Monday’s news out of San Jose is sure to spark interest throughout the league. After seven years behind the Sharks’ bench, Todd McLellan is now looking for a new team to lead. Could that team be the Flyers? Based off of his body of work, there’s reason to believe that the 47-year-old will become the new flavor in Philadelphia.
Could there be more to McLellan, however, than meets the eye?
A Hockey Mind
Todd McLellan is regarded as one of the best hockey minds in the game. After leading Mike Babcock’s top-ranked power play in Detroit in the 2005-06 season, the former fifth-round pick of the New York Islanders was also along for the ride for Detroit’s Stanley Cup Championship in 2008.
Babcock, who tops every team’s list with a coaching vacancy this year, obviously saw something in McLellan before he ever drew up a play on a dry erase board in the NHL.
“He’ll get to pick and choose where he wants to go and make the best decision for himself and his family,” said Babcock. “But he’s a good, good man. He’s a good coach. He treats people right. He knows the game. He’s an honest, hardworking guy and he’ll work in the league as long as wants. He’s an upper-echelon coach.”
This year’s hottest coaching free agent isn’t wrong. Before joining Babcock’s staff in 2005, McLellan compiled a 154-111-37-18 record in four seasons at the helm of the Houston Aeros of the AHL, capped off with a Calder Cup Championship in 2003.
After Detroit’s Stanley Cup in 2008, the Melville, Saskatchewan native was named the eighth coach in San Jose Sharks history, immediately carrying his successful ways over to his new team.
McLellan’s teams finished with more than 100 points four times, winning the President’s Trophy in the 2008-09 season that also saw McLellan named a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year.
McLellan needed only 515 NHL games to reach the milestone of his 300th win on Feb. 15. Only Bruce Boudreau reached that milestone faster — in 496 games with the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks. — Curtis Pashelka, San Jose Mercury News
Not once did McLellan experience a losing mark in seven seasons with the Sharks, boasting accolades such as, winningest coach in franchise history, along with being one of three coaches in NHL history to reach the 50-win threshold in his first two seasons as head coach.
Todd McLellan leaves #SJSharks as franchise leader in wins (311), games coached (540) & points % (.637), w/an overall record of 311-163-66.
— John Dickinson (@JDJohnDickinson) April 20, 2015
Mike Keenan was one of the other three to accomplish that feat, reeling off a pair of 53-win seasons with the Flyers in the 1984-85, and 1985-86 seasons. Peter Laviolette came close most recently, winning 47-games in each of his first two full seasons leading the orange and black.
McLellan’s resumé may show that he’s an upgrade from Craig Berube’s 75-58-28 record in 161 games behind the Flyers’ bench, but there are other factors that come into play when considering the newly displaced coach. Further, these issues may ring familiar in Philadelphia.
As with every story, the plot in San Jose wasn’t without adversity. Despite another winning record this past season (40-33-9), McLellan missed the playoffs for the first time as an NHL head coach.
San Jose’s fifth place finish in the Pacific Division also snapped a decade-long playoff streak, while inner turmoil wreaked havoc on the team.
Perhaps the snowball effect began after veteran forward Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy after last year’s Quarterfinal exit from the playoffs. The genesis of the problem isn’t as important as the fall out, stemming from San Jose’s failure to build off of, let alone match, the 2013-14 season’s 111 point mark.
Thornton’s disdain for GM Doug Wilson heightened after the GM’s explanation for stripping the 16-year-veteran of his captaincy to an audience of season ticket holders back in March.
Wilson’s criticism led to the 35-year-old center’s response of, “I think Doug just needs to shut his mouth. I think that’s the bottom line.
“All I’ve got to say is I’ve been here every day working hard. I haven’t taken a sabbatical. He just needs to stop lying, shut his mouth.”
While Thornton’s frustration may have been boiling since last offseason, it didn’t end with a lashing aimed at Wilson.
McLellan: "I have a ton of respect for Joe Thornton…He has a strong passion for winning." Calls him a future Hall of Famer.
— Jason Brough (@JasonBroughTSN) April 20, 2015
After McLellan stated that his decision on his future in San Jose would come after discussing the matter with his family, Thornton again felt slighted, which became evident after taking a shot at his now former coach.
“I have no idea,” Thornton recently said on whether or not his former coach should return. “Todd has to talk to his family. Maybe he should talk to this family as well in here. We’ll see what happens.”
