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Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Replacing Todd McLellan P2: Non-NHL options

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.

  • Anton CP

    Nelson deserves to have a job in NHL but he maybe a hot commodity as soon as calender hits April. Since no coaches have been fired yet that you will be expecting tons of axes fallen.

  • Jerri Kurli

    Pretty opinionated article. How does “everything about Milan Lucic, solely fall on Peter Chiarelli”. Is it not the coaches job to get the players to play. Lucic is a good player at what he does, he has had an awful 2018 after a pretty strong start. Lucic has been a PP specialist throughout his career – where a large chunk of his points come from. When the special teams are amongst the worst in the league, those numbers suffer tremendously….. even Connor McDavid, the worlds best player barely has any PP points. I’m not sticking up for Chiarelli , but to put players poor performances on him is wrong and eneducated as far as I’m concerned. The special teams, and player performances, and the fact the can’t play a full 60 minutes to save their life rest entirely on the coaching staff and players. There were definitely depth issues this year, however there are teams in the playoff fold at this very moment that don’t have the talent the Edmonton Oilers do. This years Oilers underachievers. Plain and simple.

    • Natejax97

      It is almost crazy to look at Winnipeg and how they turned it around without really overturning their roster or their staff. Yes Kyle Connor is really good, and their goaltender figured it out, but that team missed the playoffs 12 months ago. I would say that they underachieved last year. Say hello to the Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadians, Ottawa Senators and the New York Rangers, and you might as well add in the Dallas Stars as teams that significantly underachieved this year, based on expectations. Each of those teams have their underperforming players, it’s not always the GM’s fault. They are all guilty of over-signings and poor trades.

      • JayTee

        The thing with Winnipeg is that most of their roster is homegrown (Scheifele, Laine, Connor, Ehlers, Copp, Lowry, Roslovic, Hellebyuck, Morrissey, Trouba, Little, Enstrom, Chiarot). They added key pieces in Wheeler, Byfuglien, Hendricks, Armia, Dano, Kulikov, Matthias, Myers, Stastny, Perrault through FA and Trades. Outside of Chicago, those other 5 teams can’t say that. The Jets did it the right way.

    • polarcap

      IMO the Lucic issue is at the core of the oils problem this year. Which is a leadership issue. When he was put with Drai or McD they deferred to him to the detriment of team results. With the Strome line he is becoming the leader in as much as he is mentoring JP. Last game there was a lot of communication between the two. Lucic wasn’t really part of it. All of the chances were coming from them. Lucic is and was a warrior, having put up 800 hard games. He is proud and wants to be a leader, but the young guns have tuned him out. Those like Stauffer and Louis DeBrusk who are forecasting a major turn around, need to look at how many 31 year olds with the miles on him that he has will rebound. Was TMac deferring to PC or was he acting on his own instincts. If PC is calling the shots, changing TMac things won’t change. Sadly, in the case of Lucic its addition by subtraction.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      100% agree. Lucic has won every hockey trophy in every league he has played. To your point is an excellent PP specialist. I seem to remember when Lucic was a free agent, that he was the most coveted in that off-season. Many teams toured him through their cities in hopes of him signing with them. When the Oiler’s landed him, most Oiler Fan’s were very excited that the team would not be pushed around any more.
      In fact, I think this year he wanted to work on his 5X5 scoring to make them a bit more even? I have put the problems with this team clearly on the coaching staff. As it is them that have caused the worst Special Teams in league history & lack of production.
      Wow, McDavid has 99 points as I write this. Only 17 of those are pp points. Think about that? He could be in Gretzky’s range if this team had a PP. The eastern scribes wouldn’t bother even asking who is better between him & Crosby anymore…
      I digress… I’d like to see Ted Nolan as the new Head Coach. He is a great developer & motivator, with fantastic systems. Check his record?

