With all due respect to Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson — the last three head coaches of the Edmonton Oilers — none of them possess the credentials of Todd McLellan, the new guy.
McLellan got his NHL coaching start in Detroit as an assistant under Mike Babcock. After the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2008, he was hired to take over in San Jose. Though he never won it all with the Sharks, he did enjoy a tremendous amount of regular-season success, along with a couple of trips to the conference final.
“Todd brings with him a wealth of experience, a level of energy and an intellect I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, per the Edmonton Sun.
Hence, Chiarelli’s decision to entrust McLellan with Connor McDavid, not to mention all the other young talent the Oilers have amassed the past few years.
“The reason Todd was the top candidate in my mind is his history of taking skill players who learn how to play hard under him,” said Chiarelli.
Note how Chiarelli used the word “learn” there. Because upon being hired, McLellan was asked for a scouting report on his new team. At which point he essentially called the Oilers mentally weak.
“I think there were games where, if you could get off to a good start and push them out of the game, and get to the mental aspect of them not being in it for the whole night, you thought you had a chance to succeed,” he said.
“That’s something we’ll have to change. There’s going to be games where it’s not going your way, but you’re not out of it. You have to fight through it and you have to keep going.”
Despite all the optimism that’s come with the drafting of a so-called “generational” talent like McDavid, the Oilers still don’t have the roster of a Stanley Cup contender. Simply making the playoffs would be an accomplishment for this group, and even that won’t be necessary in order for there to be progress next season.
The Oilers just have to show signs they’re improving. And then after that, they have to improve some more. Fewer outrageous defensive gaffes, more structure. Fewer times when it appears they’ve packed it in, more sticking to the process (and other assorted clichés).
The results should follow.
“They haven’t had a lot of success as far as wins and losses go, so you have to find other ways to build that mental strength,” said McLellan. “That comes before the games are even played. That comes in practice. That comes in meetings. That comes in being good teammates. So we have some things to work on.”