WINNIPEG - Todd McLellan is a wanted man. In fact, he could be the most sought-after coach in an off-season full of movement around the NHL.
McLellan and the San Jose Sharks parted ways Monday, and within minutes he was linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. Throw in uncertainty about Claude Julien in Boston, Dave Tippett in Arizona and, of course, Mike Babcock in Detroit, and McLellan could be a candidate to coach the Bruins, Coyotes or Red Wings, too.
"I think he can fit in any situation," said Anaheim Ducks assistant Trent Yawney, a close friend of McLellan's. "He has the experience now. He's had that development side, he's worked under some pretty heady coaches — Jacques Lemaire and guys like that. He's very balanced."
And McLellan sounds flexible about his next job. First he'll coach Canada at the upcoming world hockey championships, then he'll just about be able to write his own ticket for next season and beyond.
On a conference call Monday, McLellan said if a team were interested in him, he'd consider the people in the organization and the chance to have success and make an impact. The current job openings — there could be more — give him different options.
"Some teams are trying to rebuild, some teams are trying to establish a playoff experience, some teams are going for it all," McLellan said. "Everybody's at a little bit of a different place. Decisions are made differently because of that. I'll be open to anything, really."
A native of Melville, Sask., McLellan has roots in the Western Hockey League and had been rumoured as the next Oilers coach for some time, if Edmonton replaces Todd Nelson. McLellan's son Tyson is close friends with son of Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish as the two play in the United States Hockey League.
Then there's the lure of coaching Connor McDavid, the Oilers' expected pick at first overall in the draft. Asked about wanting to coach McDavid, McLellan said he'd "like to coach a great group of hockey players."
"One thing that I've learned: You can have the best player and still not have the best team," McLellan said. "It's about team, it's about a group, it's about the whole organization and the culture of the organization. Connor's going to be a very exciting player to watch, I'm assuming in Edmonton, and he'll have an impact on the league for years and years to come. But the bigger story's the group as a whole."
The Oilers haven't made the playoffs since 2006, and the Maple Leafs have appeared just once since the 2004-05 lockout. But McLellan coached Brendan Shanahan when he was an assistant under Babcock in Detroit and said he has a "very good relationship" with the Leafs' president.
On a conference call after firing Craig Berube, Flyers GM Ron Hextall said he'd ideally like an experienced coach who could get the most out of veterans and young players. That sounds like Babcock — or McLellan.
"He's a guy that can relate to everyone in terms of leadership, and I think that's what great leaders do: They pull people in," Yawney said Monday after the Ducks' morning skate at Winnipeg's MTS Centre. "He can relate to the fourth-line guy that maybe's playing four minutes and also to the guy like Joe Thornton or Patty Marleau, who are stars."
Being a peg that can fit in almost any coaching hole is a huge advantage for McLellan as a free agent, but this process is not likely to happen quickly.
Most teams are waiting to see what Babcock, the two-time Canadian Olympic gold-medal winning coach, does. If Babcock stays in Detroit, McLellan becomes a first choice in a lot of places, and if he leaves, a return to the Red Wings may be in the cards.
"He'll get to pick and choose where he wants to go and make the best decision for himself and his family," Babcock told reporters in Detroit on Monday. "He knows the game. He's an honest, hard-working guy. He'll work in the league as long as he wants. He's an upper-echelon coach."
There's no rush to make a decision in the upper echelon. Even in coaching musical chairs, McLellan won't have trouble finding a seat.
"There's all kinds of situations presenting themselves this year, which is a unique year," Yawney said. "I don't think he'll do anything too hasty. He'll just take his time and he should."
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