Though opinions are pretty split on the amount of responsible the Oilers head coach should take for yet another lost season in Edmonton, it’s clear that Todd McLellan could very well find himself (rightly or wrongly) out of a job in a few short weeks.
Many areas which the team has struggled mightily in this year — lack of secondary scoring, less-than-average goaltending, no firepower on the wings, everything about Milan Lucic — all fall squarely on GM Peter Chiarelli’s shoulders. Other factors such as the team’s 31st and 30th ranked powerplay and penalty kill, a bottom five-ranked team GAA, a hesitancy to pull the trigger on in-game adjustment and questionable defensive schemes all fall on the head coach.
Whichever side of the fence you’re on, it’s obvious that McLellan’s days in Edmonton may be coming to an abrupt end. Last week, we took a glance at NHL options available to take over behind the Oilers bench pending the departure of their current HC.
This time, we look at some potential suitors waiting for an NHL opportunity out of the NCAA and AHL.
Sheldon Keefe — AHL Toronto Marlies
Keefe is currently the bench boss of the Toronto Marlies and has seen unparalleled success in the AHL over the past three seasons. Widely considered the most NHL-ready coach outside of the league, Keefe posted a combined record of 96-45-10 (.750%) with a plus-141 goal differential in his first two campaigns with the Marlies after a successful run with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
This season, Keefe has the Marlies in first place overall and has been a key component in transforming the Maple Leafs development system and into one of the NHL’s best. He knows how to make young players tick and, with Mike Babcock locked in with the big club in Toronto for the foreseeable future, the opportunity to lock up Keefe is open to the Oilers along with any other NHL squad that wants to take a run at the highly-coveted coaching prospect.
Jim Montgomery – NCAA University of Denver
Trying to follow in the footsteps of Philadelphia Flyers bench boss Dave Hakstol — the only current HC to jump straight from the NCAA to the NHL — Montgomery has done nothing but win since taking over at Denver in 2013-14. The Pioneers made the NCAA tournament each of Montgomery’s first five seasons, including the school’s first Frozen Four berth in 2016 and a national championship in 2017.
Aside from the unmatched team success he’s enjoyed at Denver, Montgomery has had an important hand in the development of several future and current NHLers including Will Butcher, Danton Heinen Troy Terry and Henrik Borgstrom and has his finger firmly on the pulse of today’s style of player.
David Quinn – NCAA Boston University
He’s one of only two coaches to lead the Terriers since 1973, taking over for the legendary Jack Parker for the 2013-14 season after serving a year as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche and three campaigns as a head coach in the AHL.
Despite holding one of the most comfortable and secure coaching positions one could have in all of hockey, rumours and speculation of Quinn’s potential jump to the NHL continue to linger — and rightfully so. On top of boasting a winning percentage no lower than .603 in any season since 2014, Quinn has helped develop such current and future NHL talents as Jordan Greenway, Brady Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Evan Rodrigues and Jack Eichel in the last four years alone.
Todd Nelson – AHL Grand Rapids Gryphons
This name will sounds familiar to fans in Edmonton, as Nelson was the last guy to man the bench before prodigious talent Connor McDavid arrived. Taking the reigns from a freshly-axed Dallas Eakins midway through the 2014-15 season, Nelson posted a respectable 17-22-7 record despite the tumultuous atmosphere surrounding the team he inherited.
Separating his brief stint at the helm in Edmonton during that lowly season, Nelson remains a top two or three bench boss in the AHL and one of the most highly-regarded NHL coaching prospects. Two years ago, Nelson lead the Griffins to their second Calder Cup title and became just the third in history to win the AHL title as an assistant coach, head coach and player. Though he makes a great candidate (assuming the Red Wings don’t scoop him up after their tire-fire of a season), this one might be a long shot if Peter Chiarelli is still making the decisions, as Nelson was passed over in favour of Todd McLellan for the team’s HC gig when the job last opened up.
Part three will look at trap-candidate options the Oilers should avoid at all costs.