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Todd McLellan on Sports Night


Last week, Drew Remenda asked Todd McLellan some questions for Sports Night.  The Sharks’ coach talked about the team’s offseason moves, last season, and his expectations for this season.

TM on acquiring Burns:

We really liked the opportunity, we jumped at it.  He’s not only a short term fix for our team, given the fact that he can stay healthy, we believe that he can be a long term fix as well.

McLellan also detailed all the other nice things that are so evident about Burns: temperament, age, talent and size. The team was happy to get him.  Burns is already making it clear why Wild fans were so attached to him.  Fear the Fin did a nice piece on that.  Yes, Coach, we like him too.

TM on defensive depth:

When you look at both Vancouver and Boston they had some very good defensive depth, Vancouver had players that were injured, they could replace them with NHLers, not necessarily minor league players…Boston could do the same thing.

When we lost Jason Demers in the Detroit series, we had to turn to Kent Huskins who is an NHLer but hadn’t played since February… we lacked that depth.  We feel with Vandermeer, we feel with Colin White, we’ve addressed depth but we’ve also addressed the physicality issue on the blue line.  Jim’s a very physical player… Colin White spent years and years in New Jersey winning cups and being a very prominent shutdown defenseman, he’s learned from the best.

The first thing I find intriguing about this comment is the mention of Vandermeer.  Yes, Vandermeer is a Shark now, but his acquisition was not announced with a chorus and trumpets.  It was as if free agent watchers shook his hand, said “welcome to San Jose,” while looking around him to see who might be behind him in line.  McLellan is still mentioning him in terms of depth, but his name is also coming up more and more in discussions of how the offseason has been successful for the Sharks.  Grit and physicality and veteran presence suddenly seem more important than they did a month ago.

What does this mean?  Combined with the comment about prefering NHLers for depth over minor league players, I wonder if this shift in emphasis means something for the younger players?  Does talking more about Vandermeer mean that the team is thinking less about younger players?  Is it just something else to talk about as the offseason winds down?  Are they making up for inadequate trumpet sounds in July?  Is it just a media coverage glitch?  I do not know what to make of it.  Maybe I do know and am in denial.

The acquisition of White is still a little mysterious to me.  I am happy he showed up earlier than later to skate with the team, but I wonder why the Devils moved him out.  Maybe the revelations about their dire financial situation explain it a little.  Was moving his contract part of a desperate money scramble?  Maybe.  I’ll be optimistic and accept that there’s enough I don’t know about that situation to leave the gift horse alone.

TM on playoff failures:

I’ve said it a hundred times, there’s probably 26, 27 other teams who would love to have our failure rate…  We’ll continue to strive, to get over the hump, to get there… we’re going to do whatever we possibly can.. we’re not happy, we’re proud of what we’ve done, but we still believe we can do more.

Oh what a tangle of messages.  It all sounds good and reasonable and sensible, but it isn’t much of a sound byte.  Of course the team should feel pretty good about doing awfully well the last couple years, and certainly they should now raise the bar and want to do better.  They did better last season by a very small increment: 5 games instead of 4 in the conference finals.  At that rate it will be a while before they get much further.  I don’t want the coach to be unreasonable, the navigator must keep his cool.  Do I want a battle cry of “Give me victory or give me death!” so early in the campaign?  No, sort of, I don’t know.

TM on expectations:

If you were asking just me as the coach, and obviously I set the tone…Expectations for us are to get out of the gate and have a good start.  A lot of people think about the end, the final part of the season, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the hoisting of the Cup.  But I believe our lackadaisical start last year, our inability to commit and be all in, all the way through January, hurt us in the back end because we had to play our butts off in the 2nd half of the season to get to where we wanted to go.  We were worn out, we played a goalie a little bit too much, and it caught up to us.

I find this reassuring.  The coach walks a fine line.  As he says, he sets the tone.  He has to create a climate where players can thrive without over-managing.  So I like the use of the phrase “set the tone.”  It works. 

As for his summary of last season, yes, McLellan saw the same thing we did. I’m expecting great things from that last sentence: a great big lot of games from someone other than Nemo.  Well, maybe just a little lot… a few more?  I may be reading too much into it, but I can hope.

TM in response to “Do coaches change?”

We have to continue to be the people we are. I don’t change my personality, you know, I might be a little grumpier at times, or quicker to get to that point, because I’ve been around the players longer now, and my expectations for them individually are higher every year, I see more in them.  As far as system goes, it’s ever-evolving. We’re a completely different team now than we were in 08-09… not necessarily pure personnel, but just the way we do things, the way we try and play.  If we were still the same team we would be in the bottom third of the league, I believe.  There’s that much evolution year after year.

With so much evolution going on I guess we don’t expect to have Vandermeer and White keeping younger players off the roster, right?  Because that would make no sense.  If you don’t use those depth players (young and old) on a regular basis they become less useful, so we can expect to see some variety in that third pairing, right? 

And the team will really and truly follow the evolutionary directive of using more than one goalie? Forgive me for repeating myself there.

Also, the grumpy switch: am I wrong to hope it will be flipped little quicker this year?  Not just by the coach but by anyone who hates lackadaisical starts, lulls, streaks and in general losing to the Oilers, like, ever?

Filed in: NHL Teams, San Jose Sharks, petshark, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: colin+white, jim+vandermeer, todd+mclellan


Puck's avatar

“given the fact that he can stay healthy”

Is McClellan talking about the same Brent Burns who plays a full, healthy season once every four years?

He had a career season last year and still is only flirting with top of second tier Dman status. He’ll have to play another full season this year and maybe eclipse 50 points before talking about a long term fix.

Posted by Puck from San Francisco, CA on 09/13/11 at 01:56 PM ET

petshark's avatar

Puck, well, technically it is true, he can stay healthy but I do wish TM had used another word than given.  I guess he meant “assuming,” but then assuming is dangerous too. I do take heart in the fact that Burns’ most recent season was played in full.  I don’t suppose it’s ever fair to talk about long-term fixes, so very little is certain with any player.

Posted by petshark from Nor Cal, and on Twitter @petshark47 on 09/13/11 at 02:47 PM ET

Puck's avatar

Maybe I have fantasy hockey research for draft too much on the brain, LOL! But when going over my cheat sheet I look at the players games over the last two years for health and over the length of career for production. Burns gets downgraded because of not having two back to back seasons of around 80 games and after having a career year switching teams can be a transition year to adjust. I don’t expect Burns to have another career year, but it’s possible. Depending on PP time, a projection of 10-15 goals and 25-30 assists would be best sharks should expect.

Posted by Puck from San Francisco, CA on 09/13/11 at 03:24 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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