Todd McLellan as the Los Angeles Kings new coach is fine. It’s just not right. With his career record of 434-282-90 in 806 regular season games and seven playoff berths, McLellan is by no means a terrible coach. He’s fine. And it could always be worse! Alain Vigneault ended up in Philadelphia, Michel Therrien is still looking for a job, and Mike Yeo was also summarily dismissed from his job earlier this season (after the Kings beat the St. Louis Blues 2-0). Compared to those guys, McLellan looks like a Jack Adams candidate.
To reiterate: McLellan is fine, he’s just not great. He’s solid. You know exactly what you’re getting. He’s essentially vanilla ice cream. Sure, you could go a little wild with some rocky road or some chocolate peanut butter cup flavor that’s a little out there—or you could stick with plain ol’ vanilla. And I’m not talking about French vanilla, either. I mean straight up, just plain vanilla ice cream. It’s a good standby, you know exactly what you’re getting. No surprises. With rocky road, you don’t know exactly what the marshmallow to almond ratio might be; with the peanut butter flavor, how many chunks of peanut butter will there be? A lot? A little? Will the chunks be big, small, or somewhere in between? Will the peanut butter cups be huge or disappointingly tiny? IT’S A MYSTERY!
And mysteries are bad in the National Hockey League, especially when it comes to coaches. McLellan has the experience and the pedigree, he even has a Stanley Cup to his name. He’s safe. There aren’t too many almonds that he might bring to the table. But for giggles, let’s look outside the tired circle of fired NHL coaches.
Candidate #1: Marco Sturm, LA Kings Assistant Coach. Rob Blake and the Kings were nervous about putting too much pressure on him as a first-time NHL coach.
IMO - most interesting aspect to LA Kings coaching situation is what to do w/ Marco Sturm.— The Mayor John Hoven (@mayorNHL) April 7, 2019
The like him, no doubt. Yet, there's been internal discussion about not forcing him on the next HC. Don't want to guarantee him an asst role. My suggestion - flip him w/ Mike Stothers.
Now, the Kings are obviously keeping Sturm on as an assistant coach. He’s apparently not familiar enough with North American style of playing and doesn’t have enough experience as a head coach to have gotten consideration for the job. But, still. The man took a team of underachievers whom no one believed in, whom no one believed could actually get to the gold medal game, to overtime against a far superior Russian squad. He got them to buy in to whatever the message was and they nearly beat the Olympic Athletes of Russia in regulation. Granted, an 82-game season and playoffs is totally different than a short tournament like the Olympics. But Sturm has largely been credited with helping Germany’s men’s program progress as far as it has since being named head coach to the national team in 2015. He also brings 14 years of NHL playing experience. I suppose coaching is different than going from retirement to assistant general manager, but what do I know? In any case, he was never considered for the head coach job, which is probably okay since he’s never coached beyond short tournaments.
Alright, so he’s out. Let’s move on to another potential name.
Candidate #2: Scott Sandelin, University of Minnesota Duluth. Probably one of the best coaches in the NCAA, he, along with defense prospect Mikey Anderson, recently won the national championship, his third in eight years. Sandelin is a defensive beast. They held a very good University of Massachusetts team to zero goals in the title game. On the way to consecutive men’s Frozen Four championships, Sandelin’s teams gave up multiple goals only once—last year, in the first round against Minnesota State University.
Understandably, Blake is probably more concerned with the Kings being able to score goals rather than stop them. However, during the season, LA ranked tenth in goals against per game, allowing an average of 3.16, while only managing a meager 2.43 goals for per game, second worst in the NHL. (Metrics courtesy of NHL.com) If they don’t have the horses to compete with the rest of the league putting up a minimum of three goals every night, why not bring in a defensive specialist? I suppose if they’d wanted that, they wouldn’t have fired John Stevens, but that’s a different can of worms.
Candidate #3: Look to the KHL. Is it really such a big deal to go from coaching in Europe to coaching in North America? Apparently the Canadian GM felt it was, though it seems that once they locked in on McLellan, they never really looked elsewhere. Would it be possible to lure a Russian coach to the sunny shores of Los Angeles with a lucrative contract offer? It’s not clear, but it certainly would’ve been worth looking into. There are plenty of head coaches in the KHL who have both extensive coaching experience and a Gagarin Cup or two to their names. It at least would’ve been worth a shot, to test the waters if anything else.
Other potential candidates include: Nate Leaman from Providence College; Norm Bazin from UMass Lowell; and Mike Hastings at Minnesota State University, though there’s a red flag with his NCAA tournament record (and lack of wins). Yes, they’re all college coaches.
Last year, Leaman’s Friars recorded their fifth-consecutive 20-plus win season and fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, the second-longest active streak in the NCAA. He also led them to their first title in program history in 2015.
In 2011, with nearly 20 more victories than the prior year, Bazin set an NCAA Division I record for largest turnaround by a first-year head coach. Six years later, Bazin was named Hockey East Coach of the Year and was a recipient of the Spencer Penrose Division I Coach of the Year award.
Under Hastings’ guidance, the Mavericks have won at least 21 games every year, forged a 183-80-21 record, won four MacNaughton Cups as WCHA regular-season champions, two Broadmoor Trophies and a Jeff Sauer Trophy as WCHA post-season tournament champions and made five NCAA postseason tournament appearances. No team in the country has won more games in the last seven years that Hastings has been head coach. Although, much like the Anaheim Ducks, their postseason record leaves a bit to be desired.
Why an NCAA coach? Why not an NCAA coach? They’re accustomed to dealing with roster turnover and making the most out of every game. They know how important every victory is and how deeply each loss resonates. It’s an incredibly difficult position to be in, especially considering the wide variety of players they’ll get—the drafted guys, the guys who want to get noticed by the pros, and the guys who have virtually no shot. They have to get their players to buy in and have to balance development with some of the more “veteran” guys in order to find success. While the Kings may be a bit more on the older side with many of their players, there are still some young guys who very well could use the guidance of someone with patience but also a keen mind for how to win.
Furthermore, here is what the Kings’ plan is for the next few years:
Kings working plan:— The Mayor John Hoven (@mayorNHL) January 29, 2019
- Top 5 pick this year
- Top 5 pick next year
- Return to playoffs in 2020-21
Thus, don't expect them to be in on any big name free agents this summer. If they bring in any UFA vets, think bridge players for a year or two. Can't go with an all rookie lineup. https://t.co/egaD9CwPxU
A coach who is used to inexperienced players and knows how to best utilize an 18 or 19-year-old’s skillsets would be a huge asset, especially if the plan is to return to the playoffs within two years (which is a very aggressive timeline given this team’s lack of depth in general).
At the very least, picking from outside of the same old recycle bin of hired-and-fired coaches is something different. Sure it’s risky, but it’s not the same old boring scoop of vanilla ice cream. The worst part of vanilla? It’s basic. You have to put things with it in order to make it interesting. Going outside the norm is scary; it might not be safe, but it is exciting.