After weeks of will-they-or-won't-they tension (fine, it was pretty obvious they would) the Edmonton Oilers officially announced the hiring of former Sharks head coach Todd McLellan at a press conference today. It's been a banner offseason so far for the beleaguered franchise, beginning with a draft lottery win that gives them the chance to select hockey messiah Connor McDavid at next month's entry draft. They then overhauled their incompetent management group, shuffling Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish into other roles in the organization to name former Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli president and general manager and former Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson CEO.
Now they've brought McLellan, winner of 311 regular season games and five playoff series during his seven-year tenure with San Jose, into the fold in the hopes of ending their 9-year postseason drought. It'll be interesting to see whether McLellan can accomplish in Edmonton what he never could with the Sharks: lead a talented, if flawed, team to the Stanley Cup. Granted, a lot of the burden will fall on Chiarelli's shoulders as the Oilers still have one of the league's weakest bluelines and lack a starting goaltender. On the latter front, perhaps the latest ex-Shark coach to take his talents to Alberta will be able to bring a Finnish netminder with him from San Jose just like the last one did.
Also intriguing will be whether McLellan adapts his conservative, dump-and-chase-heavy neutral zone gameplan to better suit the Oilers' speedy, electrifying forwards. Speaking of Edmonton's talent up front, one of McLellan's most important tasks will be to get Nail Yakupov's career back on track which should be fascinating as Yakupov doesn't strike me as the kind of player McLellan would be fond of. Regardless, one thing's for sure: the Oilers' top power play unit of McDavid, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz should be even more terrifying on the ice than it looks on paper. Going from a dysfunctional team in decline to a team (seemingly) on the upswing is a great career move for McLellan and we wish him the best.
From the Sharks' perspective, having McLellan land in their division is less than ideal, although at least it isn't Mike Babcock taking the Oilers job. As reported yesterday, San Jose is now owed Edmonton's third round pick in the 2015, 2016 or 2017 entry draft. And as for the possibility of any Sharks other than Niemi following McLellan to Edmonton, it seems unlikely. The Oilers need help on the blueline and could certainly use someone like Marc-Edouard Vlasic but there's no reason for San Jose to move their best all-around defenseman. Perhaps a deal built around Brent Burns (who has a limited no-trade clause) and one of Edmonton's surplus of young forwards like Eberle or Leon Draisaitl might make sense, especially with Burns' stock soaring after a terrific performance at the World Championships for McLellan's Team Canada. Either way, expect a lot of speculation along those lines this summer.