to change their ways , hopefully McLellan will have better luck . If not , look for some major changes (trades,etc.) perhaps in makeup of top 9 . Hit the delete button boys , back to basics and using the cranium .

  • Anton CP

    Eakins probably gets too much of the blame but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t awful. Of course MacT made terrible decisions and some of the players did not get it done. FWIW Quinn also appeared to be totally lost. Neither Renney nor Krueger deserved to be canned and Nelson did a fine job but the chance to get an experienced, successful coach like McLellan could not be passed up.
    Like other posters I think it’s going to take some time for TM to change the culture of this club but the players who don’t make that change will be playing somewhere else before the season is over.

  • toprightcorner

    One thing I always noticed when the Oilers played the Sharks is how the Sharks rarely put themselves in a position to have tired guys out there that could give up a goal. You would often see guys change off while they had pressure in the Oilers zone and would even switch an entire line with continued pressure. This prevents tired player defending if they lost the pressure and I always though McClellan was smart in doing this.

    I hope our players learn to read the game as a team and to make the best decisions according to the team. That is how you win as a team.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Compare the above with the following Eakinism

    “I want to be able to push the pace as high as we can with our speed, skill, physicality and fitness level. When we have the puck, we want to challenge the other team. When we don’t have it, we want to push the pace again to get it back as quickly as possible”

    One coach preaches think then do.

    The other run around like a chicken with your head cut off and just go get the damn puck .. . .kind of swarm like.

    Wow … I wouldn’t want Eakins coaching my son’s one on one basement small stick rug hockey team!

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I was never a huge Eakins fan….but let’s face it, he had a horrible team. Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman wouldn’t have coached those teams into the playoffs. But I recall all kinds of hype about a new coach and more bottom tiered Defensemen coming in when he was hired, and Ference and Nikitin and Belov were introduced.

    The sad fact for me as an Oilers fan, is the “rebuild” was constructed ass-backwards. They still don’t have a bona fida #1 goaltender. They still don’t have a bona fida #1 or #2 defenseman. Rather, they have a bunch of kids that scored lots in junior playing the wing, and thus gave us many years in the toilet. The bright spot is RNH and McDavid up the middle for the next decade, but they STILL don’t have a horse on the blueline.

    Entry level contracts have come and gone. McDavid is entering year one, and with this defensive corps, it is another year out of the playoffs. There is a small flicker of hope with Nurse on the horizon, but that is still years away. Toews and Kane entered the league in 2007-08 and won the Cup in 2009-10….because they had previously drafted Keith/Seabrook/Barker/Hjalmarsson. They weren’t fed to the wolves like Hall/Ebs/Nuge/Yak have been.

    I hate to sound like Debbie Downer, but the sad reality is our blueline is paper thin, in a rough and tumble Western Conference. A coach can only do so much…the quality of players on the ice is what increases wins, and reduces losses. It is a step in the right direction with the management changes, and a good coach, but unfortunately the structure of the team is still awry, and will once again be our downfall this year. I hope Chiarelli can make some moves either at the deadline or next summer to alter the current setup. As you can see from the standings the last 9 years, the current concept does not work.

    • The nice thing for CMD is that the team has Sekera/Reinhart/Klefbom/nurse all here to insulate. Nurse and Reinhart may be a year away from being real contributors, but that’s a much better situation than the one Hall came into.

  • Joy S. Lee

    I get the impression that a lot of the Oilers’ players are saying things like, “oh, really?,” or “I didn’t know that,” or, “I never thought of it like that,” or, “oh, hey, yeah!” around McLellan’s teachings.

    I’ll bet they are getting to bed early because this new guy seems to expect them to think the game well, and that takes energy and commitment, and understanding both individual and team concepts.

    Coaching in the 2000’s has changed the way the game is played, and from what we’ve observed there is little doubt that the Oilers got left behind in that regard. Combined with the depth of the team… there’s just no wonder why this club was battling for 2nd or 3rd last instead of 2nd or 3rd.

    Fact of the matter is, there’s more talent here now. There’s better coaching. How fast they climb the ladder is pretty much entirely up to the players, now. I’m pretty sure it won’t be easy, but it likely will involve a progression. Hopefully they inject the same coaching styles, methods, and expectations organizationally to transition from bottom-feeder to competitive to champion, and then it can be maintained because it is organizational. But let the players figure it all out, first. It will be interesting to see the Oilers as a team playing as intelligent a game as their opposition for once. Or, dare I imagine them playing a MORE intelligent game? Ok, one mountain at a time…