McLellan's time has come

March, 30, 2009
Todd McLellan doesn't want the attention, but we're going to give it to him anyway. The first-year NHL head coach is keeping some heady company in the NHL history books that is worth pointing out.

He carried 49 wins into the San Jose Sharks' Monday night game at Calgary, fourth all time among first-year NHL head coaches. Tom Johnson with the 1970-71 Boston Bruins has the record at 57 wins, followed by Pat Burns with the 1988-89 Montreal Canadiens and Mike Keenan with the 1984-85 Philadelphia Flyers, both at 53. Next is McLellan, who isn't done adding to his tally with two weeks left in the season. And it's no surprise to the man who hired him.

"He came from a great organization [Detroit]," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told "He built his résumé by doing things the right way. When we went through the extensive search for a coach, he just stepped in and there was no doubt in our minds that he was the guy. The other thing that was a wonderful credit to him was the coaching staff he attracted [assistants Trent Yawney, Todd Richards and Jay Woodcroft]."

McLellan was hired away from the Cup champion Red Wings last June after an exhaustive search that saw Wilson interview some 20 candidates. McLellan was the last interview. His résumé included an AHL championship with Houston in 2003 and several honors along the way in the Western Hockey League, as well. His time had come.

The Sharks have basically gone wire-to-wire as either the first- or second- place team in the Western Conference, so it's easy to forget the question marks some people had about this team last summer. McLellan and his staff got the Sharks out of the gates fast, which helped silence the critics.

The first thing McLellan did after getting hired last summer was take captain Patrick Marleau out for dinner and lay the cards on the table. The star forward responded by having one of his best career seasons -- 22 points ahead of last year's output and a plus-minus differential that went from minus-19 last season to plus-18 before Monday night's game.

"He has tremendous hockey IQ," Wilson said of his coach. "He's very concise in his messages to the players. He's the type of guy, as a player, that I would want to play for."

The GM and the coach talk almost every single day.

"I have great respect for him," said Wilson. "He's clarified exactly what he expects from the players. He's very honest and he's built relationships with the players. You know exactly where you stand with him. I enjoy not only working with him but have great respect for him as a person and getting to know his family. He's been a wonderful addition to this organization."

Having coached the Sharks to a franchise-record 109 points (and counting), it's somewhat surprising that McLellan doesn't seem to get a lot fanfare for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. That could be in part because people assumed San Jose would have a great season, and the Jack Adams nominees are often guys whose teams did much better than expected.

It's also a year with terrific candidates, from Brent Sutter (New Jersey), to Claude Julien Boston), Ken Hitchcock Columbus), Joel Quenneville (Chicago), Mike Babcock (Detroit) and certainly Andy Murray (St. Louis) and Barry Trotz (Nashville) -- if their teams get in. And there are others.

"There's some other guys that have done some wonderful jobs this year, and I'm a little biased, obviously because I see what he does everyday and how he prepares himself. To me, Todd is at the top of that list," said Wilson. "And that's with all due respect to the others."





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