April 22, 2015
Of Ron Hextall’s assumed coaching targets, Todd McLellan seemed like one likely to become available when the Flyers fired Craig Berube last Friday. That’s exactly how things shook out after the San Jose Sharks and McLellan parted ways this week. Together, coach and franchise collaborated for a 311-163-66 (.637) record during the last seven seasons in the Bay Area. The Sharks experienced a rare down season in 2014-15, but, hey, at least “Full House” is coming back.
For a frame of reference, the Flyers went 277-194-69 (.588) during that span, which is also pretty nice. The Orange and Black will always have a lot going for them, but there are a few factors at play that may get in the way of McLellan becoming the franchise’s 19th head coach. Let’s tackle each of them one at a time:
1. Babcock or Bust? As impressive as McLellan’s record is, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and his Stanley Cup are the 50-pound Marlin in the coaching market's deep blue waters (Is that even big? Regardless, I meant an unusually large fish.). Here’s the problem: The Red Wings are still in the playoffs — They’re currently up 2-1 in the series over the Tampa Bay Lightning, although Tampa has dominated long stretches — and it’s unclear if Babcock will even leave Detroit, much less choose Philly over all of the other suitors willing to back up the truck for him.
In his Daily News piece, Frank Seravalli mentioned the difficulty of pursuing two coaches whose availability will probably run on different timelines. Basically, if the Flyers are dead set on Babcock, the top fallback option could likely be gone if they’re not able to land him:
The biggest complicating factor when it comes to McLellan is whether the Flyers believe they can obtain Babcock should he actually hit the open market whenever the Red Wings are eliminated. By then, McLellan will likely be snapped up by another team.
2. A taste of Philly in Prague? In hockey, the one silver lining of missing the playoffs is that you get a chance to participate in the IIHF World Championships. Can you imagine if they did that in hoops? Russell Westbrook would take the rest of the planet prisoner this year. Anyway, the tourney will take place in the Czech Republic starting May 1st.
Know who both missed the playoffs? The Flyers and Sharks! McLellan, who happens to be Team Canada’s coach, will not only get to work with Claude Giroux. He’ll also get an up-close look at Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, the Flyers’ only young players that could still theoretically make noticeable strides (not saying they necessarily will). Maybe he sees something he likes, maybe he sees something he doesn’t.
3. Does he have the temperament they’re looking for? One of the reasons that McLellan’s success has flown somewhat under the radar is his understated personality. Unlike Berube or Peter Laviolette, the 47-year-old isn’t much of a yeller. He’s not exactly Bryan Price. Randy Miller of NJ.com caught up with Jeremy Roenick, who is a good person to ask because he played for both the Flyers and McLellan. J.R. doesn’t like the fit:
"I think Philly needs a coach more like Berube who is a little more edgy and doesn't mind being a little more verbal and aggressive. I love Todd, but he doesn't yell or scream enough. I wish he was a little bit more mean ... kind of like (Mike) Babcock."
Having experienced success outside of the organization, Hextall strikes me as a guy that wouldn’t place a prerequisite for the coach’s personality. Then again, when the Flyers are concerned, it’s always in the back of your head as a possibility.
4. The other suitors: It’s not like the Flyers are the only team interested in McLellan. For example, former Flyer and helmetless wonder Craig MacTavish has a pretty interesting situation in Edmonton all of the sudden, as well as a strong connection to McLellan that the Flyers simply don’t have. Here’s Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal:
“I’d like to coach a great group of players (anywhere). And Connor McDavid, well, everybody’s talking about him and him making an impact,” McLellan said Monday during a conference call. “I’m assuming the Oilers will pick him No. 1, but one thing I’ve learned is you can have the best player and still not have the best team.”
While Todd Nelson did a fine job as interim head coach of the Oilers over half a season and has the strong support of the players for what he brought to the table, general manager Craig MacTavish has said he’s casting a fair-sized net for a head man going forward.
McLellan and MacTavish — whose sons Tyson and Sean played together on a U.S. junior team in Waterloo, Iowa — are fast friends. The fathers talked often about their boys during this season, so there’s a relationship there.
Now that McDavid is in the picture here, every unemployed coach has the Oilers on speed dial even if they haven’t made the playoffs in nine years. McLellan is no different and if MacTavish hasn’t already called him, he will.
Toronto is another place to look out for, although they’ve been rumored to have strong interest in offering Babcock the Chip Kelly package right out of the chute.
5. Staying near home base: McLellan’s family is now firmly entrenched in the Bay Area, and McLellan seems to be a family man. From Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area:
McLellan indicated that he wouldn’t be packing up the moving van, though, and his family will remain in the Bay Area. That could make a Western Conference team more attractive than Toronto or Philadelphia.
We’ll see how it goes. When compared to a bunch of teams that are also rebuilding, the Flyers definitely have a lot going for them, like the two top-liners and goalie. On the surface, McLellan and the Flyers don’t seem like a perfect fit on paper, but maybe that’s exactly what the franchise needs.