      • Glencontrolurstik

        Sorry Polar, my “100% agree” is with Jerry. With you I disagree. For whatever reason (I think injury) Lucic has under performed this year. I can’t believe he is done so suddenly. He’s better than 35 points a year, I have to believe that.

    • crabman

      People are blaming Chiarelli for Lucic for the mere fact that he was brought in by Chiarelli. For better or worse he is Chiarelli’s pick and he is not playing well. I think some of that is on Chiarelli for investing so much on a player type that is less and less useful in today’s NHL. But I believe that Lucic will have a bit of a bounce back season next year. He is better than how he has played this year and a professional like Lucic will work on everything he can and come back better next year.

      All that said where does anyone get the idea Lucic is or ever was a pp specialist? He was known for his gritty play and even strength production. Over his entire career he scores 20.6% of his points on the pp. Last year was an anomaly when he scored 50% on the pp and 25% of his entire careers pp points. Take that out and only 17.2% of his career points have come on the pp.
      For comparison of the 10 forwards this year with 49-50 points, Lucic’s career average, only 2 players score less on the pp. And of the 10 leading scorers in the league only 1, Connor McDavid 17.2%, score less than 29% of their points on the pp.
      For someone who has received as much pp time over his career Lucic is actually a bellow to poor pp performer.

    • Magicaleigh

      Lucic has historically not been a PP specialist. The only season where he’s been a weapon on the PP was his first in Edmonton. His career high in points on the PP outside of last season’s 25, was 14. He’s failed to crack 10 PP points in 7 different seasons.

    • SSB1963

      And be replaced by who? Before he came we were all crying because the owner(s) didn’t have deep pockets and we kept losing players because we couldn’t compete financially with other teams. I don’t know where people are coming from with this owner.

  • Chris Prongers Rake

    Todd McClellan isn’t going any where, the players haven’t played up to ability and if he was being fired they aren’t replacing him with a coach with no NHL experience. Stupid article, it anything Chiarelli should be the one on the hot seat.

      • SSB1963

        Really? We went from smallish and fast to big and slow in a game that keeps on getting faster. And add to that the contracts being handed out hand cuff what he can now do.

    • Dan 1919

      I enjoyed seeing who the up and coming coaches are. Part 1 of the article was NHL coach candidates, this is part 2 with non-NHL coach candidates. I don’t think K. Cantlon defended Chiarelli anywhere either and suggested he shouldn’t be on the hot seat. Overall your comment was kind of stupid, not the article.

  • oilfan4ever

    You say it I obvious that TM’s tenure may be coming to an abrupt end. Obvious to you perhaps but I have to really wonder where you got the info to make such a slanted comment. This site should do better.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      1/ Worst PK in league history.
      2/ 2nd last PP in the league.
      3/ McDavid with 17 PP points.
      4/ Key players not developing.
      5/ Refusal to play McDavid & Nugent-Hopkins together for whatever reason?
      6/ Playing Yamamoto for 9 games at the begining of the season, with no intention to carry it further waisting a roster spot for an up & comer.
      7/ Constantly shuffling lines mid-game, never allowing chemistry to grow between players. Or paying attention to what works & what doesn’t.
      8/ etc. etc.
      I’m not sure what other info you need to make this not a coaching problem?
      Anybody else? I’ve missed a ton of coaching issues? add-on.

      • NoBuBlackOPS

        I agree with 1 2 3 5 and most of 7.What key players aren’t developing? There’s was nothing wrong with playing Yamo for 9 than sending him back he was not ready. Why burn a year of his ELC if he’s not ready better to send him to the WHL. We will need value contracts he potentially is one for us for three years now not two.

