Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Ties that bind

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.

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“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.

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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.


  • 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.


  • BendingCorners

    Gulutzan’s system is too tentative – he wants the players in position waiting for a play, not moving around creating a play. Avoid him if you want the Oilers to win.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    At least the Flames had the guts to fire the entire coaching staff after making the playoffs last season and missing them this season. The New Old Boys Club? Gutless!

      • Hemmercules

        Really!? I thought they canned the whole bunch. I find it strange when they try to dump existing assistant coaches on the new guy. Maybe it happens more than I know but you would think the new coach would want have his input on selecting his assistants.

        • Randaman

          You do realize that all the whining on here about the old boys club happens on every team in the league? Maybe more so here or so we think but it happens on all teams. Truth. Ask Trevor Linden or Luc Robataille or Joe Sakic or Ron Hextall and on and on….

          • RexHolez

            What are you talking about? There’s no team in the league that has failed so bad for so long and kept proven failures in management for so long. Don’t pretend like there is

      • ed from edmonton

        But they did fire the two main assistants, Jerrad and Cameron. That would be equivalent to the Oil canning TMac, Woodruff and Johnson but keeping Pelletier as skating coach, Schwartz as goalies and Coffey as mystery coach.

        • HardBoiledOil 1.0

          and that’s what i mean’t by firing the coaches….the head coach and the immediate assistants. i don’t know if anyone actually means the goalie coach and the video coach or whatever….

  • biased observer

    I don’t mind Gulutzan as an assistant coach but most times Associate Coaches become the Interim Head Coach if Mclellan gets fired. I wouldn’t want Gulutzan being the interim guy if things go wrong again next year.

    • LAKID

      Um,um,um,um….Are you flipping crazy? The decision hasn’t even been made that Mclellan is even the Coach next year and you want to hire Eakins 2.0? Mind you the flames have don’t have that much talent to work with.

      • Kaplan

        Calling Gulutzan an Eakins 2.0 is insane. Gulutzan has a great NHL track record, and would be a shoe-in as an assistant (and could take over if the Oil have another failing campaign).

        • LAKID

          Iam at a loss how did Calgary miss the playoffs with Gulutzan? The Flames had better goaltending than the Oiler’s, their defence should be one of the best in the league, they do have some offence, so why? Gulutzan and his coaching staff that’s why and Mclellan’s team is not that much better even worse it appears in the standings.

  • Hemmercules

    That would be super weird to see Gulutzan behind the bench with McL. If he runs a good PP and PK why not I guess? Seems to me the special teams were awful in Cowtown too though?

    Im just waiting for the announcement that another Old boy is being hired for the job. Its bound to happen.

      • Hemmercules

        The Oilers PP really blows my mind. What the hell happened in one summer? I guess not having Sekera and Eberle really must have had an impact there along with Klef not being entirely healthy.

        I always thought Pouliot was such a great penalty killer so I think the PK took a minor hit there. Talbot not being able to shut the door hurt badly obviously. Not sure how much PK time Eberle and Sekera got last season but I wouldn’t think it was a ton??

        • crabman

          Eberle didn’t play on the pk but Sekera played the 2nd most of any defencemen with 2:01 min/g and had 1 of the best cf%rel and lowest ga/60. Sekera was one of the teams best penalty killers last year.
          Pouliot was one of the better pk forwards too. That said the last 60 games of the season the Oilers pk sucked almost as bad as this year.

  • Fire Woodcroft!

    Not sure what triggered this but the thought of Both GG and TM behind the Oilers bench makes me want to jump out the window, pick myself back up again, and then go run screaming into traffic.

    No thanks. Ugh.

  • overdue

    I had the same thought when Gulutzan got fired. The Flames season hinged on Smith remaining 100% and when he went down so did they. Oilers also had major goaltending shortage in the early part of the season and it was the most glaring reason they stumbled and never really recovered. ( Something like twelve games where the first shot from the other team was a goal ) Not sure I’m confident with Mclellan as our head coach going forward but maybe with someone like the ex flame as an assistant he could improve the team play.

  • NewPants

    Going from 18th to 25th is a good drop off but 18th is still worst then average. That being said, they could have looked for some PK improvement in the off season last year.

  • btrain

    “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.”
    I do see this as important to a degree. However, I think its also important that McLellan look for a voice unlike his own, someone who thinks the game different and able to offer another perspective. Finding minions is maybe what has contributed to the lack of success behind the oilers bench and for that matter, many benches across the league.
    I think mutual respect and an ability to put ego aside is more important as like minds tend to be vulnerable to groupthink. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. For example, no idea is a dumb idea when you have the worst PK in the history of the game at home.