Todd McLellan Helps Sharks Turn the Corner

Typically in sports, coaches get way too much credit and way too much blame.

In the end, the good ones are going to have large egos. They're shown on camera a lot, they get tons of credit in the media, and fans eat that kind of stuff up. The coaches parlay the positive attention into lucrative contract extensions, often even before they've proven their long-term worth.

It's likely that Todd McLellan will someday be fired from a coaching job in the NHL. Coaches are, after all, hired to be fired. But having watched the Sharks a few times in the last couple weeks, I have a hard time believing it will happen anytime soon, with the Sharks setting a record last night for most points in a 30-game start (52).

After some up-and-down times in recent years under current Toronto boss Ron Wilson, the Sharks appear to be firing on all cylinders right now. From a distance, it's hard not to give a ton of credit for that to McLellan.

McLellan was hired by the Sharks after a successful tenure in Detroit, where he was an assistant coach for last year's Stanley Cup champions. So far, he's used that championship pedigree to turn the perennially underachieving Sharks into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

For a change, the Sharks' Cup status isn't based on potential or the talent level on the team. It's based on how they are playing. That's a large credit to the coach, along with the players who have so dutifully followed his teachings.

Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov knows that McLellan deserves a good chunk of the credit for the Sharks' play.

We really got our defense a lot stronger during the offseason. Also, we changed our game tactics with the new coach, and wins give us confidence. We can control the flow of every game, even when we are losing.

The netminder is on the right track. McLellan has a team right now that is playing with the highest possible confidence. Even when they're battling from behind, like they were Saturday against St. Louis and Monday against Los Angeles, they have a certain calmness about their game. To me, they look the same up two or three goals as they do down two or three goals.

There was never a question about the talents of guys like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Nabokov, and other holdovers. This team didn't get better by trading Steve Bernier and losing Brian Campbell to free agency.

Sure, getting Dan Boyle and Rob Blake on the blue line helped. Both have been great on both ends of the rink. This is especially true of Blake, who looks like a completely different player than he was during his time back in Los Angeles.

But having a calm, collected coach behind the bench, one who has Stanley Cup experience to draw on, is a huge key for this team.

The big question right now is simple: What happens when there is genuine trouble? This is, after all, an 82-game season, and it's followed by the biggest mental and physical test in all of sports. Somewhere on this journey, the Sharks will face adversity. A 2-0 deficit to the Kings isn't adversity. It's a bad start. The Sharks have already proven they can overcome those. They've proven it won't bother them to get the best everyone can bring them every night.

When (not "if") adversity happens, McLellan will undoubtedly draw on the things he learned in Detroit. When the Wings had to change goaltenders after Nashville drew even in their first-round series last year, the Wings responded by winning Game Five dramatically and never being threatened in the sixth and final game. When they lost two straight to Dallas after taking a commanding 3-0 series lead, they jumped all over the Stars early in Game Six and were never seriously challenged. When they blew a late lead and lost in triple-overtime in Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Wings went back to Pittsburgh and won the Cup.

Nothing got that team terribly off-kilter. While everyone goes through slumps and everyone has bad days, those don't define the great teams. What defines the great teams is how they respond to that adversity. While McLellan has the experience and knowledge to steer this team through those tough times, but we won't know for sure until something bad actually happens.

For now, though, I'm inclined to give McLellan the nod for the Jack Adams Award. He's taken a team that was only known for letting their fans down and turned them into one that looks like a candidate to bring Lord Stanley back to the beach.

Todd McLellan Helps Sharks Turn the Corner originally appeared on NHL FanHouse on Tue, 16 Dec 2008 13:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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