Back in 1986, the New York Islanders grabbed a centerman in the 5th round. He was the 104th pick in the draft. Few probably thought he’d be in the NHL for 1000 games. And Todd McLellan wasn’t. His playing career, in fact, lasted just five games. He has a perfect record—no penalty minutes. But as of Monday night, he became one of seven active coaches to manage 1000 games from behind the bench.
As an NHLer, he scored one goal, and added an assist. This happened on December 28thand 29th, 1987. Two games, two points, a goal in game one. It must have seemed like promise. He played but two more games in January of 1988, and then got into the April 3rdcontest.
His goal came in a game against New Jersey where players like Pat Flatley, Pat LaFontaine, and Aaron Broten got points. But his goal was assisted by Dale Henry and Brad Delgamo, players not exactly remembered. Alan Kerr was the player who scored the goal on which McLellan assisted.
And then it was over. McLellan had played in the WHL for four years with the Saskatoon Blades. He spend most of his NHL debut season (1987-88) with the Springfield Indians. By 1990-91, he was back home, at least in his home province of Saskatchewan, as a university player.
By the way, who else was picked 104th in various years? Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Copp, Marcus Foligno. Who else played only five games? In McLellan’s draft year, one player picked in the first round played the same number of games—Dan Woodley, chosen seventh overall. So nothing’s guaranteed.
Anyway, McLellan packed up his big-league dream and went into coaching.
His first job was with the North Battleford North Stars, in 1993-94. Then it was the historic Swift Current Broncos, for six years. Then Cleveland in the IHL, followed by the Houston Aeros of the AHL.
He moved behind an NHL bench as an assistant, with Detroit, for three years. During the final year of that job, his team won the Stanley Cup. He then got his big break—the San Jose Sharks brought him on as head coach.
Was that a successful run? Indeed. He was with San Jose from 2008-2015, taking his team to the playoffs six of the seven years. They went to the third round twice, losing both times. When he didn’t make the playoffs in the last year, it was over. But not for long.
Edmonton came calling, and he spent four years back up North. Then his chance with the LA Kings brought him back to California. So far, he hasn’t made the playoffs in two years, but the team is poised now, its plan working, even though the Kings are coping with a handful of injury problems these days.
Monday against Seattle, the coach started his 1000th game behind the bench. He was asked earlier in the week what coaches get for this accomplishment, which had been done 30 times prior to McLellan doing it. Players, as we know, get a silver stick. McLellan said, “Hopefully 1001 games. That’s the way it works in coaching.” What he got in addition was a video tribute that showed all phases of his now-lengthy career.
His team came out as if this were any other game. They allowed opponent Seattle to score at the fourteen-second mark, a play where Ryan Donato charged down and around the net, throwing the puck to the front for Alex Wennberg to backhand past Cal Petersen.
The Kings scored a beautiful passing goal to get the game back to tied when Arvidsson did a spin move at the blueline, threw a puck over to Kempe, and watched him fake a shot to make a pass over to Kaliyev, who buried a puck into an open side.
Seattle would score once more at 8:24 of the first, a period in which the Kings were outshot, 13-9.
The Kings did not respond. At one point in period two, they went more than five minutes without a shot on goal. The best chance might have been with around six minutes to go, when Byfield got a feed in the middle of the slot but couldn’t finish.
The Kraken went up 3-1 on a Victor Rask shot. He held the puck, drifted in, held, held, and finally laced a wrister past Petersen, who was playing a bit deep and offset to the shooter’s left in the net.
The Kings could use injury as an excuse. Dustin Brown is out, as are Andreas Athanasiou, Blake Lizotte, Drew Doughty, Mikey Anderson, and Brendan Lemieux, and others. McLellan was making the most of what he had, though, switching the lines up to generate energy. He broke up Danault’s line, for instance, and moved both Kopitar and Byfield to different lines during the middle period.
It wasn’t the most spirited effort by a Kings team which last played Saturday, when they beat this same Kraken team, 4-2, also in Los Angeles. They did have a good chance when Moverare saw Chris Driedger make a blocker save stretching to his right on a rush, and another within the last forty seconds when Troy Stecher had the puck moving right to left in front and forced another good save off the pad of the outstretched Driedger.
So come to think of it, the Kings might not have been that bad—just a little off mixed with being somewhat bamboozled by a clever opposing netminder.
LA did nothing better in period three. The Seattle team scored twice on rushes, almost marching into the zone uncontested. Then they did it again, in unlikely fashion when the puck went off the face of Spence and bounced into the open side of the ice. That seems like bad luck, but note that the shooter, Daniel Sprong, was in behind the defense when he took his shot, as had happened on several of the goals in the game, particularly the late going.
The final tally sheet shows Seattle having the better of the shots, just barely, 38-37.
McLellan didn’t play long enough to have characteristics as a player, at least not at the NHL level, but it’s easy enough to determine his coaching style as an extension of his character. He’s honest. He’s steady. He’s a bit of a brooder, but he never takes it out, on the press, at least.
In that spirit, he wasn’t particularly happy with his team’s performance on this evening, but he still gave his typical measured and thorough answers to the questions asked of him after the game. His main message? That this game was a carryover from Saturday’s, when Seattle scored with four seconds left. Their early tally on Monday night was a pickup, and it doomed the Kings. They’ll need to get back on point when they play Edmonton and Calgary in their next two games.
By the way, that one goal McLellan scored in the NHL? It came on one of his four shots.
The Kings go North themselves now, playing Edmonton and Calgary back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday. Then it’s Winnipeg on Saturday in Manitoba. LA plays only five home games all of April.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Sometimes, he’s on twitter @growinguphockey.