Shopping for an Assistant Coach for the Edmonton Oilers

Jonathan Willis
April 23 2014 12:28PM

Dallas Eakins 11

There has been a lot of discussion this summer about Dallas Eakins’ assistant coaches. Partially, that’s because coaching seems clearly to have been an issue this year, and the revolving door in Edmonton means Eakins himself isn’t likely to go. Partially it’s because his current assistants fit the ‘old boys’ bill a little too well and have had suspicious longevity in an organization that fires almost everyone else.

Moving beyond the current staff, what qualities would we expect to see in a new Eakins assistant?

Defence

85-Marincin-5

The head coach typically runs the forward lines in-game, while his top assistant is responsible for sending out the defence pairings. So if we were picking a new top assistant for Eakins, ideally it would be someone who has some familiarity with defencemen.

An ability to develop defencemen is particularly important for the Oilers because they will be relying on a lot of young ones. Looking at the current defensive depth chart, the four most important people on it are probably Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry, Martin Marincin and Oscar Klefbom – that’s an awful lot of young talent that needs to grow in a hurry, and with others (Darnell Nurse, Dillon Simpson, Martin Gernat, perhaps even Aaron Ekblad) on the way the Oilers’ ability to develop defencemen may very well dictate the success or failure of the rebuild.

Power Play

The future up front

Dallas Eakins is not a good power play coach. The Oilers’ power play this year struggled, and this isn’t a new thing; when we considered the coach last summer one of the concerns was the impotent man advantage of the Toronto Marlies:

Special teams have been a wash – mostly because Eakins has coached a brilliantly successful penalty kill and a stubbornly impotent power play. Twice he’s coached the best penalty kill in the AHL; three times he’s coached a bottom-five power play. Additionally, his penalty killers tend to score goals while his power play units tend to be scored on.

Eakins’ history suggests that the Oilers would be well-served if he got some help running the man advantage.

Experience

Buchberger, Kelly

Eakins’ assistants in 2013-14 have a combined total of (1) years of head coaching experience – Kelly Buchberger’s middling season at the helm of the Springfield Falcons. Keith Acton’s been through the wars (he was an assistant coach alongside Craig MacTavish and Charlie Huddy on the 1998-99 New York Rangers, and he’d already been in the coaching game for half a decade at that point), but he’s never been the guy making the final calls.

Buchberger got one year in the AHL and has spent the last six as an assistant coach in Edmonton. Steve Smith got a year as an assistant to Brian Sutter in Calgary; otherwise his resume of pro coaching experience includes the last four seasons in Edmonton.

Ideally, a new assistant would bring experience as a head coach and a more varied history to the staff.

The Obvious Choice

Todd Nelson

Well, duh.

Todd Nelson had a pretty decent journeyman’s career as a defenceman during his time as a player. He has history with pretty much all of the key young prospect blueliners the Oilers desperately need to develop over the next few years; he helped Schultz, Petry, Marincin and Klefbom adapt to the professional game, excel in the AHL and ultimately graduate to the majors. Not only has he had success in general in developing defensive prospects; he’s had success with these defensive prospects.

Nelson’s Barons have had a better than 20 percent success rate on the power play in each of the last two seasons. Last year they led the AHL with a 21.6 success rate; in 2013-14 the team improved to 22.1 percent but fell to third in the league – and they managed it without any proven high-end AHL scoring forwards.

Nelson has been Oklahoma’s head coach for four seasons, four seasons in which his team made the playoffs every time after years and years of failure for the Oilers’ AHL affiliate. As an assistant to John Anderson before that, Nelson won an AHL championship with the Chicago Wolves and eventually spent two years in the same role in the NHL. Before that, he was an assistant coach on Detroit’s AHL affiliate and went on to win two championships in the UHL, a team that had a working relationship with that same Red Wings AHL affiliate.

So the first question is: How often does a team have an internal candidate who checks off the needed boxes so perfectly? The second is: How often does a team pass on an internal candidate who seems such an obvious fit?

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 RexHolez
April 23 2014, 04:55PM
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I say we keep the coaches. This is who they want, so they can have them under the agreement that without major improvement next year KLowe and company are released. Sounds fair to me.

