This Isn’t on Todd McLellan

As the Edmonton Oilers 2017-18 campaign continues to spiral out of control, we have reached the point in the season where many have officially hit the panic button. With the losses continuing to pile up, the calls for the firing of Todd McLellan have started to become louder and instead of pointing a collective finger at the man who put this team together, many have decided to take the easy way out.

McLellan McDavid Lucic Oilers
Todd McLellan, Connor McDavid and Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After all, is not the responsibility of building a lineup something that falls directly at the feet of one individual? Though there are those who have come to this conclusion on their own, far more have decided to give Peter Chiarelli a pass, at least for the time being. As difficult as that may be to understand, it should surprise no one to see the head coach be targeted as the potential problem.

Head Coach Is the Easy Target

Let’s not forget, in the minds of most Oilers fans, the roster Chiarelli constructed was plenty good enough to hang with the top teams in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Mix in some poor performances from certain player, with a lack of confidence for the collective and some bad luck along the way, and suddenly you have a group spinning its wheels.

And yet, the one who starts to feel the heat before anyone else is the guy standing behind the bench. Last time I checked, general manager is not part of McLellan’s job title but life isn’t always fair. Like it or not, in the world of pro sport, when a team falls as short of expectation as this one has to this point in the season, the head coach is the one that will be taking it on the chin.

By no means, is that to suggest the former bench boss of the San Jose Sharks hasn’t played a part in this club’s underwhelming 8-13-2 record. Just like his players and general manager, everyone has to take on their share of the blame but to try to make the Melville native as some kind of scapegoat is embarrassing. Especially when said arguments are based on nothing but pure speculation and little to no substance.

Oilers Have Plenty of Issues

When a team struggles, the immediate “go-to” for many a fan and some media types, is the players are lacking effort or seem disinterested. Also known as the coach has “lost the room” or the guys have started to “tune him out”. While in theory that is all well and good, in reality, such scenarios rarely if ever take place on team’s who have enjoyed moderate success over a short period of time.

More often than not, these situations tend to come to the surface under a head coach who is known as an individual who is hard on players and/or been in the same spot for an extended period of time. McLellan falls into neither category and for anyone to suggest something to the contrast is not only inaccurate but based on nothing but made up speculation.

Todd McLellan
Todd McLellan (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Though some in the media have attempted to depict McLellan as a coach who has repeatedly taken his best players to task in the media, nothing could be further from the truth. There is a big difference between saying you were not happy with the efforts of certain players on a given night and routinely ripping them in the media. The latter has never occurred during his time in Edmonton and likely never will.

McLellan Hasn’t Lost the Room

That has not been McLellan’s style at any point during his coaching career and again, the same has held true during his time with the Oilers. Also, he has always been considered a “player’s coach” and the coaches who tend to have the aforementioned issues, are the likes of Ken Hitchcock, John Tortorella and the unforgettable Mike Kennan. In other words, there is no fire brewing behind this cloud of smoke.

There is absolutely nothing to suggest such an environment exists with this group of players and their head coach. In fact,  it’s rather insulting to the individual in question and looks terrible on those using this angle as one of the main reasons why Edmonton has looked as terrible as they have this season. Anyone who has watched this team play recognizes their shortcomings, which makes everything else a moot point.

Now, if you want to question some of McLellan’s decisions with regards to line combinations, player deployment and overall tactics, by all means, have at it. However, keep in mind he has not been given a full deck of cards to work with. There is no question the vast majority of experts felt he had been given the necessary tools but results speak for themselves and in my mind, he doesn’t have the horses.

Chiarelli Hasn’t Done His Job

From a special teams standpoint, the Oilers sit third from the bottom on the penalty kill and have been among the league’s worst for the better part of a calendar year. It is certainly fair to question the approach but the consensus among most hockey people is a good PK comes down to goaltending, personnel and hard work. Considering their struggles have been an issue in both good and poor seasons, hard to pin it on the guy in goal or an apparent lack of effort.

As far as the power play goes, many have questioned McLellan personnel choice and/or combination since taking the club over but the fact of the matter is Edmonton continues to produce on the man advantage. They finished fifth in the league on the PP in 2016-17 (22.9%) and up until a week or so ago, they were once again inside the top ten again but have slid to 16th (19.7%) during their most recent slide.

Connor McDavid Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Again, it’s certainly fair to question the deployment of certain players on the power play but the Oilers are a handful of power play goals away from being not far off from where they were a season ago. And this coming from a group that has only two players enjoying solid offensive campaigns in Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Obviously, both special teams have room for improvement but pointing to either as the reason to change the head coach is a stretch.

McLellan Carries Some Blame But…

With that said, there are those who stand by the notion McLellan has failed to give his players their best shot at success by not giving McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins their own lines, instead of using the three inside his top six. On paper it remains an intriguing option but in the here and now it doesn’t work. With all due respect to those still pounding this drum, please find me the six wingers on this roster who can support those three on individual lines and more importantly, the four who would fill those spots on the top two lines. As of this moment, they do not exist and it is for that reason we continue to this coach go down the road he has.

At the end of the day, all that really matters is winning and losing and ther is always going to be a discussion as to when the majority of blame should be placed.or a team’s failure. Be you a fan of Todd McLellan or a detractor, it makes little difference. As when comes to assigning responsibility for the current state of the Edmonton Oilers, there is only one individual who should be wearing it but the chances of that occurring are slim to none.

 

Also available from Rob Soria: 

Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One