Todd McLellan is a winner.
There simply is no room for argument. Just look at the record of the San Jose Sharks’ new head coach.
In 14 seasons of coaching, McLellan’s teams have never failed to reach the playoffs. They’ve had 12 winning seasons, and two of those won championships.
Only eight days after McLellan, a third-year assistant with Detroit, helped the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup title, he was introduced by the Sharks as their seventh head coach, during a press conference Thursday at HP Pavilion.
“This is somebody that, 14 years ago, started this process,” said Sharks’ General Manager Doug Wilson of McLellan’s path toward his first NHL head-coaching job. “He never missed the playoffs. He’s lifted the Stanley Cup. He’s done it the right way.”
After a playing career -- including five games with the New York Islanders -- cut short by three reconstructive shoulder surgeries, McLellan established himself as a successful head coach in juniors and in the minors before joining the Red Wings as an assistant in 2005.
Beginning in the outback of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, in 1994, McLellan went 236-159-36 in six seasons of juniors. In five minor-league seasons, with Cleveland (IHL) and Houston (AHL), McLellan compiled a 197-143-37 mark and captured the Calder Cup in 2003.
With an eye toward becoming an NHL head coach, McLellan sought opinions of those around the league, asking for advice on how to reach that goal. McLellan concluded that he should join an elite organization, learn all he could from the best minds in the game, and be prepared to move on when he was ready.
During his three seasons in Detroit, the Red Wings reeled off consecutive 50-win seasons, and McLellan graduated from that training ground with hockey’s crowning achievement. He was indeed ready.
“What he went through last year was probably the final piece to his resume to make him qualified to coach this hockey team,” Wilson said. “So, was the winning important? You better believe it’s important. That’s what we’re aspiring to.”
McLellan drew parallels between the Red Wings and the Sharks, referring to the fact that the Red Wings were willing to change in small ways without making wholesale changes or, as McLellan said, pushing the “panic button.”
“Doug is the same way,” McLellan said. “He’s not going to deviate from that plan. That was very comforting to me to know that I came from an organization like that and I’m going to one.”
He never missed the playoffs. He’s lifted the Stanley Cup. He’s done it the right way. - Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson
McLellan sees other similarities between the Sharks, who have become frustrated by early postseason exits, and the Red Wings, who experienced similar frustrations in recent years.
“I really believe I can draw on those experiences,” McLellan said. “I can take them and try to grow the team far enough so the players finally get it and get over the hump. I know that the pressure will be immense, and deservedly so.”
Under head coach Mike Babcock, McLellan directed the Red Wings’ power play, which finished third in the NHL last season (20.7 percent) and first in 2005-06 (22.1 percent).
“He’s really worked at his craft,” said Wilson, who discovered the depth of McLellan’s work and impact by talking to those as far back as the coach’s Swift Current days.
But even more impressive to Wilson, during those conversations, was that McLellan never took any amount of credit for the Red Wings’ success, when others within the organization said he played a vital role.
Indeed, Wilson searched hard for flaws. However, each concern was nullified.
“There are a lot of people that wanted to be here,” Wilson said. “But you want people that want to coach this organization and will accept the expectations of winning. Sometimes, people shy away from that.
“Some people like the comfort of ‘Let’s go develop something, let’s take some time.’ But this is a guy that likes winning. He understands the expectations. He welcomes the expectations.
“He is a winner.”