      • RJ

        I’d say the way they handled Puljujarvi. Don’t tell me he has to earn his spot since Lucic has one goal since Christmas, that Letestu and Cammellari aren’t back with the team and Puljujarvi sits behind them even when he outplayed them.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          Yamamoto was never ready for NHL time, the coaching staff knew that, everyone could see that. He was just a “hey, check out this guy” move that should have ended after training camp was over. To give Slepy, Pullijarvi, Strome and other players that had a fair shot to be on the team development. Yamamoto was an experiment that shouldn’t have carried into the regular season taking away opportunities. That was the first mistake made when the season started. It cost us.
          The players mentioned above, I guess weren’t good enough to move forward with? At least that’s the message the coaching staff sent. Training camp I get, even maybe a call-up mid season due to injury maybe. But burning 9 games at the beginning of the season showing that he maybe a possible starter, when they had no intention to do that. That’s a problem. And not conducive to team chemistry. He was never ready & everyone knew it. Fun to watch though, but not yet.

    • JimmyV1965

      He didn’t say Tmac will obviously be fired. He said its obvious there is a chance that he’s fired. Of course this is true. Reading comprehension my friend. It’s a thing.

  • Rhino

    Power play and pk were awful. Lucic was on the top 2 lines for far too long when it was obvious he was struggling to produce. And it’s mind boggling that it seemed obvious to everyone except Tmac to play Nuge with Connor before the season slipped away. These are coaching issues!

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Absolutely, and I invite you to read some hockey news in the San Jose papers back in the day. Pretty much the same problem. Look at the stack of talent they had. They get rid of TMac & finally make it out of the conference the next year.

  • GK1980

    “Whichever side of the fence you’re on, it’s obvious that McLellan’s days in Edmonton may be coming to an abrupt end.”

    Huh? Since when? I would say there is an 80% he is here to start next year. In other words I don’t think he is going anywhere.

    • RJ

      He has been terrible for the better part of three seasons. The PP has been consistently awful with the exception of one miraculous game last season where they scored 5 PP goals in a game. Other than that he’s been Eakins level bad. And that’s with a superstar on the roster.

      • jultz=2cups!??

        Lol. Didn’t the oilers almost win the division last year? And were one game away from the WCF?? How quickly oilersnation forgets. I think you guys need a break from the oilers or something. And what’s up with the earlier comments about Lucic being a “powerplay specialist” earlier in his career?? Wtf are you guys on?? ????. This site has turned into comedy gold! You can’t make this stuff up! Oh wait! Yes you can. You guys make stuff up every day to get mad about. “3 terrible seasons”….. unbelievable

        • Oil DAWG

          Oilers lost so Jultz boots up his computer in his Moms basement and gets back to trolling in the dark!! Classic Jultz… of course he’s nowhere to be seen when they win. CLASSIC JULTZ… a classic turd!!

          • jultz=2cups!??

            Fairweather oilersnation thinks I’m not a fan and a troll because I disagree with the nonsense you guys spout on a daily basis. Great insults by the way. You’ll get lots of cheers. I know because I hear the same ones every week. And I was here all year after oilers wins while you guys were all whining about Lucic, talbot and Benny. Now the oilers are eliminated and you guys are getting excited about wins. Lol. Classic oilersnation. Are you one of the guys that think rattie DESERVES a contract after 5 games of riding Connors coat tails?? I read that doozy earlier and laughed and laughed and laughed. You and classic oilersnation never disappoint. Too funny! ??

  • Spoils

    to me the fault lies in Chiarelli, big time. I’d fire todd as soon as the season ends. let a new GM roll into town. and allow that GM to decide Todd’s fate.

    sure maybe we tip the scales of luck back and make the playoffs next year, but there’s a difference between making the playoffs and contending.

    we need to make some more moves to get to that upper echelon, and I don’t trust pistol pete.

    do you?

  • RJ

    Since McDavid took back the scoring lead, there’s a good possibility he wins back to back Art Ross Trophies. That hasn’t happened in 20 years and the only ones who have done it in the past 40 years are now Hall of Famers. For McDavid to do it in year 2 and 3 of his career just shows how special a player he is.

