Todd McLellan’s career decisions have been pretty solid all down the line. When his playing career ended, he took a job with the North Battleford North Stars (I listened to their games as a child on CJNB Radio), then moved up to Swift Current (WHL), Cleveland Lumberjacks (IHL) and Houston Aeroes (AHL) where he coached that team to a championship. He moved up to Detroit in 2006, won a Stanley as assistant coach under Mike Babcock, and headed for the coast as San Jose’s head coach in 2008. He won often in California but couldn’t find a lot of playoff success. His career path brings him to Edmonton at a time when youthful players with tremendous talent run rampant.
MCLELLAN 14-15: 82GP, 40-33-9 89PTS (No. 12 in WC)
MCLELLAN RE 15-16: 82GP, 41-30-11 93PTS (No. 10 in WC)
- They run rampant all right. Well, part of the issue is certainly young players not taking care of the puck. That’s not totally fair, as they were kids learning on the job and for many learning from ill-suited mentors (or no mentor at all).
- Hard to lay blame in one area? Yeah. It’s hard to know how much of this is player discipline and how much of this is lousy players. And save for Pat Quinn in 2009-10 (the game had passed him a little) I’m not sure how much of the disaster was about coaching. Edmonton’s roster hasn’t been balanced in a decade. The defense can’t get the puck out and have been trying to club it square October to April since 2006 fall.
- Why couldn’t they turn north, even a little? Well, the Oilers were always offering up a fresh new rookie who was the new saviour—and very often these summers included a new free agent who was both old and overpaid. If you look at those teams, very few men were in their prime (say 24 to 29), most of the roster was at the fringes—too young to push much or too old to get around.
- Nice. Yes, it was a terrible combination and Todd McLellan has some of those things on his roster as we speak. The issues of the rebuild continue.
- How many careers ended in Edmonton? Including players and coaches? I’ll say 20, that could be low. The sheer number of skill forwards (Robert Nilsson, Patrick O’Sullivan) probably counts five or six. NHL teams don’t go searching for gems in the rubble amongst teams in the second division.
- What changes will we see under McLellan? I think the biggest difference will be less time in the defensive zone. Even if they change nothing else, taking care of the puck and skating around in the other end doodling, that’s less time defending.
- So less time in Edmonton’s end. How will he do that? Well, first of all I expect he’ll have a puck mover on every pairing and the team will have one or several ‘under pressure’ breakouts. Fear the Fin has some interesting takes on McLellan’s Sharks “OVER” strategy—something we may see in Edmonton. It’s about strategy and execution. Shorter passes, wingers lower, breakout as a unit.
- Who are the Oilers puck movers? My list would be Sekera, Nikitin, Klefbom, Schultz and Ference among those with significant experience.
- How will he employ them? I like Sekera—Fayne, Klefbom—Gryba and am warming to the idea of Nikitin—Schultz, but that’s only because Darcy and Bruce are tag-teaming me and they’re pretty damn convincing.
- What’s your second favorite alignment? I sometimes wonder if they moved Sekera over to RH side and what they might look like. Klefbom—Sekera, Ference—Fayne, Nikitin—Schultz, but I don’t think it works because Ference isn’t going to be able to handle what will probably be tough minutes.
- If there’s one thing you could gift McLellan, what would it be? A strong RH option for the second pairing with Klefbom. I honestly think this team is close to being a playoff contender. Add that player and we can start dreaming.
- And the pressure will be less for them? I think they’ll have fewer sorties to defend because the real estate game will be more favorable. McLellan’s teams are possession teams and they are bandits on the forecheck. See Fear the Fin.
- That’s it? I also think there are going to be consequences when players don’t have a care and trust will have to be earned. And finally, I do believe the Oilers are going to slow play the kids and that probably includes (on defense) all of Justin Schultz, Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart. I think they have no choice but to feature Klefbom, although the club may attempt to run all four veterans (Sekera, Fayne, Nikitin and Ference) early days. I doubt that ends well.
- Power play? It’s gold, fabulous gold. I don’t know what it will look like but would suggest we’ll see a forward on defense on at least one of the PP’s. And the No. 1 PP will be on A LOT this season.
- How will he handle the forwards. It’s weird, he had some strange things going on last season and really all down the line. He kind of has pillars and then small revolvers coming in and out. I don’t know if he looks for offense from the Melker Karlsson’s and suspect he’s just trying to stretch the offense and make matchups harder. I also don’t know if it works better than piling three great players on one line—Thornton with Pavelski and Burns two years ago were on another level—but McLellan liked bringing along a Hertl or a Karlsson. I’m intrigued by what he’ll do with the Oilers forwards.
- What will he do with McDavid? I think we’ll see him line up at center and on the wing and with and without Hall and Eberle. It’s anyone’s guess how this turns out, we might see the future this year or it might take some time.
- What about Yakupov? Sure. Nail led the Oilers in shots last season and McDavid will need someone to cash those passes. I think we’ll see a lot of mix and match, especially early in the year.
- How much did Chiarelli help McLellan over the summer? Very much, for sure. Adding Cam Talbot, who was the best bet available, and Andrej Sekera, also at the top of the defensive list, gives the team a lot more order and balance.
- What one player move this summer will have the biggest impact on the team? Cam Talbot, if he can sustain a .920 SP and play in anything approaching 50 games, will save this team exactly one large mountain in goals. If you look back at last year, the GA sewered some interesting things (possession numbers, etc) that appeared to be good arrows. You can work hard on everything but if your goaler doesn’t goal you’re screwed and that’s a fact since Bert Lindsay.
- You’re a dolt. It’s McDavid. Well, we’ll see. I think Edmonton’s offense will improve but the GA will be the real key. I think we Oiler fans got so used to the bleeding that we’ll be shocked with a week of 2 goals against, let alone a full year of competent goaling.
- How much will McLellan impact things? A lot. I’ll be speaking to Rob Vollman today on the Lowdown, he has an article up about the importance of coaching and the overall impact on teams. I think McLellan’s Oilers are going to be a much tougher team to play against, they’ll battle for the puck, for real estate and they’ll be in more places because they can skate better.
- And they’ll be ready for opening night. Yes! The last two games of this year’s pre-season will probably include most of the opening night lineup and things will be set earlier in training camp.
- Why did Eakins wait so long? I think it had to do with timeline. The urgency wasn’t going to occur for him under MacTavish until this season, and as such Eakins was evaluating talent longer term. That’s no fun to say and certainly ticket holders would be upset if that were public, but for me there’s no other way to explain the opening night defensive roster of one year ago. Martin Marincin said something, it was a teachable moment (get your ass to OKC, rookie!) and there was no real worry because everyone’s job was safe.
- You should write an Eakins piece. God, people don’t want to see that.
- Why this song? It’s about how bad things are really (“A whole street’s belief in Sunday’s roast beef
Gets dashed against the Co-op, To either cut down on beer or the kid’s new gear, It’s a big decision in a town called malice”) and how approach (“I could go on for hours and I probably will, But I’d sooner put some joy back, In this town called malice”) and attitude are the only real weapons in those godawful moments. As rosy as things look today, it could be a long December this year. Focus on the things you can control, one foot in front of the other and work hard. All that talent doesn’t mean jack shit if you can’t execute a breakout under pressure. The last 10 years have hammered that into my brain again and again and again and again and again. Make it stop, man from Melville. Make it stop.