If you’re keeping track of the Los Angeles sports scene, you know that Todd McLellan is the LA Kings’s new coach. But what do we know about this guy? What is he bringing to LA and the team?
What the Kings Were Looking For
The Kings were coming off the worst season in more than a decade when they made the move to hire McLellan, and general manager Rob Blake had a clear idea of what he thought the team needed.
He was looking for a head coach who would bring a modern style of play, but also one who would be able to motivate a complacent older segment of the team’s roster. Blake, who had played for McLellan himself as an older player, thought that his former coach had what the team needed.
McLellan’s Coaching Background
Europe and Canada
McLellan began his coaching career as a player-coach in Europe with SiJ Ultrecht before returning to Canada to coach the North Battleford North Stars in 1993. McLellan didn’t stay with the Junior League North Stars for long, however, moving up to the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos in 1994 as head coach and general manager.
McLellan spent six successful seasons with the Broncos, overseeing playoff trips for the team in all six seasons. He was named WHL Executive of the Year in 1997 and Coach of the Year in 2000.
McLellan made the move to U.S. hockey in the 21st century, working for the Minnesota Wild in their minor league system before being selected as assistant coach to Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings. McLellan was in charge of the Wings’s forwards and handled the team’s power play. Under McLellan’s coaching, the Red Wings had the top-ranked power play in the NHL.
In 2007, the San Jose Sharks hired McLellan as their new head coach. McLellan would go on to become the winningest coach in Sharks history in 2013 and won the President’s Trophy with the team. It was at San Jose that LA Kings Rob Blake played for McLellan.
After his tenure with San Jose, McLellan coached the Canadian national team, winning the World Championship in 2015, and was then named head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. McLellan oversaw a rebuilding period in Edmonton, going from low-scoring first years to playoff appearances and playoff wins in 2017. A disappointing 2018 season, however, led Edmonton to fire McLellan in the middle of the season, leaving him available for the Kings.
Why McLellan is a Good Fit for the Kings
The bulk of McLellan’s resume is built around his success with the Sharks, a success that Blake knows first-hand. The two keys to that success were McLellan’s ability to manage and run powerplay units and his success in working with a mix of both older and younger players.
This is particularly important for LA, where older members of the team have admitted to phoning in practices as they have lost their hunger for the game. LA is in significant need of a coach who can motivate their veterans. McLellan will need to get Anze Kopitar back in shape and will need to repair team relationships between Ilya Kovalchuk and other players like Desjardins.
These prickly veterans will then need to be coaxed into working with young forwards like Austin Wagner, Carl Grundstron and Matt Luff. Adding to this mix will then be two first-round draft picks. In all, the team will be a true mix of veterans and rookies and a challenge for McLellan’s powers of persuasion.
McLellan’s proven ability in managing units with strong personalities (like power play units) will be essential, as the Kings are looking for someone who will be able to “hold people accountable, and lays out his plan and makes sure that everybody’s on board” in the words of Kings center Jeff Carter.
What to Expect
It will probably be too much to expect a playoff season right away from the Kings (though we can always hope!). This will likely be a rebuilding year as McLellan gets his feet under him and begins to make progress in building relationships both with the team and between team members.
As many have noted, we shouldn’t be put off too much by the end of McLellan’s tenure in Edmonton; the problems in the organization went far beyond the ability of a single coach to fix. As Sporting News put it, Edmonton’s season in 2018 was “a testament to the failure of how the team was built rather than just who was coaching it.”
McLellan will be entering a similar situation to what he had in Edmonton, but with the added bonus of Hart Trophy candidate Anze Kopitar (who could be great again) and the number 5 pick in this year’s draft. The prospects for the Kings’s future, we think, look if not bright, then brighter.