    Having said that, how the Oilers can have the 31st ranked PP has to fall on the coaches. Watch them do the same weak plays on the PP every game, and it’s clear they’re coached to play that way. McLellans calling card was elite offensive systems. It’s been a bust.

    The only real question to me is who is the best coach to mould these young players into an elite team. It sure isn’t McLellan by watching him be in love with Letestu, Cammellari.

    • LAKID

      There will be movement and Bobby Nik said as much in recent interviews. The one who hired Chia that cost a second round pick and the fact that Boston would not do business with Chia at the draft and gave Hamilton to Calgary for less is a question mark. The fact that Chia traded away picks for Rheinhart based on Oiler info that he should have done his homework on. Hall had to go but a better return or support system for Hall should have been provided. The Lucic deal will probably be what Chia is fired for and last summer when he did not use the cap space to make the team better. Chia also gave up a 4th round pick for Montoya when it could have been a 5th. The problem once again seems to be at the top. Bobby Nik should not be worried about a burger named after him and once again bringing in Old Oiler’s. The problem is obvious. Bobby Nik should fire his staff and then Chia and then resign. The writing is on the wall when the coach states there will be no more power play units and will just run 5 on 5.

  • Arfguy

    Every team I watch play this year, seems to be able to play an up-tempo game. I have no way to verify, as there are no statistics to back-up what I am about to say, but every team seems to look like they are skating harder and faster. Things appear chaotic and even terrible teams like Arizona and Buffalo look like a threat to score.

    I watched last night’s game and the Oilers looked slow. The third period, they may as well have stopped skating and just stood around. It was due to standing around that the overtime goal went in. A team with McDavid should not appear slow, yet here we are.

    If there is a coaching change, I would hope that the point would be to play a faster, up-tempo game. I never believed that the Oilers looked fast last year. They looked slow, but they found ways to win. This year, they just look slow and it is magnified by the disappointment of the season.

    • Randaman

      Actually, they did stop skating. They weren’t slow in period 1 & 2. Cherry pick some more why don’t you.they aren’t slow, they just play slow when they lose interest.

        • Arfguy

          Agreed with Leo Tard and vehemently disagree with Randaman. Using the eye test will show how slow this team is. Yes, when they get lost in their own zone and starts chasing, they look slower. However, this team is one of the slower one on any given night. I’m also not talking about skating speed. They cannot process information fast enough. There are so many times I have seen this team have the puck on their forehand and the opposing team closes the gap to deflect pucks or block the pass.

          This team is slow. They need to get faster.

  • Serious Gord

    No way the oil should take a flyer on an unproven coach. Katz has the dough and the time is Now for the oil to get into the playoffs and advance on the cup.

    If there is to be a change at HC it should be for the best coach money can buy.

    • Leo Tard

      This team has too many holes. Playoffs possibly, but cup? Not a chance Gord. Not anytime soon. Pc boxed himself in, and unless someone waives an NMC, there will be zero major changes. This team clearly needs to fill the AHL roster in order to build depth, and add an NHL caliber forward, defenceman, and a back-up goalie before the team contends. Give it two years and 5h3 team may once again contend.

  • toprightcorner

    Nope, Nope and Nope. With the current lot of coaches available to hire, no improvement will be made with a change. tippet is probably the best coach of the bunch, but his style is the opposite of the way the Oilers need to play.

    If Queinville gets fired, then that should be considered. Other than that, I don’t see much for potentially fired coaches that would be an upgrade.

    If McLellan can get on the same page as PC adn stop being so stuborn, things will take a big step forward next year. The first think PC should tell McLellan is that special teams is garbage and the defensive transition style is lacking speed and forward momentum, those at the responsibilities of you assistants and they need to go. If McLellan fires them, it shows he is loyal to his team and not his people.

