It had been rumoured for a while but with a press release late Tuesday afternoon, it was officially announced that Todd McLellan will be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Kings. The team fired John Stevens early in the season and he was replaced on an interim basis by Willie Desjardins.
McLellan started the 2018-19 season as the head coach for the Edmonton Oilers but was fired in November in favour of Ken Hitchcock. Before that tenure, he was a long-time head coach for the San Jose Sharks, which included a couple of deep playoff runs.
It’s really hard to get a grip on how good McLellan is as a coach in the new era of the NHL. With so much focus on zone entries/exits, trying to boost shot quality with seam passes, and just general efficiency, there isn’t much to work with for McLellan over the last few years. Even his best Oilers team, the one that made it to the second round a couple years ago, was probably a mid-pack team that happened to have Connor McDavid, as opposed to more recent years in which the Oilers were a bottom-tier team that happened to have Connor McDavid.
There’s no Connor McDavid-esque player for McLellan to use in Los Angeles, so what can we expect?
One thing McLellan did in Edmonton: he used the top of the lineup a lot. Not including McDavid, there was about 4-5 minutes difference in ice time per game at five-on-five alone between the top of the lineup and the bottom-6. That’s about the same gap as the top of the lineup from Colorado and the bottom-6, whereas Boston only had about 2-3 minutes between their top guys and the bottom-6, for a frame of reference. It makes sense when you have McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins, and I don’t see why it would change with the Kings. That team has Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Ilya Kovalchuk, and then a whole lot of not much up front. Now, Kopitar has played over 22 minutes in each of the last two seasons, so there’s not much more to be gained there, but the other guys, especially Toffoli, could see an uptick in their minutes. That’s good for fantasy owners.
We can also probably assume he’ll try to push the pace and make the Kings a higher-paced team. In McLellan’s last full season with the Oilers, the team averaged about 59.8 shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five, and that cratered to 51.7 under Ken Hitchcock. The Kings were in the bottom-third of the league in shot attempts per 60 minutes this year at 53.5. If McLellan can get the Kings to play the way he wants them to, that number will go up next year. More shots don’t always lead to more goals, but it’d be a step in the right direction for a team that has struggled to score basically the entire decade.
Kopitar and Doughty had awful seasons in 2018-19, probably why we had so many quotes from Doughty wanting to just finish the season and get it over with. Those two, then, would likely benefit the most in the fantasy game from a higher-paced system. Whether the team will be able to pull it off – and what the team will actually look like in five months is very much up in the air – is a different question.
Overall, I think this is a good hire for the Kings but their issues run much deeper than who is behind the bench. If McLellan can get the Kings playing his way, there are a few players who could reap the benefits. Wanting something to be done a certain way and that thing to actually be done in that manner are two different things, however.
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