SAN JOSE, Calif. – Any good coach would understand why Todd McLellan wasn’t exactly jumping for joy about the major coaching honour he received Friday.
The San Jose Sharks coach was selected as one of the three finalists for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach, joining Boston’s Claude Julien and St. Louis’ Andy Murray. The winner will be announced at the NHL’s post-season awards ceremony in Las Vegas next month.
In his debut season as an NHL head coach, McLellan led the Sharks to franchise records and NHL bests with 53 victories and 117 points after a stunning 25-3-2 start to the season. He also coached the Western Conference team in the all-star game in Montreal.
None of it meant a thing in the first round of the playoffs, when the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks finished off the Sharks in Game 6 on Monday.
“It’s hard to be real excited because of what transpired,” McLellan said. “I happen to think the coach of the year is the guy that gets to hold that big silver mug over his head. … It’s funny how two weeks or six games can sour your perception (of a season).”
Yet aside from the Sharks’ gaping failure last month, McLellan’s coaching career has been on an upward trajectory since shortly after a shoulder injury ended his brief playing career in 1989 following five games with the New York Islanders.
The 41-year-old coached the Swift Current Broncos in junior hockey from 1994 until 2000, when he moved to head coaching jobs in the professional minor leagues in Cleveland and Houston. McLellan then became an assistant to Mike Babcock with the Detroit Red Wings in 2005, planning to groom himself for a top job.
In McLellan’s first NHL season, Detroit won the Presidents’ Trophy and promptly lost its first-round playoff series to Edmonton. He has been thinking more about that season than he would like in recent days.
“The feeling we have right now is very reminiscent of that,” McLellan said. “Everybody is evolving, and we’ve got to figure out some new things and some better things for us.”
With a few days of perspective, McLellan is fairly certain that the Sharks’ late-season injury problems and line shuffling affected their readiness for the playoffs. San Jose never had its best lineup together from mid-February until the post-season, and the players didn’t immediately click when reunited.
McLellan also wonders whether he burned out several role players with too much work down the stretch while he tried to rest his core stars.
“The first game of the playoffs was the first time from the all-star break on that we had the band back together,” McLellan said. “Maybe it was a grave error on our part to assume the tune would come out the same way. Some teams had the band tuned up and ready to go.”
Although McLellan didn’t want so much free time, he’s finally able to take a breather for the first time in two years. The morning after the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last summer, McLellan was on the phone to Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, campaigning for the job opening created when the Sharks fired Ron Wilson after their previous playoff failure.
“The two years have really run together, so it’s been emotional, it’s been tiring,” McLellan said. “There weren’t a lot of downs until the big down at the end.”