    • Leo Tard

      The coach will not be fired 20 games into the season. It’s summertime or not at all…pretty hard to find a real good replacement once the season has started. The good coaches have long been hired by then. If you start season with tmac, you would prolly need to wait till a different coach is fired to get a decent replacement. Unless you want Mact to replace…

        • Hemmercules

          No way, Let Jultz stay. I think its hilarious that he finds himself so funny and intelligent. He’s like this guy in my hockey league, this total loser that makes lame jokes all the time but he thinks he’s soooo hilarious that it actually makes you laugh. More at him than with him but funny none the less. Another funny thing about Jultz is that he’s actually right sometimes and it pisses people off so bad. Trollers gonna troll, he will just change his name and come back if you ban him.

    • gr8haluschak

      Yeah I mean instability of an arena, the ability to pay star players, and a farm system but yeah let’s go back to the Oilers investors group days, how about this if you hate how the team in being run then do not buy tickets and find another team to talk about.

  • Big Nuggets

    I’ve got time for Nelson. NHL experience is nice but might be overrated a bit. Especially if the game is changing for more speed like everyone claims it is, the old defensive coaches might be outdated. Of course the game in actuality, probably changes a lot slower than people like think and last year Ottawa did quite well playing team defense.
    In any case I like Nelson. I think he he got passed on by the Oilers because he is not as articulate and doesn’t handle the media as well as other coaches, but I think he knows what he’s doing.

  • TKB2677

    If McLellan does get fired, I don’t see a scenario where they are rolling the dice on a unproven AHL guy. They tried that with Eakins when he was the “up and coming guy” not in the NHL and it was a disaster. Granted the team wasn’t that good but still Eakins was a joke.

    • TKB2677

      I tend to agree with you. The players seem to be playing hard for McLellan still which is good to see. The players keep talking about this season being a one off. Whether or not that is actually the case, remains to be seen. The roster isn’t perfect and needs some tweaking. But in saying that, if Talbot was giving the Oilers good goaltending like he is now vs the 3/4 of the season where he sucked, even with all the roster problems we fans think there are, they are probably right in the hunt if not in the playoffs. Go down the list of all the playoff teams, even the ones that have been at the top all year. Give them the goaltending the Oilers got for most of the season, are they in the playoffs? Probably not.

      I do not know if keeping McLellan is a good idea or not. But as you said, I can see them keeping him with an entirely new assistant coaching staff. I could see a scenario where there is an assistant who if they falter could step in and do the HC job. There is no one on the Oilers current assistants capable of taking the HC job even for a short term.

  • hammer313

    I do think that McClelland should be gone, along with the assistants. If you look at the San Jose sharks under his coaching, they were good. Now was that his coaching or the sheer amount of talent on that club. They still are very good and playoff bound. With less talent, the coaching staff has struggled to put in place anything that would work. Last year was…even a blind squirrel….you know how it goes. Also, because of the lack of talent to work with, I would fire Chia, as well, much of the responsibility is on him, as well. I also don’t trust him to make another trade or pick a coach.

  • Takko_Tuesday

    Even Mcdavid’s comments after the LA(?), game regarding his gelling with Nuge, may have shown his frustration with the coaching …we do mix our lines up quite a bit, it’s nice to play with someone for awhile and build some chemistry…

  • El Connor mcdaddy

    Our track record of hiring a non NHL coach has been pretty poor. And i think that any smart Oiler fan should be calling for three other heads before we call for Todd’s. Woodcroft, and Johnson need to be gone. they both control the powerplay, and the penalty kill which were both historically awful this season. also yes Todd has put out some questionable line combos, (Caggulia a top six winger) but its not like Pistol Pete has helped Todd much at all this season. If Oiler fans are willing to give Chirelli a redemption season, then i think Todd gets one without Woodcroft, and Johnson. Chirelli should be gone WAY before Todd.

  • Big Nuggets

    McLlellan hasn’t done much to show he deserves to keep his job. Continuity is one reason, his supposed NHL pedigree is another, but as for actual visible coaching strategy I haven’t seen much of note.