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.
A ‘Problem’ with top notch coaching is it exposes flaws in weaker players to a greater extent. @EdmontonOilers Todd McLellan showing that.
— Craig Button (@CraigJButton) October 14, 2015
— Mike Amos (@Mikey_Amos) October 14, 2015
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.
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.