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#52 RexHolez
April 23 2014, 04:57PM
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I'll gladly sit thru another pitiful year if it means Lowe will finally leave.

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#53 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
April 23 2014, 05:09PM
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RexHolez wrote:

I'll gladly sit thru another pitiful year if it means Lowe will finally leave.

That's part of the beauty of landing McDavid.

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#54 The Real Scuba Steve
April 23 2014, 05:16PM
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RexHolez wrote:

I'll gladly sit thru another pitiful year if it means Lowe will finally leave.

I wish, but do you really think that is going happen? I have read on this very website that he is now only an senoir advisor to my Mr. Katz, And we all BELIEVE that one.

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#55 mayorblaine
April 23 2014, 05:17PM
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time for MacT to fire up the ol'Skype machine.

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#56 Casey
April 23 2014, 05:31PM
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Difference between Todd Nelson and Dallas Eakins is that Nelson makes his players WANT to come to the rink and play. He makes his player competitive but make them have fun and enjoy hockey. Dallas Eakins is a whole different story. He gets angry at players, gives them an attitude, takes the Oilers as if they are a cup contender, and he takes the fun out of hockey, the worst thing he does though is KILL the team's heart

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#57 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
April 23 2014, 05:42PM
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Business organizations have a tendency to want to retain talent in its current position. If they promote Nelson....which they probably eventually should...that creates a hole in OKC....I think the Oilers are VERY happy to have Nelson in OKC....and the push would have to come from Nelson himself by way of threat to go elsewhere...

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#58 nuge2nail
April 23 2014, 05:59PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

If the 9th overall can get you Schneider...

Would the right return for our 2014 3rd Overall, Yakupov, Gagner, and the 2015 First Rounder(potential McDavid-Eichal lottery) be Eric and Jordan Staal.

Imagine Eakins having the option to send Staal, Hopkins, Staal, or Gordan out there to matchup against the big centers on the west coast(Kopitar, Getzlaf, Thornton, Keslar, etc).

These additions would finally give a coach in Edm a chance to succeed.

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#59 bumboclate(In MacT we trust!)
April 23 2014, 06:11PM
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@Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

Oilers should of gave todd a shot at the head position. Hes earned the chance!

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#60 Sammy27
April 23 2014, 06:44PM
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Promote Nelson and promote Derek Laxdal to The AHL.

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#61 LJAC
April 23 2014, 07:24PM
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I can't believe that no one has thought about a veteran assistant coach currently not employed who has had tremendous success with special teams and player development...with a local connection but not part of the Oilers "old boys" club. Anyone?

Perry Pearn

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#62 David S
April 23 2014, 07:24PM
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nuge2nail wrote:

Oiler Domination To Follow

If the 9th overall can get you Schneider...

Would the right return for our 2014 3rd Overall, Yakupov, Gagner, and the 2015 First Rounder(potential McDavid-Eichal lottery) be Eric and Jordan Staal.

Imagine Eakins having the option to send Staal, Hopkins, Staal, or Gordan out there to matchup against the big centers on the west coast(Kopitar, Getzlaf, Thornton, Keslar, etc).

These additions would finally give a coach in Edm a chance to succeed.

I'm a little surprised you didn't go all in and propose Crosby and Malkin.

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#63 Rick Stroppel
April 23 2014, 07:34PM
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bazmagoo wrote:

I think I'd be hesitant to call Nelson's AHL tenure a "successful program". I'd be inclined to think he'll have to spend a few years as an NHL assistant before being offered a head coaching role.

SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM?

Todd Nelson just coached the OKC Barons into the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. The last time the Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs four consecutive years was 2001, 13 years ago.

Dallas Eakins was head coach of the Toronto Marlboros four four years. The Marlboros missed the playoffs twice in those four years.

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#64 nuge2nail
April 23 2014, 07:45PM
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David S wrote:

I'm a little surprised you didn't go all in and propose Crosby and Malkin.

Oiler Domination To Follow

Unlike the Pens, the Canes are looking to offload salary and rebuild, so Eric Staal is available.

If that's the case - no one is going to beat the offer of a first overall, a 3rd overall pick, and a first rounder in the mcdavid draft.

