EDMONTON — Todd McLellan, named Tuesday as the new coach of hockey’s woebegone Edmonton Oilers, said he’s not even thinking about making the post-season right now.
“We’re not going to talk about playoffs here,” said McLellan, sitting beside Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli for the announcement at a downtown hotel.
“We’re going to talk about foundation. We’re going to talk about creating an identity and building towards it.
“The playoff part of it exists after you accomplish those regular-season things, and we’ve got work to do there.”
McLellan, 47, becomes the 14th head coach of the Oilers.
The man from Melville, Sask., is the latest change in a sweeping front-office shakeup that followed the Oilers winning the draft lottery last month to give them the chance to draft generational junior hockey sensation Connor McDavid.
McLellan takes over a team that has missed the playoffs for the last nine consecutive seasons, earning the reputation of a dysfunctional organization that drafts poorly outside the first round with little ability to develop players.
The Oilers finished 28th this season with a 24-44-14 record.
McLellan parted ways with the San Jose Sharks a month ago after coaching the team for seven seasons. He took them to the playoffs six times and made hockey’s final four twice.
He has a career 311-163-66 coaching record in the regular season, but is 30-32 in the playoffs.
He becomes Edmonton’s sixth coach since 2009, and was asked about inheriting a culture of losing.
“The past is the past,” said McLellan.
“Neither of the gentlemen up here were involved in the past,” he added, gesturing to Chiarelli.
Chiarelli joined the Oilers April 24 as general manager and president of hockey operations after being let go as general manager by the Boston Bruins.
Chiarelli interviewed McLellan for the job recently in Prague, where McLellan was coaching Team Canada to a gold medal win at the IIHF World Hockey Championships.
McLellan and Detroit’s Mike Babcock were considered the top two coaching candidates on the market, and Edmonton never asked permission to talk to Babcock.
“I’ve been very impressed with (McLellan’s) teams over the years,” said Chiarelli.
He said McLellan’s Sharks had a trademark style.
“They were hard games. They were games where adjustments were being made all the time. They were heavy on the puck, and he (McLellan) really looked like he enjoyed coaching,” said Chiarelli.
McLellan said he’s still figuring out assistant coaches, including the fate of Todd Nelson, who was the Oilers interim head coach last season after Dallas Eakins was fired in December.
McLellan said he’s already working to prepare McDavid for the pressure cooker of pro hockey by talking to Sidney Crosby about it at the Prague tournament.
“I asked (Crosby) what it was like as a young 18-year-old coming up that way, and some of the hardships he may have had or didn’t have,” said McLellan.
“It’s tough to be that player in this world, especially in a Canadian market, but Connor will be fine.
“He is just one piece on the team. It’s going to be about the whole, not individuals.”
McLellan takes over a team with a nucleus of talent starting with forwards like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But the roster is woefully weak in goal and on defence.
Both McLellan and Chiarelli said because they are new, the slate is blank.
“We’re starting from scratch,” said McLellan.