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NHL playoffs

Three playoff coaches were part of star-studded crew in Detroit


A composite image of Mike Babcock (PIERRE-PAUL POULIN/QMI Agency), Paul MacLean (ERROL MCGIHON/QMI Agency) and Todd McLellan (REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach).

A composite image of Mike Babcock (PIERRE-PAUL POULIN/QMI Agency), Paul MacLean (ERROL MCGIHON/QMI Agency) and Todd McLellan (REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach).



It was a star-studded team.

Looking back now, it's become clear it was a star-studded coaching staff, too.

When Mike Babcock coached Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and the rest of the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup in 2008, he was sharing the workload with a couple of assistants with bright futures of their own.

Todd McLellan is now the main man for the San Jose Sharks, while Paul MacLean was nominated for the Jack Adams Award in his second season behind the bench for the Ottawa Senators.

It's probably no coincidence all three are among the eight coaches still working in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"My time with Babs and Mac was a really good opportunity for three guys to share a lot of ideas, for three individuals to challenge each other," McLellan recalled. "We had very good teams there so we could experiment a little bit with things. We were all able to contribute to the success of that team, but also the failures, and we learned a lot in those situations, as well.

"Obviously, Babs, his career is well-documented with his successes and what they're doing now. And Paul has done a heck of a job. You don't get nominated for that award at the end of the year without doing a good job, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him take it home.

"So it was an excellent staff, a really, really good staff. Fun to be around and a great opportunity for us to share ideas."

McLellan served as a sidekick to Babcock for three seasons before accepting the top job in San Jose just a week after celebrating that Stanley Cup triumph with the Wings.

Five years later, he's now the all-time wins leader in Sharks' history, having posted 220 regular-season Ws during his stint in the Silicon Valley. Heading into Thursday's late clash at Staples Center, his group was giving the reigning champion Los Angeles Kings a stiff test in their Western Conference semifinal series.

Obviously, he's doing something right.

Sharks blueliner Brad Stuart, who spent five winters with the Wings and was a part of the parade in 2008, seemed uncomfortable trying to compare McLellan to Babcock, pointing out "your personality is part of how you coach so you can't try to copy somebody else."

However, he credited San Jose's 45-year-old bench boss with not getting stuck on what worked in the past.

"You've gotta be able to adapt in this league now," Stuart said. "We went through it this year -- the style of this team wasn't the same as it's been for the three or four years previous, so you have to adapt and I think our coaching staff, they did that. It took a little while for us to maybe grasp that, but we finally did and they made sure they stuck with it and got their message across.

"Successful coaches do that. The guys that last are the ones that figure out the personality of the team and adapt their style a little bit to get the best out of their players."

McLellan certainly has staying power.

In 19 seasons of high-level coaching, which also includes a half-dozen seasons with the Western Hockey League's Swift Current Broncos, one as boss of the International Hockey League's Cleveland Lumberjacks and four with the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros, he has never missed the playoffs.


In other words, he was a good coach before he worked with Babcock and MacLean.

"I think the game has evolved since 2005, when we arrived (in Detroit). That's a lot of years now," McLellan said. "You bring some ideas with you, but if you're still stuck on those ideas and you haven't evolved as a coach or a coaching staff or a team or an organization, you're probably not playing in this round and you're way behind the curve."

Twitter: @SUNGilbertson


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