Todd McLellan and Glen Gulutzan spent the last two seasons on opposite sides of the Battle of Alberta, but that didn’t stop them from picking up the telephone, having a chat and deciding they’d travel back to Saskatchewan, where they both have roots, together to see what they could do to help in the wake of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that claimed 16 lives.
Gulutzan was still the head coach of the Calgary Flames when he and McLellan made that trip. That’s no longer the case, of course, as he and two of his assistant coaches were fired by the Flames this week. For now, and until we hear otherwise from GM Peter Chiarelli, McLellan remains the coach of the Edmonton Oilers. As for McLellan’s staff – Jay Woodcroft, Jim Johnson and Ian Herbers – I think it’s fair to say their futures in Edmonton are less than certain.
Framed in that, I wonder if McLellan and Gulutzan will pick up the telephone again in coming weeks and talk — this time about hockey and coaching, maybe discussing the possibility they might see a fit working together down the road. In hockey, as in life in general, I put in a lot of stock in relationships, the ties that bind, so I wonder if that’s a call that gets made. Just a thought. Just a hunch.
Gulutzan, 46, and McLellan, 50, are both coming off seasons in which success they enjoyed in 2016-17 went sideways on them. The Flames made the playoffs at 45-33-4 in Gulutzan’s first year as coach. The Flames fell out of playoff contention with just two wins in their final 11 games this season, prompting GM Brad Treliving to cut Gulutzan loose. We know what happened with the Oilers this season. No sniff after 103 points two playoff rounds a year ago. McLellan is looking for answers. Gulutzan is looking for a job. So, here we are.
IS THERE A FIT?
“I can’t see why I wouldn’t have (remained) the head coach up until Feb. 27,” Gulutzan told the Calgary Sun this week. “And then we had a bad month. We had a bad month with some injuries and we fell short of making the playoffs, and now I’m not the coach anymore. Up until about the trade deadline, we were a playoff hockey team. We would have been a playoff team for the second straight year. So, trade deadline, we’re looking at hitting it for two in a row. That month, we get injuries, and now you’re gone. That’s how short your leash can be.”
As the old saying goes, Calgary’s fall from post-season contention wasn’t necessarily Gulutzan’s fault, but it most certainly became his problem. That’s how coaching gigs usually go – fans unhappy with McLellan’s work this season and who want him gone as well might disagree. That said, count me among the people who don’t believe McLellan somehow forgot how to coach after being considered for the Jack Adams Award a year ago.
Depending on what happens with McLellan’s staff, I wonder if Gulutzan might be a fit as an associate coach here. Gulutzan has seven NHL seasons as a coach on his resume – two years with the Flames as a head coach and two more in Dallas, plus three seasons as an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks. All told, Gulutzan was 82-68-14 with Calgary and 64-57-9 with the Stars. He spent eight seasons in the minors as a head coach waiting for an NHL shot.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not suggesting for a moment that friendships or prairie roots constitute a smart coaching hire or a good match between McLellan and Gulutzan. Being philosophically aligned and on the same page about how the game should be played, about systems and use of personnel matters a lot more, or should. What McLellan and the Oilers need to do now, assuming they make changes, is get the best person they can for whatever job comes open.
What I will say, and what I’ve seen happen countless times over the years, is that relationships get conversations started and often do play into the decision-making process. All things being equal, coaches, like you and I, tend to lean toward people they know and people they trust. I’m wondering if there’s a conversation to be had between McLellan and Gulutzan. I won’t be the least bit surprised if that’s a call that gets made.
WHILE I’M AT IT . . .
- Craig MacTavish, Jasper Place Wellness Centre director Murray Soroka and I sat down with Inside Sports host Reid Wilkins on 630 CHED Wednesday evening to talk about Hockey Helps the Homeless in Edmonton May 11. We also talked a fair bit about the Oilers’ 2006 playoff run and about Edmonton’s Ken Hitchcock, who called it a coaching career last week. You can listen to that segment here. I’d like to thank Wilkins for helping us get the word out.