Similarly in Philadelphia, the Flyers experienced their own form of dysfunction, although nowhere near the level of San Jose’s. Regardless, Berube’s demise culminated from numerous problems, one being his relationship with certain personnel.
Comparing Berube’s rugged relationship with Vinny Lecavalier, or ambiguous criticism of goalie Steve Mason, to McLellan’s situation may be a bit over the top. Even NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick – who played for both the Flyers, and Sharks – sang McLellan’s praises recently.
“He was one of my favorite coaches and I only had him for one year,” Roenick said. “I think that tells you what I think of him.
“He is a very, very smart technical coach. I think his systems are very well thought out and very effective. He’s a real good communicator. His mentality and his systems are maybe as good as I had since Ken Hitchcock. When you talk about knowing the game and structure … he’s very good at what he does.”
Should Mike Babcock elect to stay in Detroit, or matriculate elsewhere, settling the scope on McLellan may seem like a no-brainer for GM Ron Hextall. And while it may ultimately turn out to be an open and shut decision, there is one other aspect that could potentially stir up doubt.
In a normal setting, six playoff appearances in seven seasons usually solidifies job security. In the case of Todd McLellan, it’s the opposite.
In the franchise’s 17 playoff appearances, the Sharks have yet to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Under McLellan, they were ousted in the opening round of the playoffs three times. And despite back-to-back trips to the Conference Finals, it was last season’s epic collapse in the Quarterfinal round against the Los Angeles Kings, coughing up a 3-0 series lead, that led to this season’s overflow in frustration.
There was thought that his job was in jeopardy after the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 playoffs, but management kept him on, along with most of the players.
They couldn’t produce another playoff appearance, though, falling short at 40-33-9. — Mike Brehm, USA Today Sports
Last year’s exit may have been perplexing, but it was far from illustrating San Jose’s struggles in the playoffs under McLellan. In fact, it would be only the second time the former coach’s team would reach a Game 7 under his tenure, getting swept in the 2010 Conference Finals by Chicago, and bowing out the following year in the Conference Finals to the Canucks in five games.
Prior to this year, Todd McLellan steered teams to 20 playoffs in a row:
6 – S.Current WHL
1 – Cle IHL
4 – Hou AHL
3 – Det
— Tim Wharnsby (@TimWharnsby) April 20, 2015
Although that was on McLellan’s watch, it’s not necessarily solely on him. After all, before the coach with greying hair showed up, the Sharks had appeared in only one Conference Final; so it’s not as if he created the reputation of being a choke artist. Instead, he merely poured fuel on such claims.
If anything, McLellan’s past playoff woes work to his advantage, no matter where he may end up. Only three coaches in NHL history have won a Stanley Cup with multiple teams, with Scotty Bowman standing as the last to do so.
On the other hand, recent history smiles on coaches who are not with the team they made their NHL coaching debuts with. Dating back to 2010, every coach to hoist the Cup had previously coached elsewhere.
Below are the last Stanley Cup-winning coaches, dating back to 2010, with the teams they led before landing in their most current positions.
- Darryl Sutter (Kings): Blackhawks, Sharks, Flames
- Joel Quenneville (Blackhawks): Blues, Avalanche
- Claude Julien (Bruins): Canadiens, Devils
Dan Bylsma is technically the last coach to win the Stanley Cup with the team he debuted with, but Bylsma’s run in Pittsburgh was made after replacing Michel Therrien 57 games into the 2008-09 season.
If the standard is then modified to fit a coach winning a championship in his first stint with a team on a full season, then Randy Carlyle’s 2007 Stanley Cup with Anaheim would be the last.
Even the highly coveted Babcock is true to the trend, falling in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, before conquering the gauntlet with Detroit in 2008.
McLellan will have 3 #Flyers players on his team when he coaches Canada. Giroux, B. Schenn & Couturier.
— Phil Stevens (@PhilStevens7) April 20, 2015
With everything considered, Ron Hextall’s patient rationale makes all the sense in the world. He, like everyone else sniffing around the coaching market wants Babcock, and is willing to compensate him fairly. That verdict, of course, is on Detroit’s current time table, as they currently battle Tampa Bay in the opening round.
Babcock remains to be a long shot, though, which is why the speculation surrounding McLellan has intensified. Now that he’s available, it’s easy to see why.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.