(Photo courtesy of Sharkspage.com, LOLcaption courtesy of the magnificent Gray)
New coaches are a curious things in sports. Often they are a sign of desperation when a team is doing poorly enough that they must change direction (see: Barry Melrose). Sometimes they are a sign that management is crazy and just hates the coach (see also: Barry Melrose). Other times a new coach is the product of a hiring or a firing that makes no sense (see again: Barry Melrose). Todd McLellan, I would argue is a different kind of coach and, so far, he is proving to be just what the Sharks need.
My first full season as a Sharks fan the team went 28-37-9-8 for 73 points (just a year after going to the 2nd round of the playoffs) and Darryl Sutter became my mortal enemy. I was annoyed that Mark Smith wasn't getting playing time and neither were many of the younger guys. Sutter had become so stuck in his ways of only playing veterans, the team never improved, and Sutter was fired halfway into the next season. A similar situation happened to Ron Wilson, Sutter's replacement. Wilson's slightly adversarial method of player motivation worked well for some, but ended up destroying some (Patty Marleau, Christian Erhoff) and alienated others (pretty much the rest of the team). Therefore it came as no surprise to Sharks fans that Wilson was fired over the summer.
A new coach is like a wrapped package: the anticipation of opening it is often more exciting than what you actually get. But so far, Todd McLellan has been a wonderful present. Gray and I have remarked several times during the young season that we have no idea who these Sharks are. We have always been told that they are a fast, but this year they look astoundingly fast. Even when they aren't playing well, they aren't playing the dull, uninspired hockey that we saw at the end of the playoffs last season. The players have bought into McLellan's system in a way that I never really saw them do with Ron Wilson. And as much as I miss the Ron Wilson press conference, this level of player buy-in is a welcome sight.
The McLellan hiring has paid off big so far. The Sharks have the best record in the NHL going into today's games with an amazing 29 points (out of 36). Patty Marleau is playing like a man possessed and is using his speed in ways I haven't seen in several seasons. Christian Erhoff is a completely different player, making lots of quality shots and playing really responsibly defensively. All in all, the players have elevated their games and results have been exciting. It's not all perfect though. The power play, which was supposed to McLellan's specialty, is only at 18.8% (though it got much better Thursday night against the Flames). Then again, it's hard to argue with a team that has only one OT loss at home and 14 wins 18 games into the season.
Will the team always be doing this well? That's pretty unlikely. What will happen when the honeymoon is over? No one really knows. All I know is that this fast start has helped to to stop worrying and learn to love the cephalopod.