The hottest topic in hockey right now has nothing to do with the Stanley Cup playoffs. In fact it’s not even a player.
It is Mike Babcock and “The Decision” that has been at the top of the recent hockey headlines.
Ever since the Edmonton Oilers won the draft lottery and will inevitably add phenom Connor McDavid to their lineup, a popular rumour has been Babcock going to Edmonton should he decide to leave Detroit.
While the chance to coach the next Gretzky or Crosby certainly has an allure, not to mention Babcock’s Hockey Canada connections to Bob Nicholson and Peter Chiarelli, it appears the Oilers are leaning in another direction.
The somewhat forgotten man in all of this is Todd McLellan.
McLellan is currently in Prague coaching Team Canada, and so far to a perfect record.
While Babcock is widely considered the best coach in the world, and certainly has the resume to back it up, McLellan might be the better fit in Edmonton.
Building Relationships in Prague
One has to look no further than the relationship he has formed with two of the Oilers stars in Prague.
Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are both suiting up for Canada and McLellan and have enjoyed a stellar tournament to date.
They are currently Canada’s two leading scorers and are playing on the top line centred by a guy named Sidney Crosby.
McLellan obviously sees something in the two Oilers wingers and they are clearly responding to the coach.
Hall in particular has liked what he has seen from McLellan, especially in times when they were down. In particular a game against Sweden when they were trailing 3-0, and came back to win 6-4.
“He pushed all the right buttons. What he said in the first intermission certainly resonated with our group. We have a lot of respect for him and I think that’s really shining through.”
It’s not as though McLellan doesn’t have an impressive resume in his own right. In his seven seasons as the Sharks bench boss, he leaves San Jose as the all-time leader in wins (311), games coached (540) and points percentage (.637), with an overall record of 311-163-66. He also won an AHL Calder Cup previously in 2003.
One of his former players, and current Canada teammate of Hall and Eberle, had nothing but praise for McLellan.
Defenseman Brent Burns who not only played for McLellan in San Jose, but was also a member of the Calder Cup team in Houston, said this of his former coach:
“I’ve had him as my head coach for a long time and he has a really uncanny ability to demand respect but at the same time be very approachable.
“He’s one of the smartest tacticians of all the guys out there in the game. I think he’s just a great coach. Whoever gets him is going to be lucky.”
Add to the fact that McLellan is a Western Canada native, from Saskatchewan, and the fit seems to be there.
A Shift Towards Credibility
Whether it is McLellan or Babcock that does take the Oilers reins, it will be just one more shift from the previous regime that will delight Oilers fans.
With already a series of franchise-altering moves in the front office, from Bob Nicholson taking over to Peter Chiarelli assuming both President and GM titles, it’s a move towards more credibility and a track record of success.
No head coach has been named, and plenty other than those two are being considered. Case in point, interim coach Todd Nelson was recently interviewed. However, the smart money is on Babcock, McLellan or another experienced bench boss.
With the previous coaching carousel or Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins and Nelson having minimal coaching experience between them, it’s time for someone with a track record to take control.
That is not to say those men are not intelligent hockey minds and will no doubt have NHL success in their careers, they probably will. But they aren’t what is needed now.
The Edmonton Oilers need to take the next step and soon. Adding an experienced coach to Nicholson and Chiarelli and the league all of a sudden takes notice of the organization with a new found respect.
Adding Todd McLellan will only further that view.