Rookie coach Todd McLellan has made quite the first-year impression with the San Jose Sharks, the Western Conference's best team throughout the first half of the season.
McLellan added to his legend Friday night when the Sharks defeated Edmonton, 4-1, and catapulted McLellan into the head coach's job for this month's NHL All-Star Game in Montreal. He needed those two points to hold off the charge of Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who was McLellan's mentor for the past three years in Detroit before McLellan took over for Ron Wilson this summer. Babcock will be the assistant coach for the Western Conference.
Three of the four coaches were officially announced after Friday's slate of NHL games. It's McLellan and Babcock in the Western Conference and Boston's Claude Julien as the head coach for the Eastern Conference, assisted by either Washington's Bruce Boudreau or Montreal's Guy Carbonneau.
That final assignment will be determined Saturday night when Carbonneau's Canadiens host Boudreau's Capitals. The Canadiens need a win, in regulation, to get their coach named to the All-Star bench. Any other result will see Boudreau make the trip to the Bell Centre in two week's time.
The coaches for the NHL All-Star Game are determined by best winning percentage at the conclusion of Saturday night's games, the midway point of the season. The game itself will take place at Montreal's Bell Center on Jan. 25 (6 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio), as part of the All-Star weekend festivities, which begin Jan. 22.
While Boudreau and Carbonneau take their race down to the last possible day, McLellan is pleased to know that he will have the head coaching job for the Western Conference, a team that will feature two Sharks -- center Joe Thornton and defenseman Dan Boyle.
"It's a nice reward, but anything that comes to the coach is representative of the organization from ownership, to management to the players and the trainers," said McLellan. "It's an honor, but I'm not naive enough to think others (on my staff) weren't involved."
This season, McLellan has coached the Sharks to an NHL-best 30-5-5 record, becoming the NHL's first team to 30 wins this season. He is only the second first-year NHL coach in League history to coach an All-Star team. The first was Florida's Doug MacLean, who coached the Eastern Conference in the 1996 game in Boston.
He will be joined on the Western Conference bench by Babcock, a man McLellan served under -- and won a Stanley Cup with -- during a three-year tenure as an assistant with the Red Wings. Now, for at least one day, McLellan will be giving orders to his former boss.
"I'm looking forward to it," said McLellan. "It will be a really good experience and I'm looking forward to sitting with Mike and talking family and hockey."
Babcock won the Stanley Cup last season and reached the Final in 2003 with Anaheim, only to lose in seven games to New Jersey. In his three years with the Red Wings, Detroit has won the Presidents' Trophy, as the League's best team, twice. This season, Detroit holds a 10-point lead on Chicago in the Central Division and are just four points adrift of San Jose in the Western Conference race. Detroit is sending defensemen Nick Lidstrom and forward Pavel Datsyuk
to the All-Star Game.
McLellan will be matching wits against Claude Julien of the Bruins, the team that has been pressuring San Jose for the League's best record for much of the past month. The Bruins also have 30 wins this year and hold a seven-point lead on Boudreau's Capitals for the Eastern Conference crown. They hold a 10-point cushion on Montreal for the Northeast Divsion crown.
Julien will have three of his own players at his disposal. Defenseman Zdeno Chara, goalie Tim Thomas and forward Marc Savard were all named to the Eastern Conference lineup as reserves.
For Boudreau, his selection as the Eastern Conference assistant will be just another memorable moment in a long litany of memorable moments that have occurred since he took over the Capitals last November. At the time, Washington was struggling mightily, sitting in last place in the League.
But, Boudreau engineered quite the turnaround as the Caps were the hottest team in the second half of the season and used that finishing kick to win the Southeast Division and qualify for the playoffs. Washington lost a riveting first-round series to Philadelphia in overtime of Game 7, but Boudreau was still honored with the Jack Adams Trophy as the League's best coach.
"It's a nice reward, but anything that comes to the coach is representative of the organization from ownership, to management to the players and the trainers. It's an honor, but I'm not naive enough to think others (on my staff) weren't involved." -- Sharks coach Todd McLellan
This season, the Capitals picked up right where they left off last season. Washington holds a 10-point lead on Carolina for the Southeast Division title and has the second-most wins (27) in the Eastern Conference.
But, if it is Carbonneau that sneaks in at the last minute, that will be a great story as well. Not only is he the coach of the All-Star Game's host team, but the Canadiens also had four players voted into the starting lIneup -- goalie Carey Price, defensemen Mike Komisarek and Andrei Markov and forward Alex Kovalev.