The value of Todd McLellan’s reputation

Todd McLellan7

Since the dismissal of Tom Renney in the summer of 2012, the Edmonton Oilers have leaned exclusively on rookie head coaches. Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson joined the club with zero NHL head coaching experience, and when times were tough it was easy to wonder if a big part of the problem wasn’t the men behind the bench.

Todd McLellan, on the other hand, isn’t a rookie head coach; he’s been very successful in the NHL. That’s good, because it makes it much harder to scapegoat the guy behind the bench for the flaws of the roster.

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Craig Button’s NHL track record obviously dwarfs mine, which makes me a little leery about disagreeing with him, but his take doesn’t make a lot of sense. All great coaches at some point or other have to handle a roster littered with weak players, and in those cases the job is to get as much as possible out of those players. Exposing the flaws of a lousy roster is a good way to get fired miles and miles away from the NHL; hiding the flaws is the way to both win games and climb the professional coaching ladder.

(McLellan certainly has history in this regard. During his time in Detroit under Mike Babcock, for example, the Red Wings got some pretty heavy miles out of limited players. Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson were both fringe NHL’ers who had been cast aside by other teams; they blossomed into significant players in Detroit.)

What I do agree with is that it’s ridiculous to put the failings of this roster on coaching. Lots and lots and lots of coaches now have had problems with this roster; since Craig MacTavish stepped away none of them has lasted more than the two seasons that Renney did. When the Oilers failed under Krueger, Eakins and Nelson it was possible to plausibly complain that a rookie head coach just wasn’t getting the job done. McLellan isn’t perfect and he will make mistakes, but his track record is such that to lie this on the feet of coaching would be ridiculous.

The wins and losses should fall squarely on the shoulders of the Oilers’ NHL roster.

That’s a separate post in its own right, but early on the team has had a bunch of problems. The offence has gone missing, both at even-strength and on the power play, though I’m inclined to think that should right itself to at least some degree. Nelson had the power play functioning with this set of personnel and McLellan’s track record suggests he’ll get them going; there just may be an adjustment period. Goaltending has been excellent early; the Scrivens/Fasth issues which kneecapped the 2013-14 season have not been in evidence.

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Defence remains a disaster, as it has since Steve Tambellini dismantled Kevin Lowe’s competent group at the start of the Oilers’ rebuild. Matt Henderson (accurately) argued that we should see some improvement as veterans like Andrej Sekera adjust to their new surroundings, but even so there’s a lot of No. 5-7 defencemen being asked to take on important minutes.

It is, of course, early, and like Eakins before him McLellan seems to be treating the early season as a chance to tinker and experiment and assess. At some point soon he’ll make his decisions and go with the group that gives him the best chance of winning. We’ll also see players – both old and new alike – find a comfort level with the new staff.

But if things continue the way they’ve started, it’s going to be important not to scapegoat coaching because it should be abundantly clear that the real issues lie elsewhere.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • CaptainLander

    We are 3 games into the season playing on the road against some very good teams (2 anyways) with a brand new team.

    1) TM is “tinkering” given the number of changes and new coaching regime. It will take time.
    2) Pretty well everyone said we would not make the playoffs and a big part of the reason was a relatively new team/coaching which, by definition means “tinkering” will be part of the plan.

    Calm down, manage your expectations. Will they be better than 62 pts. Yes. Will they have > 95 to make the playoffs. No. Lets not make enormous changes until we know what we have an the tinkering is finished.

    I am not happy that we are 0-3 (like the Penguins for e.g.) but understand this new regime will take time to gel.

  • Harry2

    Constructive post.

    But we know the core accountability for this mess. It lies with Chiarelli. He chose not deal with the issue of the Oiler defense back in June. He did to not deal his over-rated offensive assets for real defensive quality. He did not buy out or release outright existing defensive that cannot play NHL defense, the NSF black hole. Worst of all, he trades Marincin for a stiff who only compounds the problems of a defense that cannot pass the puck and manage the game.

    What trades he does do only add more ineffectual 3/4 wingers. Ridiculous.

    He is on the verge of wasting another year of utterly dismal results. No doubt in my mind this team now goes zero for six.

    Who knows when they ever win a game.

