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

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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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#1 ThatGuy109
April 23 2014, 12:37PM
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Key question is: does Todd Nelson want to be an assistant coach, especially for a team that passed on him a year ago for Dallas Eakins?

I'd love to have him coach here and think he's the right guy for the job but I'm fearful he'll bolt for bigger opportunities elsewhere

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#2 Muji
April 23 2014, 12:53PM
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Disagree.

Todd Nelson never played for the Edmonton Oilers. He's never won a Stanley Cup (i.e. doesn't know a thing or two about winning). And he doesn't have a familiar nickname like "Bucky". Pass.

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#3 jonny94
April 23 2014, 12:41PM
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I really hope Todd Nelson gets promoted to the Edmonton Oilers.... Obvious to the Nation... Oblivious to Management.

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#4 Spydyr
April 23 2014, 12:38PM
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No doubt Todd Nelson would be a good fit but who replaces him.He has done a very good job getting the kids ready for Edmonton.

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#5 Spydyr
April 23 2014, 01:08PM
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Sevenseven wrote:

Nelson should be head coach. Duh!

Trotz should be the head coach but the Oilers would never hire him.He was this thing called experience that they just don't like for some reason.

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#6 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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#7 Sevenseven
April 23 2014, 12:54PM
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Nelson should be head coach. Duh!

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#9 freelancer
April 23 2014, 12:49PM
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How much longer of a contract does he have with the Barons. It seems obvious that Nelson wants an NHL head coaching position. My question is does he think he can get that without having NHL coaching experience. Hopefully we see him behind the bench this year. Seems an obvious choice.

So obviously it won't happen.

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#10 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
April 23 2014, 12:54PM
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Stay the course.

Outside of adding 15' of rope to that equasion. The staus quo is fine. Dallas running the ship show for the full season is our best shot at Connor McDavid.

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#11 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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#12 hankthetank
April 23 2014, 12:50PM
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ThatGuy109 wrote:

Key question is: does Todd Nelson want to be an assistant coach, especially for a team that passed on him a year ago for Dallas Eakins?

I'd love to have him coach here and think he's the right guy for the job but I'm fearful he'll bolt for bigger opportunities elsewhere

This all day. You get pigeon holed into a job you do so well that your manager refuses to let you advance. So what do you do? Find greener pastures.

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#13 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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#14 Wildcard
April 23 2014, 01:45PM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

Stay the course.

Outside of adding 15' of rope to that equasion. The staus quo is fine. Dallas running the ship show for the full season is our best shot at Connor McDavid.

Already planning for McDavid?

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what's wrong with the fanbase. A loser mentality that supports tanking year in year out.

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#15 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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#16 mayorblaine
April 23 2014, 05:17PM
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time for MacT to fire up the ol'Skype machine.

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#17 Oiler Al
April 23 2014, 02:18PM
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So if Eakins is managing the forward lines and Acton is doing the same for the defense men, what are SMith and Bucky doing on the bench?

Would they not have a better view of the flow of the game etc, from the press box.? I say this because I dont see a lot of communication between them and the players during the game. Smith a bit, Bucky stands there like a cow chewing his cud.

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#18 Fresh Mess
April 23 2014, 12:58PM
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I don't believe Nelson is interested in that job. He will attract more NHL interest as a head coach of a successful AHL program, than he will being an assistant on a perennial loser in the NHL.

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#19 2004Z06
April 23 2014, 01:19PM
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Please bring back Charlie Huddy as well.

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#20 bazmagoo
April 23 2014, 01:07PM
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Trade Bucky for Nelson! Bucky needs to be replaced, preferably with a PP specialist.

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#21 Will
April 23 2014, 01:10PM
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I don't think Todd Nelson would look at the promotion as an insult. He's been a great asset for the Oilers, and bringing him up would send a good message. Moreover, I bet Eakins would shape us well as that would be like having a 1A and 1B coaching tandem.

Finally, can anyone tell me how these two assistant coaches were under Renny and Krueger, can't help Eakins run a power play. Under Renny and Krueger our PP got way better, even our PK under Kreuger was average.

Now they can't seem to say, well that worked, lets go back to that?

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#22 NJ
April 23 2014, 01:15PM
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Seriously? Let's bring in ANOTHER AHL coach? Really? *facepalm* We do NOT need another coach up in the NHL who has to "adjust" to the NHL speed, systems etc... blah blah blah. We don't need another 82 game learning curve. We need an absolute proven NHL coach in here to do the assisant's job. Key word. NHL. I don't give a rip if that's Trotz or Laviolette... or someone.

Todd Nelson is doing a great job in OKC. Leave the guy there and give him a big @$$ raise. Keep the D men developing well and rising in value.

Solution? I'm not sure. Trotz (Nashville)was fired this year and he ran a better PP than the Oilers this year with I would say worse forwards but better d-men. He also knows how to run a solid defense and how to help guys continue their development.

Maybe a Peter Laviolette. I don't know either coach well and I understand Laviolette ran a crappy camp for Philly last year, however bringing in the right assistant coach this time, someone with deep NHL experience and a proven special teams guy is a big deal.

I don't know how long Jacques Martin's contract in Pittsburgh is, but there's a guy that might like another shot at head coach and he would know his chances are better getting one (and losing it) in Edmonton than taking over for Bylsma so maybe we could get a guy like that...

I'm not saying either IS the answer, but I'd suggest either is better than promoting another rookie into our locker room.

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#23 vetinari
April 23 2014, 01:27PM
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Nelson would be perfect. And it makes sense. Therefore, we won't do it. We zig when others zag... and it has always* worked out for us.

*"always" is defined as "never"

Frankly, it would be perfect to line up Eakins' competent successor, er, I mean, able assistant, for 2014/15.

