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Todd McLellan: The view from Edmonton

Was McLellan set up to fail with the Oilers?

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

New Los Angeles Kings head coach Todd McLellan’s most recent stop in the NHL was with the Edmonton Oilers, where he coached for three seasons and then a bit more, before he was relieved of his duties early in the 2018-19 season. While with Edmonton, McLellan had a regular season record of 123-119-24. The Oilers made the playoffs once with McLellan at the helm, winning seven games and losing six en route to a second round loss against the Anaheim Ducks.

In order to get a little better perspective on McLellan’s time in Edmonton, I talked with Jeff Chapman, managing editor of SBNation’s Copper & Blue, about what Kings fans can expect from their new coach.

What were McLellan’s strengths and weaknesses as a coach?

Todd McLellan had plenty of success in San Jose, but it was unable to translate over to his time in Edmonton. He was a veteran’s coach, as he would often trust in his veterans at key points and critical times. He always had great special teams when he was in San Jose, but that didn’t make it over to Edmonton. How does a coach with so much success in San Jose have a power play that ranked last in the league in 2017-18?

What were the biggest frustrations with McLellan?

My biggest gripe with McLellan was that he was latched too much to his veterans. Jesse Puljujarvi is a great example of this. The fourth overall selection from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft would find himself on the fourth line with two other ‘energy’ players, toiling at eleven minutes a night. Nobody’s going to collect very many points like that.

Was his lack of success with the Oilers more due to roster construction, on-ice strategies, or both? Something else entirely?

While Todd McLellan’s coaching style sometimes left much to be desired, he’s hardly the main culprit for the Oilers’ lack of success. The compilation of forwards after the players everyone knows about (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) is almost laughable. Yes, McLellan struggled on special teams. But the team also struggled almost everywhere else.

What was his reputation for developing young players not named Connor McDavid?

The Oilers are blessed with having two of the best young players in the game with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Leon took strides while McLellan was head coach (Draisaitl finished with consecutive 70+ point seasons, which is to be expected when you get some primo McDavid time). If we take a look at Jesse Puljujarvi (who could have benefited from some AHL time), he struggled under McLellan’s watch.

In general, what was his philosophy/strategy/systems?

McLellan is a defence-first guy who looked to quickly transition to offence. In San Jose, he had a pretty good run at it. In Edmonton, less so. That’s not all his fault, as the Oilers’ defence has been a work in progress for what seems like decades.

For Sharks fans, a source of frustration was McLellan’s inability to adapt his strategy to the “new” NHL. Did he have similar issues in Edmonton?

The Sharks had a great roster, and they’ve been considerably better than the Oilers for many years now. The Oilers roster was (is) so fundamentally flawed, I can’t find fault with him being unable to adapt. Edmonton had one and a half lines that were worth playing, and the rest of the roster was either shaky vets or unproven kids. McLellan almost always went with the vets.

Kings players have talked a lot about needing a coach who will hold them accountable. Is McClellan that kind of guy?

That’s kind of a “locker room” question, and I can only speak from what I saw in Edmonton. As far as ice time, Milan Lucic never caught a scratch, and his lack of production seems to be quite in line for a night up top.

Anything else we should know?

Todd McLellan has his flaws, but he’s not the reason the Oilers didn’t make the postseason this year, or last year. Edmonton’s inability to put together a full NHL roster trumps all, and it’s what caused McLellan’s time in Edmonton to expire in November. It’ll be interesting to keep watch and see what he can do with LA’s crew.