Just a day after the Philadelphia Flyers pulled the trigger on Alain Vigneault as their new head coach, the Los Angeles Kings became the third team this off-season to hire a new bench boss. On Tuesday, the Kings officially named former Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan their new head coach.
McLellan, fired in November by the Oilers, joins the Kings after spending parts of four seasons behind the Edmonton bench. He helped break a ten year playoff drought in Edmonton, guiding the Oilers to the second round in 2017 and a 100 point season. He was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award that same year, but things quickly went sideways for him.
The Oilers took a turn for the worse in 2017-18, then struggled out of the gate this season as well. McLellan paid the price prior to Thanksgiving, while his boss paid the price in January.
McLellan now moves to his third Pacific Division team and to a new challenge, with a veteran team trying to stay relevant after a disastrous season.
What Went Wrong?:
McLellan’s time in Edmonton was weird. The Oilers finished 29th out of 30 teams in his first season, but injuries to Connor McDavid and Oscar Klefbom killed Edmonton’s hopes early. The Oil shot to over 100 points in 2016-17, and eliminated San Jose in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Anaheim in Game 7 of the second round.
Many people, myself included, thought this was just the beginning for Edmonton. The Oilers were seen as a legit Stanley Cup contender by many, but they fell to under 80 points in 2017-18 and failed to make the playoffs. After a summer of inactivity, things did not change for the Oil and McLellan was the first scapegoat sent out of town on Thanksgiving week.
Was it fair? Yes and no. I didn’t think McLellan adjusted well enough to the situation and he wasn’t able or willing to develop his young players to fill holes. When Edmonton moved Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, it was with the thought that Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto could step in and help fill those roles.
Neither player ever looked comfortable under McLellan, and quite frankly neither player was even given a real chance under his watch. My biggest compliant with McLellan in Edmonton was his stubbornness with players. Outside of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, he really didn’t trust his young guys. I thought he negatively impact the development of Yamamoto, Puljujarvi and Anton Slepyshev.
Another prime example was the mishandling Ryan Strome. Acquired for Eberle in June of 2017, Strome was pretty much surrounded as a player. He was, and still is, a good third line center with decent secondary offense. McLellan tried him as a first line winger for about half his first season with the team and grew very frustrated with him. I believe that led to his trade in November for Ryan Spooner.
McLellan doesn’t match lines, which I thought was a huge missed opportunity. A coach that is willing to get creative, like Randy Carlyle did in their 2017 playoff series, can expose McLellan’s teams. McDavid was very quiet in that series because Carlyle hard-matched Ryan Kesler against him. McLellan never made an effort to get McDavid clean air in that series.
In the end, for all his faults, it was hard for me to truly blame McLellan for the issues at hand. The bottom line is, even with those faults, McLellan was given a flawed roster to work with. Peter Chiarelli bled talent at an alarming rate in Edmonton, and essentially neutered what could have been a terrific roster.
McLellan didn’t trade Taylor Hall for a shutdown defender and then replace him with Milan Lucic. McLellan didn’t deal Eberle for Strome and he didn’t give up the pick that became Matt Barzal for Griffin Reinhart.
McLellan could have done things better in Edmonton and for that he deserves some blame, but overall it’s tough to put everything on him when his GM might just be the worst man to run a Hockey Operations department in the salary cap era.
I’m torn here because I think McLellan is a solid coach and deserves a job, but I feel he’s walking into a losing battle. I do think the time off will help him reevaluate how he looks at things, and I do expect to see some changes with the way McLellan runs his bench. He had time to decompress and watch the league from a distance, and I think that can only help.
McLellan is a veteran coach who trusts his veteran players. In LA, he’ll have plenty of veterans to lean on, specifically up front. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Dustin Brown, Trevor Lewis, Ilya Kovalchuk and Kyle Clifford will form the core of McLellan’s team, and boy do they fit what he wants to do.
I wouldn’t be shocked if LA went after a veteran defender this summer. McLellan’s favorites in Edmonton included Kris Russell and Andrej Sekera, and while he does have Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez in LA, he probably wants another veteran to lean on.
In the end, the Kings are a veteran team that was searching for a veteran coach. In that sense, McLellan and LA are perfect for each other. McLellan is a good coach and I do believe that he will help this King team next season.
That being said, I don’t think there is a single coach in the game that can take what LA was last season and mold them into a playoff team in 2020. There are far too many players that are past their best before dates, and they are a big, heavy, slow team playing in a fast paced game.
This roster is flawed, and while McLellan is a good hire for this team there is still a lot of work to do.