    What assets this team has can’t be wasted by playing for a management that cares more about cap space, defending past personnel decisions and grinders over talent.

    Expect the worse. Chiarelli will dither. The team will be done before we get to November.
    Losing breeds losing. Does he not get that?

    Dallas transformed themselves within 2 years. Calgary has as well. Even Vancouver acquires actual players not garbage in this past off season.

    If he does not act very soon, forget this team. It does not deserve the fans it has.

    • Mike Krushelnyski

      It’s ridiculously harsh to lay the problems with the roster at Chiarelli’s feet.

      Nikitin, Scrivens, Purcell, Ference – that’s $14.5M in cap space, or 20% of the money the team is allowed to spend. Chiarelli had nothing to do with those contracts and would’ve traded them away in a heartbeat if he could have.

      You can’t fix 8 years of bad management in one summer.

      • Mike Krushelnyski

        Regardless of thier cap hit, they don’t need to play.
        They are functionally useless.
        Make them rot in the minors or press box for the rest of the duration of their contracts.
        Their cap space doesn’t impact Chiarelli’s ability to trade one of their $6 million a year over-rated forwards. We all know the culprits.

      • Dan 1919

        I cheer fir the Oilers.
        Being honest about the ineptitude of the management and obvious deficiency of the “core” I don’t apologize for.
        Most on this board “can’t handle the truth”.

  • Harry2

    the Stars had a hyper agressive two man for check with Defence pinching on almost every shift. The Stars forwards could go wherever they wanted in the Oilers zone at will. It was like watching a pee wee team bottled up in their own end and no hitting allowed. I likeGryba by the way because he is the only hitter we have.

    Perhaps a suggestion for Todd is change your breakout pattern to up through the middle. Throwing it into the wingers skates does not seem to be working. Send a sticky note to the forwards “start taking the man or you sit” Finally review the game tape but only show the Stars forwards “that is exactly what I want you to do”. WOW – we have the guys who could potentially play like Dallas’s top two lines, wouldn’t that be a treat. As they say, it’s a copy cat league.

    • cb28

      Not to blame Tmac, just some tongue in cheek comments about obvious areas to improve. The most obvious was Oilers, just do what the Stars did last night!

      For leaders on this team right now that can have the biggest impact on this season I have Tmac down as number 1. It takes time and relentless pressure to change culture. You can’t trade for it. Played exiting the organization do better, those coming in do worse. It’s the culture and I believe Todd M will have the biggest impact to turn it around.

  • Johnnydapunk

    It may be a bit early to be tooting this horn, but I don’t think the Oil have had a solid one and two in net since the days of Fuhr and Moog, both Nilsson and Talbot have been unreal and even acquiring Nilsson in a shock of a move could potentially be one of Chia’s best trades so far. Seriously a 0.941 save percentage after letting in 3 goals means a lot of shots were taken and stopped. I shudder to think how terrible it would have been with Scrivens and Fasth back there for the first three.

    I say all that as many are ragging on Chia already and if the goaltending is going to be what we have seen so far, that’s one thing fixed that needed fixing. The other issues he tried to address and made moves that I thought were fine, Sekera was/is a solid defenceman who just needs to adjust like Gryba and Reinhart. The defensive issues are magnified due to the lack of scoring which will come.

    The Oil have made more changes than anyone to address their issues and maybe the preseason got everyone too excited, as well as the external pressure as all the news is about McDavid and its like the Oil are a failure of they don’t become world beaters with him. It’s immense pressure right now and expectations need to be tempered.

    McLellan is a great coach, and his systems take time for,the team to get, there are a lot of players who haven’t had a coach like him in the NHL and adjustment takes time, everyone is accountable and no one gets a free pass which is new for the team. The scoring and defence will come, patience is all that’s needed.

    Bear in mind that the 50 million dollar man Babcock has yet to register a win with the Leafs as they are 0-2-1 and he is supposed to be what turns them into contenders. They are also in the east which is always a bit weaker, so even a great coach takes a bit of time to get the ship pointing the right direction. Least we don’t have the goaltending issues they do so far.

    I get annoyed at losing, but then I think that everything is going to be alright as its the first year of real change, the future of the Oil is pretty good.

