Todd McLellan (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
The same day the Edmonton Oilers restructured their hockey department, Todd McLellan became available on the market. Now that Bob Nicholson is head decision maker for the Oilers on the ice, would he be able to woo McLellan to come to Edmonton for (another) rebuild?
There are some coaches who, after losing or leaving an NHL job, need time to decompress and recharge their batteries before they start working again. Todd McLellan is clearly not one of those people. This Friday he’ll leave for Prague to coach Canada in the World Championship, then sit back and field offers the way Brad Richards did four years ago.
And those offers will come. From Toronto, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Edmonton and, depending on what his mentor Mike Babcock decides on his own future, perhaps Detroit. But Todd McLellan, who mutually agreed with the San Jose Sharks to part ways with one year left on his deal, will coach in the NHL next season.
“I’m a coach,” McLellan said on a conference call Monday afternoon. “I want to coach.”
There’s no telling where McLellan will end up, but if it’s a matter of money only, the Maple Leafs and Flyers definitely have the inside track. The Maple Leafs are paying so many people not to work for them that it would be well worth it to pay whatever it takes to someone who’s actually going to contribute something to the program.
If it’s a matter of McLellan wanting to take the reins of a contender, and given his lack of playoff success there might be some danger in a team doing that, Detroit would be the best spot at the moment. In fact, it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Red Wings and Sharks to effectively trade coaches if Babcock decides to leave. The Sharks get a coach with a championship pedigree and a reputation that will allow him to pretty much do things his way, while the Red Wings would get a guy who is familiar with the organization and can make a seamless transition. (That would leave Jeff Blashill, the Red Wings promising coach in the minors, stuck in Grand Rapids for at least another year or two, which might not work well into his plans.)
The best scenario for McLellan is with a team that’s involved in an even bigger rebuild than the Sharks. (McLellan’s proclamation that the Sharks are “clearly in a rebuild,” was one of the more surprising ones of his conference call. A transition, maybe. But a rebuild?) McLellan said he’s open to participating in a team working from the ground up, but was very clear in his insistence that the organization be run by the right hockey men. “It’s so important to have the right people in the right spots,” McLellan said. “Then look at the team and figure out if there’s a chance for success.”
Now, this is where things get interesting. Does McLellan see a fit in Edmonton, where GM Craig MacTavish has presided over consecutive 28th place finishes? But the most important and pressing question is, where does the appointment of Bob Nicholson as CEO of the Oilers Entertainment Group leave much-maligned hockey operations president Kevin Lowe, the man many people in Edmonton blame for the current state of the roster?
If the Oilers statement on the Nicholson move is any indication, he will clearly have the final say on hockey matters over Lowe, which was something that appeared to be a contentious point from the time Nicholson was hired by the Oilers last summer. The release declares Nicholson how now has, “authority over all aspects of business and hockey operations,” and Oilers owner Darryl Katz was quoted as saying Nicholson has, “all the support and latitude he needs from me to lead the Oilers back to being a Stanley Cup contender.”
That’s pretty definitive. It’s also pretty enticing for anyone looking at the Oilers as a future employer. Nicholson’s reputation in the game is unimpeachable and even the optics of him being the top man in the team’s hockey department has to be considered a huge step forward. If you wanted to attract a coveted coach to your team and convince him that a rebuild (within a rebuild, within a rebuild) is worth the effort, would you rather hear it from Lowe and MacTavish or from Bob Nicholson?
Then there’s the Connor McDavid factor. Should McLellan end up in Edmonton, he’ll be coaching the next generational talent, one he may get a chance to know better if McDavid’s Erie Otters fall in the next round of the playoffs to the Soo Greyhounds and he’s available for the World Championship. Another interesting note: both McLellan’s and MacTavish’s sons play for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States League.
McLellan will have a lot to think about over the next couple of weeks. Judging by the roster he has to work with so far, Canada had better be a good bet to win its first gold medal in seven years. Apparently McLellan doesn’t have an agent, but he might want to hire one soon. A call from Edmonton should be coming anytime now.