AFTER MONTHS of rumors, the NHL's second-hottest coaching commodity became a free agent yesterday.
The San Jose Sharks and head coach Todd McLellan mutually agreed to "part ways," making him available to the 13 or so teams that could be looking for a new coach this summer.
McLellan, 47, went a staggering 311-163-66 (.637) in seven seasons in San Jose. This is the first spring a McLellan-coached team is not participating in the playoffs (WHL, AHL or NHL) after 22 consecutive years on a bench.
"Someone is going to get a good coach," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, the other potential free agent, told reporters yesterday. "He'll get to pick and choose where he wants to go and make the best decision for himself and his family. He treats people right. He knows the game. He's an honest, hard-working guy. He'll work in the league as long as he wants. He's an upper-echelon coach."
McLellan is absolutely on the Flyers' short list of candidates.
The question is: Would McLellan want to come to Philadelphia?
His list of suitors will be long. He has personal connections elsewhere.
As an assistant coach under Babcock in Detroit, McLellan coached Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan in 2005-06. Toronto is looking for both a head coach and a general manager should Babcock not be swayed by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment's dump truck full of cash.
McLellan is also close with Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish. Their sons - Tyson McLellan and Sean MacTavish - were teammates this year on the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks.
Edmonton, the only NHL team to not make the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2007, just became a destination after winning the draft lottery and the rights to Connor McDavid.
There are also openings in New Jersey and Buffalo. Coaches in Pittsburgh, Arizona, St. Louis, Boston and even Anaheim also could be flirting with the ax.
One of McLellan's biggest reasons for leaving San Jose, he said, was the fact that the Sharks were embarking on a lengthy rebuild. The Flyers are probably in the middle of all of those possibilities in terms of the future - not totally gutting and rebuilding, but not all that close, either. They have a few Stanley Cup-contending pieces to build around, but a lot of spare parts. It's a question of what he wants.
"Connor is going to be a very exciting player to coach," McLellan said yesterday. "But the one thing I've learned is that you can have the best player and still not have the best team. It's about the whole team, the group as a whole, about the culture, the organization.
"I would like to coach a great group of hockey players next year. Every one of the 30 teams is at a different place. Some are trying to rebuild, some are trying to establish a playoff presence, and some are going for it all. I'll be open to anything, really."
With his youngest son, Cale, "deeply entrenched" in his high school in the Bay Area, McLellan said he and his wife Debbie already made the decision that he will try to spend next season apart from his family, wherever he lands.
The biggest complicating factor when it comes to McLellan is whether the Flyers believe they can obtain Babcock should he actually hit the open market whenever the Red Wings are eliminated. By then, McLellan will likely be snapped up by another team.
McLellan is leaving for Prague, Czech Republic, on Friday to coach Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier for Team Canada at the World Championships.
If McLellan finds instant chemistry with those three, he could be wooed to the Flyers. Then again, McDavid may also play for Team Canada.
"I'm a coach. I want to coach," McLellan said. "It will be refreshing and invigorating to be around different people. I'm already looking forward to talking tactics. I'm excited about coaching again."
The NHL's regular season ended just 9 days ago, but McLellan is ready to move on to his next challenge.
"I'll look at the teams that are available," McLellan said. "If they are interested in Todd McLellan, I'll look at the people in the organization. I'll look if they have the right people in the right spots, then look at the team and figure out if there's a chance to have success. Where I go from here, I guess I am somewhat in control, but people have to make decisions. I'm comfortable with my career as a coach so far. I don't have any regrets here in San Jose. I feel good moving forward."
The Phantoms wrapped up their sixth consecutive season without a playoff berth on Sunday night. One success was how well the team was welcomed at its sparkling downtown Allentown home, PPL Center. The Phantoms averaged 8,163 fans (8,420 capacity) over 38 dates, including 22 sellouts, for a total of 310,199 tickets sold. They finished fourth in the AHL in attendance . . . Yardley native Brian O'Neill was named the AHL's MVP. The 26-year-old Germantown Academy product led the league with 80 points in 71 games for the Manchester Monarchs, the LA Kings' affiliate. O'Neill also missed five games due to a hand injury. Previous Les Cunningham Award winners include Pelle Lindbergh (1981), Jason Spezza (2005) and Tyler Johnson (2013).