  • cb28

    Its funny that guys on here think they have a better hockey mind than chiapete or Tmac! laughable at best! Please everyone calm down i know jumping off a cliff sounds like the right thing to do because season after season we have had to do that in hopes of raising enough emotion to get someone canned but there is nothing left to do here but either a) get better with what we have or b) start trading players for players. I dont believe that managment wants another losing season and things will start to materialize as players come available. Bandwagon jumpers are gonna jump but calm down its game 3

    • Mike Krushelnyski

      This needs to be the mantra of the Oilers fan, repeat as necessary – “I won’t freak out in the first 20 games, I won’t freak out in the first 20 games, I won’t freak out in the first 20 games”

        • bradleypi

          Exactly. I can totally see this team losing 5-6 games in a row. There’s no way this team can win 6 games in a row to get back to .500. I am not panicking but if this team stays together as is, this season is over end of October. Look at the last 3 years and prove me wrong……

        • MorningOwl

          wow, Oiler fans, really?

          2 weeks ago, it didn’t matter which nation site you were on, it was non-stop “welcome to the decade of McDavid Domination” and a few other variations of that – “happy McDavid Day”

          NEWS FLASH

          This team looks much better than last year’s version already, but if you expected to start the season with a 8-2 record in the first 10 and skate circles around other teams while jumping to a 100+ point season, you were and are delusional.

          Reasonable expectations:

          If the Oilers can jump from 27th to, say, 18th to 20th place, that would be a huge jump, and reasonable. Can you all not be happy with a significant jump like that, or, would you rather throw another season and tank for the next first over all if getting better still doesn’t include playoffs???? You really expect to jump from last place for years to playoffs overnight??????

          the new coach has a lot of bad habits to break, confidence to instill, proper defensive coverage to teach, and a number of youngsters to mentor and shelter, all while facing a western conference that has mostly gotten better in the off-season.

          calm down, give the team room to learn and grow, and at this stage of the season, get playoffs out of your head. when playoffs come, they will come.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    Thanks Jonathan. The obvious point of your article is that no amount of coaching is going to help this team.

    They’re just a bad team and they’re not going to get better until some key players start playing differently and some other mediocre players are replaced by Chiarelli.

    Taylor Hall: You are a great talented player but please stop with that “loser, hangdog hunched shoulder look,” after almost every shift. Like it or not, you are looked at as a leader on this team and that “look” rubs off on your teamates the wrong way!

    Nuge: Learn to win a faceoff!!! What’s this, your fifth year in the league playing centre? Stop playing like a little boy and work harder and smarter in the faceoff circle!

    Schultz: “Soft” is a word that should never describe an NHL defenceman. Why were you just standing there watching when Jamie Benn got into the face of your goaltender last night?? If “soft” is how you see yourself, go play in Switzerland.

    Yak: I love your enthusiam kid but please, please start using your brain once in awhile. There is no rule against using it in the game of hockey!

    As for the mediocre that should be replaced: Fayne, Purcell, Korpikoski, Ferrence, Letestu that list is far too long for a team that’s going to have any chance for success. That ball’s in your court Mr. Chiarelli, not your coach’s.

      • For Pete's Sake!

        Trades take time in today’s league. But I agree with you that Chia is going to have to do something major, soon or we’re going to have another lost season in Edmonton.

        • MorningOwl

          how would all you that are in agreement with this guy define “another lost season”?

          Does “anything short of playoffs” mean a lost season, even if the team finishes 10 places higher in the standings?

          if this team improves enough to end with 80-85 points, is that a lost season?

          please – all of you that are in agreement with the above, take a moment to define “lost season”

          • For Pete's Sake!

            Sorry Jeff, we can’t “calm down.” We’ve had nine “lost seasons” in a row and our patience as Oiler fans is running rather thin.

            And yes, we know we probably won’t make the playoffs. All we want is a team that’s competetive. At least fighting for a playoff spot at the all-star break.

            But if they keep laying stinkers like in Dallas last night, that ain’t gonna happen.

            BTW, how’s Calgary doing so far?? 😉

          • TKB2677

            What does the last 9 years have to do with this year? The team is not going to change overnight. this is year 1 just want to see progress through the season.

