Todd McLellan, others have options as job searches begin
PRAGUE -- It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and Team Canada coach Todd McLellan was making a leisurely walk to a caf near the team hotel as the IIHF World Championships rolled on. A jogger came toward him, looking more and more familiar until he stopped running to chat.
It was former Edmonton Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger, now the chairman of Southampton Football Club.
The two struck up a quick conversation, chatting a bit about how Team Canada has played so far in the tournament. They shook hands, and Krueger was off. Just like that.
It has been only two years since Krueger left Edmonton, but so much has changed since then. There's a new regime with Bob Nicholson and Peter Chiarelli shaping the future. There's a new franchise center on the way in Connor McDavid.
There's a real excitement and optimism about the Oilers that didn't exist a year ago, or even a month ago.
There's also another potential vacancy at head coach in Edmonton. The position Krueger once filled -- quite capably, in retrospect -- is up in the air as Chiarelli does his due diligence on who should be behind the Edmonton bench next year.
Chiarelli met with McLellan in Prague. According to TSN's Darren Dreger, he'll interview interim Oilers coach Todd Nelson about the position this weekend.
It might be the most fascinating position available, simply because of McDavid and the high-end young offensive talent around him.
It's also far from the only one.
The Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and San Jose Sharks all are searching for head coaches. It's possible theSt. Louis Blues and Boston Bruinscould be added to that list, depending on what happens withKen Hitchcock and Claude Julien, respectively. And of course there's the Babcock Watch, with Mike Babcock's contract expiring at the end of June unless he and the Detroit Red Wings strike up a new extension.
Babcock and Detroit GM Ken Holland have separate trips to Prague planned, but they will overlap and give the two more potential time together to hammer out a deal.
It's a swirling world of speculation and rumors back in North America, with fans targeting the guys they want most, eager for any information that might confirm that guy is headed to their city.
McLellan has been able to avoid it all.
His focus is squarely on Team Canada, and he remains secluded in the bubble that these international hockey tournaments create for those involved.
"This is the priority. Team Canada is No. 1. The players who have made the commitment to being here deserve that," McLellan told ESPN.com. "In the extra time, either on the phone or in person, you get a chance to talk to teams."
McLellan, who mutually parted ways with the Sharks in April, said he doesn't have a sense of a time frame for the coaching searches because there are so many moving parts. There's the Babcock domino, with Babcock saying during end-of-season interviews that he expected to take a good 10 days to decide how he wanted to proceed. That was six days ago.
McLellan is also occupied with leading a team that expects to play for a gold medal on May 17.
That isn't the only delay.
"There's a lot going on with teams right now, wrapping up year-end stuff, managerial searches, scouting meetings," McLellan said. "I have no idea on timeframe that people are thinking."
Toronto hasn't hired a general manager yet. San Jose GM Doug Wilson is known for his meticulous planning, although former Devils coach Peter DeBoer would sure be a nice fit on a San Jose team where puck possession is part of the identity. Ray Shero just took the GM job in New Jersey and is expected to be in the Czech Republic on Saturday to help with Team USA.
When Shero arrives, it seems inevitable that there would be a conversation at some point with Dan Bylsma, his old coach in Pittsburgh, about getting the band back together. Bylsma is an assistant under Todd Richards with Team USA, a flip-flop of the arrangement in the Sochi Olympics and a redux of the positions those two held together in Wilkes-Barre years ago.
Bylsma has quickly won over the young American team with his energy, especially during practices, where it's not unusual to see him diving onto the ice to create an obstacle for players entering the offensive zone or throwing a shoulder into the mix here and there.
"[Bylsma] has a lot of spunk and a lot of energy," Team USA forward Brock Nelson told ESPN.com. "Even in the locker room, you show up in the morning at 9:00 or 9:30 a.m. and he's bouncing around in gym clothes looking for coffee. I don't know if he necessarily needed it."
It's an energy Bylsma has always had, Richards said, but coaching with him in the world championships has helped the two share ideas and tips they've picked up since being on the same staff.
It's a similar experience for McLellan and the Team Canada group. Players talk often about how this tournament can help their game, and the same goes for coaches.
"Sharing ideas with coaches and managers from other teams -- if we did this during the year, it would be 100 percent tampering," McLellan joked. "But they're great conversations, really good hockey theories, talking about players around the league. It's excellent. What a good experience."
As two of the most experienced and successful coaches on the market, it's highly likely McLellan and Bylsma will both be taking anything learned in the Czech Republic to new jobs this summer.
Richards was speaking about Bylsma, but he might as well have been speaking about both him and McLellan, when forecasting the future.
"He wants to coach, just like any coach," Richards said. "There are opportunities out there. I'm sure he'll get a lot of real good looks. I will be shocked if he's not coaching in the NHL next year."
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