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/touch/story.html?id=9711100

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#65 Craig MacTambeloweni
April 23 2014, 07:53PM
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mayorblaine wrote:

time for MacT to fire up the ol'Skype machine.

Mac T could have a conference call via skype in which he fires Eakins and hires Nelson, although unlikely it would be a classic Oilers tactic

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#66 Time Travelling Sean
April 23 2014, 08:22PM
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nuge2nail wrote:

Oiler Domination To Follow

Unlike the Pens, the Canes are looking to offload salary and rebuild, so Eric Staal is available.

If that's the case - no one is going to beat the offer of a first overall, a 3rd overall pick, and a first rounder in the mcdavid draft.

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/touch/story.html?id=9711100

What do you think Stall is worth? Srsly. He's inconsistent, old, and over-priced.

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#67 RexHolez
April 23 2014, 08:26PM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

What do you think Stall is worth? Srsly. He's inconsistent, old, and over-priced.

Then why do we want him?

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#68 Walter Sobchak
April 23 2014, 10:28PM
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All the Eakins fans who want him fired just need to calm down.

Eakins shelf life in the NHL will be two maybe three years max, he’s built the same way Keenan & Tortorella are.

His type of coaching has a very short shelf life.

The bigger thing to worry about is losing another good coach due to screwing a guy over in Nelson who should have been here all along.

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#69 Oilers
April 23 2014, 11:22PM
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Willie Desjardins. AHL coach of the year last year and best record last 2 years.

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#70 Dog Train
April 23 2014, 11:57PM
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With all of the work that Nelson has done in OKC, it would be a crime to see him go to another organization. The logical move would be to promote Nelson to at least an assistant on the big club but the Edmonton Oilers are an illogical organization. We wait.

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#71 Andrew
April 24 2014, 12:47AM
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I think Todd Nelson would have been a logical in-house pick for at least an assistant coaching role for the Oil a year ago. Does anyone recall his reaction when Mact passed him over for Eakins? He was understandably pissed and upset. As I recall some big mouth had to open his big yap and rub it in on an Oilers broadcast. ( What an uncouth @$$hole).

It was at that time Nelson started making comments about wanting an opportunity elsewhere. I don't see Mact hiring Nelson because Nelson has some NHL assistant coaching experience I think and he has managed to get a patchwork team to the AHL playoffs for the last couple of seasons. He has shown the ability to get some players ready for the show. That's certainly a lot more than fr-Eakins can say. Every player he touches turns to poo. Whoever is working with the Baron's D could also be brought up to E-town to continue to work with the D prospects. Clearly Schultz needs to be taught defensive play because whoever is doing it now between Smith and Buchberger may know it but can't teach it.

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#72 RexHolez
April 24 2014, 05:10AM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

All the Eakins fans who want him fired just need to calm down.

Eakins shelf life in the NHL will be two maybe three years max, he’s built the same way Keenan & Tortorella are.

His type of coaching has a very short shelf life.

The bigger thing to worry about is losing another good coach due to screwing a guy over in Nelson who should have been here all along.

I love Eakins. As long as Lowe gets released when Eakins does I'll gladly watch another team next year while Katz grows some balls

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#73 godot10
April 24 2014, 07:54AM
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Dog Train wrote:

With all of the work that Nelson has done in OKC, it would be a crime to see him go to another organization. The logical move would be to promote Nelson to at least an assistant on the big club but the Edmonton Oilers are an illogical organization. We wait.

AHL head coach to NHL assistant coach is a DEMOTION for someone who already has experience as an NHL assistant (Nelson has), and whose career ambition is to be an NHL head coach (presumably Nelson does).

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#74 Wildcard
April 24 2014, 01:02PM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

You actually believe whats happened here the last five years isn't part of a gameplan? Incompetence of this magnitude isn't an accident.

You may return to watching your Teletubbies program now Wildcard.

Wanting the team to lose is a loser attitude. Wanting the team to tank is a Joke.

Good comment with the teletubbies. The clown comment suites your clown avatar

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#75 J
April 25 2014, 01:24PM
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It sounded as though nelson felt he was overlooked by the Oilers last season when Eakins was hired. I wonder if the 'promotion' to being his assistant now would be a little too much crow on one plate for the man to eat.

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