          • Oil City Roller

            Dude if you can’t see that the last nine years of stank hockey has nothing to do with the way people feel now then you are just being willfully blind. You can’t keep reseting the rebuild year to 1 at the start of every season. That is classic Oilers misdirection. The fact is this team has been “rebuilding” for nine years. They have sucked almost all the joy out of watching them and people are right to be frustrated. Nobody thought they were going to win the cup but they need to be substantially better than last year.

          • Serious Gord

            An amazing comment. Erasing history from ones decision making process is almost a guarantee that it will be repeated.

            I’m not saying that one should panic or call for firings or trades this early. But fans should and have put players and management on notice that dithering will not be tolerated when enough games/sample size has been achieved.

            Tmc does have a pretty impressive resume. That noted it needs to also be noted that some coaches do not mesh well with some teams and that coaches sometimes fail to evolve with the times (punch imlach, Barry melrose being two notable examples) I don’t think that either of those issues are currently a factor with tmc, but it’s early yet.

    • Randaman

      If no amount of coaching is going to fix what we have, then trade what we have.

      Don’t bother with the bottom six either. The problem is #4, #10, #16, oh and Schultz. Can’t forget about the ice cream man. Soft ice cream that is.

    • Randaman

      Yes, yes, yes! I believe the coaches are having these conversations and will have them over and over. I like the players, I would rather they turn around than be traded, but at some point, if the message is not heard then off you go.

    • CaptainLander

      Love how Oil fans seem to think other teams are lining up to trade their good players for Oiler “mediocre” players.

      Reality is a tough place to live in but unfortunately the only place to live in.

      • For Pete's Sake!

        I never said they should “trade” the mediocre players. I said they should “replace” them.

        With young enthusiastic guys from Bakersfield if neccessary, or if the opportunity arises trade one of our stars to replace some of these useless losers.

  • Jason Gregor

    I don’t think Button’s point was suggesting McLellan is purposely exposing his players, instead that when a coach instills proper tactics, the players who can’t play that way are exposed.

    McLellan plans on circling back to teach things again. He has said that many times this year, but if after 20 games players are still making the same mistake then it is clear they don’t get it, or they are unwilling to play the way he wants.

    Then changes will occur.

    • Randaman

      Deja vue . That’s sounds eerily like Eakins abandoning the swarm after players could not play that way with positive results . Do we have to wait that long again ?

  • Johnnydapunk

    First – if you idiots really think all Chiarelli needs to do to unload dead weight is pick up the phone and any team would gladly take Nikitin or Ference or whoever you’re certifiably crazy and forever banned from posting on this site. Do you really think he’s that stupid? “Oh jeez, i didn’t realize all i had to do was make a phone call and say pretty please”

    Second – Of course they know they have a weak defence, and if you can’t trade them you need to find a way to tweak out the best combination and performance you can. Is there a Cleary in this bunch? If you can’t get rid of them you only have one choice and that’s dance with the one you cam with.

    Third – if you had any allusions of the Oilers making the playoffs you almost as certifiable as the people in the first group.

    Four – if anyone ever compares anything we do with Vancouver’s current management of their talent we should be allowed to block said individuals

    Lastly, I’m assuming some of you on this post have actually played the game. If you have you know full well that changing systems and expectations takes time. We aren’t making the playoffs. If the Oilers aren’t playing a better system of hockey by the All Star break, then you can jump.

    • For Pete's Sake!

      So what are you saying, that the Oilers should just stand pat and hope for the best??

      I don’t think that’s what Chai was hired for. Katz could have saved some cash and kept McT as GM if standing pat is the plan.

      • TKB2677

        I don’t think Chiarelli is going to stand pat but it would have been stupid for him to walk into the job and start trading guys left and right before he knows the players and knows what he has. I suspect that he will watch the players for a bit, find out who he thinks he can win with then trade who he deems expendable.

  • A-Mc

    The Oilers may not win a game until either Saturday vs Calgary, or the following Wednesday vs Detroit. I dont see wins coming vs St. Louis or Vancouver right now.

    In the first 20 games, i could see the Oilers getting maybe 5 wins. That’s going to look pretty ugly. =(

    Hopefully something clicks w/ the guys, or some roster adjustments are made.

