The teams have changed over the years, but Glen Gulutzan has spent seven NHL seasons as a coach, including the last two as the head coach of the Calgary Flames, trying to beat Todd McLellan. Today, Gulutzan jumped from one side of the Battle of Alberta to the other when he was named, along with Trent Yawney and Manny Viveiros, as an assistant coach on McLellan’s staff with the Edmonton Oilers.
Between his two seasons down the road in Calgary, two more as the head coach of the Dallas Stars and three seasons as an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks, Gulutzan’s spent a lot of time trying to get the better of McLellan during his stints with the San Jose Sharks and Oilers. They’ve been foes. They are friends. Now, they will stand side-by-side trying to get the Oilers straightened out.
I’ve long believed that relationships in hockey matter every bit as much as the X’s and O’s, so the clock started ticking for me on the hiring of Gulutzan in April when he and McLellan travelled to Saskatoon together in the wake of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. You don’t do that just because you’ve coached against each other. You don’t do that just because of roots in Saskatchewan. You do that when there’s a relationship, a friendship, respect.
All things being equal – I need to say I think Gulutzan stacks up favorably on his coaching credentials alone — that goes a long way when it comes to deciding who you want to work with. History, trust and respect, even if you’ve spent most of your coaching career trying to beat each other, matters. It can also help cut through the BS when it comes time to sit down and map out a plan, which McLellan, Gulutzan, Yawney and Viveiros are going to do as a coaching staff when they meet in July after the Entry Draft.
GET DOWN TO IT
“We have a big summit planned here with Todd,” said Gulutzan, who was in Edmonton last weekend. “One of the best things about being familiar with each other on a coaching staff is it doesn’t take you too long to start speaking your mind. We’ve been instructed by Todd to bring everything we can to the table to help make this team better. We’re going to sit down together and talk about it.
“It’s easier to do that when there’s some familiarity and respect amongst each other, right? You don’t have to hold tongue for too long. So, we’re instructed to do that by Todd and, ultimately, he’ll put his stamp on something, but we’ll come out of that summit with how we want to play, how speciality teams are going to look and who is going to do what. We’re going to get down to work.
“I think it works two-fold, really. One, you don’t hold tongue, like I said. You’re going to say what you feel. Two, because there’s a familiarity there, you’re going to be OK to debate. The third part of that is you’re not going to have your feelings hurt. There’s a little bit of that chemistry to how high-functioning groups work. They’re willing to debate and look at things and then come out unified.
“I think we’ve got the first couple parts down because Todd is instructing us to bring what we’ve got to the table. Then, we’re going to have our hands in everything on how this team is going to play and move forward . . . Todd and I have already had discussions about some of our five-on-five play and some of our speciality teams play. Without giving up too much, because I’d like to keep it a little bit, we have pulled some video and stuff about some little differences in the styles of play and I’ve talked about that with Trent as well.”
However coaching roles break down with this group, I’m guessing Gulutzan, at 46 the youngest member of the new staff, will provide a little levity between all the video work and preparation that obviously needs to be done. I lobbed Gulutzan a gag grenade today, asking him if everybody is in agreement that Connor McDavid is pretty good. After spending the last two years in Cowtown trying to keep McDavid under wraps, now Gulutzan’s got the best player on the planet in his line-up.
“That’s the one thing I’m still a little out on,” joked Gulutzan. “I’m just not quite sure whether he’s more of a second-line guy or . . . you can argue this is the best player in the world. That’s a big draw for any coach, too. Even talking with Trent, you have some really fantastic players. I can tell you he’s one really hard guy to prep against. He’s something special.”