Todd McLellan: The view from San Jose

What can we learn from our new coach’s performance with our northern rivals?

Todd McLellan spent much of his NHL coaching career as the head coach of the San Jose Sharks, where he was in charge from 2008 to 2015. He made the playoffs in each of those seasons save for his last, and ended his tenure there with an overall regular season record of 311-163-66. Not too shabby, right?

Earlier today, Eric took a deep dive into McLellan’s successes and failures behind the San Jose bench. Sports are, after all, a results-driven world, and when your results don’t measure up to your potential, you’re often shown the door.

Despite the winning record, and despite the many playoff appearances, the Sharks were never quite able to get over the final hurdle to play for the Stanley Cup. According to Kyle Demetrius of Fear the Fin, the SBNation Sharks site, McLellan’s time behind the bench wasn’t all wins and happiness for fans or players. I talked with Kyle to get some insight into McLellan’s time behind the bench with our northern California rivals. Take it away, Kyle:

On adapting to the new NHL

The biggest issue with Todd is that he never adapted as the NHL adapted. When he first got to San Jose his strategies were sound and he coached elite Sharks teams. They had seasons of 117 and 113 points, which are the two best seasons ever in his first two season. He also took the Sharks to the Conference Finals in years two and three. But then it started trending down. After the lockout, the Sharks finished second and third in the division and had weak playoff showings before ultimately missing the playoffs in 2014-15 (for the first time since 2003).

Someone please check on Jonathan Quick’s health, because...

He relies heavily on one starter goalie and then runs that goalie straight into the ground like a ‘97 Corolla.

62 - 33 year old Nabokov
71 - 34 year old Nabokov
60 - 27 year old Niemi, coming off of a Cup win for Chicago
68 - 28 year old Niemi
43 - 28 year old Niemi (lockout year, so only 48 games total in the season)
64 - 30 year old Niemi
61 - 31 year old Niemi

So as you can see, he finds a goalie and plays him forever. If Quick isn’t traded, he will literally cause him to explode because his body can’t handle the workload. Even in years where he has decent backups he still rides the starter. And years where the backup is shaky, it’s full steam ahead for the starter. It’s not good.

On players not in the lineup who should be

Young players are hard to gauge. Guys like Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture got big amounts of games at young ages. But for high end talent like that, it’s hard to separate if that’s just because of force of skill or he actually brought them along.

If you go through his years, young players pop up, but often times they will only have a few games and limited roles. For example, Doug Wilson drafted Jamie McGinn because he and Couture were magic in the OHL together. Todd then never played them together, even though they were both 20 or 21 years old and could have developed together.

Defensive young guys will get a shot before skilled young guys, as per the old boys club rules. As for “encouraging” or helping young players, it always seemed that they had short leashes and would get benched/limited ice when he felt they weren’t doing what he was doing.

On players in the lineup who should not be in the lineup

Famously, Doug Wilson had to waive Adam Burish from the team to get Mac to stop putting him in the lineup. He makes baffling lineup decisions, and seems to be intent on building lines through outdated techniques. We all saw how much time he gave to Lucic and others in Edmonton. His lineups are always dotted with guys like Micheal Haley, John McCarthy, Mike Brown, etc. He has in the past scratched better more skilled guys for “tough guys” to the detriment to the team. This lineup making has become ever more apparent in 2019 when you need to have adapted to the game of today.

Who needs consistency?

Heed a McLellan veterans advice: prepare your bodies for one of the most aggressive line blenders of all time. I’ve seen him blend the lines after five minutes. It honestly felt that every game the lines would blend no matter what. Don’t expect consistency on who’s playing with who outside of some select guys. He will also blend the lines, then come up with a Melker Karlsson/Joe Thornton top line tandem and ride it and blend everything else. It’s infuriating.

Some sobering parting words

My honest assessment is that it appears that the game has passed him by. He never adapted and never tried to join the new NHL style. McLellan was excellent to start his tenure and ultimately never kept up. His goalie deployment is baffling considering what we know about goalies now. He would have to change his entire coaching style since he was fired mid-season by Edmonton in order to effectively be an NHL coach today.

Thanks, Kyle, for your time and, uh, somewhat terrifying outlook on the the Kings’ new bench boss. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a look at his time in Edmonton to see what else we can learn.