  • Oil City Roller

    For the most part I think that the under performing Oilers are suffering from a new system of play………which will correct itself after 5 to 10 games.

    These things take time but I for one would have liked to see Nelson help transition the team to TM. Something was lost in the shuffle and now it will take some time to fix this.

    If after 10 games we still cannot score……..then I think it’s time to worry. I’m going to chalk the game against Dallas as a one off. We were brutal and could not make or take a pass for some strange reason.

  • TKB2677

    We are now 0 wins and 5 losses in a row if you add on last two exhibition games against West clubs . Two contests (one exhibition) and last nights game we were brutal in to be honest . Optimism will grow out of positive results – as it should .

  • Admiral Ackbar

    C’mon people! The Oilers have played three games. Three games. The Dallas game was embarrassing, apart from Nielsen and McDavid, but I saw a lot of good things in the first two games. Yes, the defence remains the prime concern, but please stop panicking. It was always going to take some time for the new regime to change the culture of this team, especially with the brutal opening month the league handed them. I predicted 79 points, the lowest total I saw on these boards and I’m sticking with it.

  • The GM of St.L said yesterday that it’s easy to fire a coach the hard part is finding a better one to replace him with and now that we have Todd McLellan in place I see only player movement coming over the next three to four year hopefully soon very soon. Both PC and TM and even BN have proven themselves as top notch guys, we’ve made endless changes to the the bottom six, defence and goaltending it’s only fair and just to look at the only consistent element remaining that of course being the so called “core”.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    This team is being exposed for it’s human factors. I’m glad management can no longer be scapegoated. It’s the personalities on the team.

    They’re soft, they don’t work hard enough, they’re trying to be one man shows, not enough team cohesion.

    They obviously aren’t playing as a solid 5 man unit. Team defense is now the issue. Yesterday, outside of a few gaffs that didn’t cascade into the puck in the net (the first two goals against were all on the goaltender), I thought the D looked OK aside from Gryba being way too slow. This is of course for the first 2 periods, the whole team fell apart in the 3rd.

    The Oilers forwards are terribly soft on the boards. Too often the Oilers had absolutely no answer to zone-exit pressure. Hall is particularly bad for this (I know he was dealing with a bug yesterday).

    Puck support seems to be lost on this group. The D are required to make difficult exit passes that they aren’t capable of connecting on, the forwards aren’t supporting the puck and trying to stretch the play on every breakout. This needs to be remedied and TM I’m sure already sees it.

    Switch up Davidson with Reinhart and we’re good to go on D. The team D needs to improve. Goaltending is now looking average to above average.

  • MorningOwl

    Asking for trades after 3 games is…insane.

    How can you expect any coach, to turn around bad habits in 3 games?

    How can you expect players to learn everything about playing the right way in 3 games?

    Does that sound reasonable to anyone?

  • MorningOwl

    MacTavish was the best coach the Oilers had since Sather/Muckler. He got the best out of average NHLers and made them contenders. What would he have done if he had Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Hall and McDavid. He was a very under rated coach. He brought an average NHL roster to within 1 game of winning the Stanley Cup. I’m not sure if Todd McLennan has made it that far, even coaching the high end talent in San Jose

  • BobbyCanuck

    When I looked at the schedule, I thought a realistic start for the first 10 games would be 2-8 or at best 3-7…

    A realistic goal for the Oilers would be .500 for the season.

    Lets temper expectations, and realize we are playing a lot better than we did to start last year, lots of new players playing a new system. It will take more than 3 games for this team to figure out an identity

  • Admiral Ackbar

    Lots of people blaming the defence but honestly, the games have all been pretty tight so far. To me, our biggest weakness so far has been the lack of a sustained attack. Partly because of guys like Purcell, partly because it’s a rookie laden roster, and partly because of our blue line passing options. A few guys are going to benefit from experience, but mostly we’re going to need a bit of turnover. Purcell needs to go, Ference needs to go, the addition of a winger or two wouldn’t hurt, and Reinhart needs to get more reps.

    A few other futures are up in the air right now too, but I’ll save those conversations for later in the season after they’ve all had a chance to make a full impression.