SAN JOSE – It had to be a strange situation for Todd McLellan, who saw the Sharks advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in the very first season after he and the organization parted ways.
On Friday morning, after his Edmonton Oilers took their morning skate ahead of a showdown later on at SAP Center for first place in the Pacific Division, McLellan – who maintains a residence in San Jose – was asked about his emotions as witnessed the Sharks play all the way until June.
“I was happy for a lot of people here, in particular the fans,” he said. “It’s been a great organization. They’ve been waiting for something like that for many, many years. A number of those players over there, the older ones, got to at least the finals. They didn’t quite get to where they wanted to.
“When you invest as much time as [assistant coaches Jay Woodcroft, Jim Johnson] and myself [did]…you’re emotionally attached to that group, and you’re happy to see them have success.”
McLellan is having success lately too, taking an organization that was in disarray before he got there and putting it in a position to challenge for a playoff spot. In his second season behind the Edmonton bench, McLellan’s Oilers are in the thick of the division race, and probably will be for the remaining months of the regular season.
Jordan Eberle is in his seventh season with Edmonton, and has yet to compete in a single NHL playoff game. He saw the Oilers go through four head coaches before McLellan arrived in 2015-16.
“We’ve [been through] a lot of coaches, so it’s been tough switching and switching,” Eberle said. “I think the biggest thing it’s been nice having a coach for a couple years and building on what we did the year before.”
“He’s a very smart coach, we have great special teams coaches, and obviously that’s showed. And, Todd’s come from a winning past. You know he knows what he’s talking about, and guys believe in him. Those all translate into being a better squad.”
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One of the reasons that McLellan and general manager Doug Wilson weren’t seeing eye-to-eye at the end of the coach’s tenure in San Jose was the role of Brent Burns. McLellan preferred him at forward, while Wilson wanted him on the blue line.
Burns, of course, has developed into one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and is second in the league with 30 points from the blue line. But from the lockout-shortened 2013 season through the 2013-14 campaign, Burns spent nearly all of his time on the wing of Joe Thornton’s line.
That helped him become the weapon he is today, according to McLellan.
“I think the time that he spent up front has allowed him to finally become that dynamic offensive d-man,” McLellan said. “He kind of understands what it feels like to drive the puck to the net, where the holes are. I think that time that he played up front really allows him to be a multi-positional type guy.
“He’s shooting the puck whenever he wants to, he’s not giving in to other opportunities that might exist. He’s taking charge, and it’s happening for him. Tremendous player.”