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#24 K_Mart
April 23 2014, 12:50PM
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Todd Nelson would likely turn down that job. He is looking to be a head coach, not an assistant. It would be an insult to him if we offered him a job as an assistant.

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

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#26 Bubba
April 23 2014, 01:18PM
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Nelson should be moved up ASAP. Not just because he would make an awesome assistant, but to have him ready just in case, for the top job.

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#27 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
April 23 2014, 02:00PM
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@Wildcard

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.

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#28 bazmagoo
April 23 2014, 01:08PM
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@Fresh Mess

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.

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#29 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
April 23 2014, 01:36PM
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Hmmm.....bringing Nelly in, the guy you said no to so you could bring in Dallas Eakins.

Kinda like that compounding stress of having Eakins replacement standing right next to him on the bench next season.

Fragg his arse.

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#30 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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#31 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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#32 NewfoundlandOil
April 23 2014, 01:44PM
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It wouldn't surprise me if Nelson accepted that type of offer. It's not everyday an NHL coaching job (be it head coach or assistant) gets sent your way.

This potential move might also be signaled by the promotion of Bill Scott. You have to think that he would be pulling to have Nelson move up. Nelson gets a lot of positive comments from MacTavish. Bill Scott's promotion also shows that MacT is prepared to move new people in to senior positions and promote from within. Isn't this one of the main benefits of having the ownership structure that they have built since Katz bought the team.

Nelson to Edmonton Laxdall to OKC

Everybody moves up: players, coaches and management.

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#33 Spydyr
April 23 2014, 01:49PM
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DAVE wrote:

Kelly Buchberger @ S.Smith, Just get Nelson in Edmonton, so he take over when Eakin's get's fired.

Do you really think Katz is going to send his buddies to OKC?

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#34 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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#35 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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#36 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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#37 Grumpy McOilfan
April 23 2014, 02:54PM
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Wait a sec... If they got rid of Smith and Bucky who would teach them the correct way to lean against the glass with their hands in their pockets and disinterestedly stare off into the distance while chewing gum not unlike a cow chews their cud ALL GAME LONG...? #ProTips #Poise

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#38 godot10
April 23 2014, 03:56PM
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So after being passed over for the head coaching job without so much as a courtesy call/interview last summer, Todd Nelson is supposed to accept a demotion to assistant NHL from head coach of an AHL team?

I presume that Todd Nelson wants to be an NHL head coach. He has already done the NHL assistant coach apprenticeship under John Anderson. The best way to be an NHL head coach is to be an AHL head coach.

If Nelson were to take a step back in his career to an NHL assistant, Edmonton would NOT be the place to do it, because if Eakins fails, MacT will have to hire an experienced NHL coach.

I expect that Nelson will leave the organization for the above reason. He is blocked from being head coach in Edmonton, even if Eakins fails, so he will look for a head coaching job in the NHL or AHL in another organization.

I'm hoping Trotz puts him on David Poile's radar. He would be a great fit for the Nashville NHL head coaching job.

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#39 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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#40 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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#41 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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#42 15w40
April 23 2014, 01:59PM
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I think the opportunity to bring in Nelson was last year instead of Eakins.

Can't see him wanting to come in under Eakins - he made it no secret how dissapointed he was about being passed over for another AHL coach to take the helm of his parent club (translation - kick to the groin).

If/when Eakins is determined to be a failure the organization can't go back to the same well and bring in another 1st timer from the minors - even if it is the right decision because of the failure the 1st time around. That and the GM has said that the coach decides who to bring in to help and is it likely that he brings in somebody that might make him look like he's not the smartest guy in the room? Uh - No.

I think Nelson will end up in another organization and depending on how much noise OKC makes in the playoffs this year - it could be a soon as this fall.

The fact that he got that team into the post season at all with the 9 goaltenders and the complete turnstile of players coming and going is a feat unto itself.

Too bad really somebody in house that could walk away and be a valuable asset somewhere else with no return.

Hmmm - haven't seen that one before......

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#43 LOIL99
April 23 2014, 03:29PM
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With the success Nelson is having coupled with the Oilers management's ineptitude, I fully expect he will be, on short order, beating that pants off of the Oilers as a coach of a rival NHL franchise.

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#44 gus1000
April 23 2014, 04:44PM
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Wildcard wrote:

Already planning for McDavid?

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what's wrong with the fanbase. A loser mentality that supports tanking year in year out.

Unfortunately the loser mentality starts with management. We fans just keep drinking the kool-aid year in and year out. And then at the end of the season wonder why it didn't work out. We changed a bunch of players around. For every great MacT move: Scrivens, Gordon, Perron, there has been an equally questionable move or attempted move, Labarbera, Gagner extension, Krueger Skyped away. Keep looking down the list on the turnovers, not much has helped.

Remember the old saying, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

We have the same guy at the top during all this losing, he brings in the guys like him that he likes, and calls it change -because everyone says MacT is new to GM, so he's new, with the old- Howson, Bucky, Smith etc. as well as our scouting staff is mainly hold overs. The culture is broken in Edmonton.

I kept hearing how great the Pinizotto trade was great,it got us a quality fourth line guy, except we already had him in Mike Brown. Sure we got a 4th for him. Remember the last 4th round pick we turned into a real player?? Me neither. Brown, Gadzic and Hendricks, geez wouldn't it be quite the disruption fourth line.

One other quick example he gets rid of guys like Peckham, and Potter,great they were marginal 6/7 guys. Brought in Fraser, Larsen and Grebeshkov. Really isn't an upgrade there either. But bodies moved, we made changes.

Unfortunately change comes from the top, when the top doesn't see the problem, it is never going to change.

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#45 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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#46 Pouzar99
April 23 2014, 02:06PM
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Not only is Nelson a perfect fit for an assistant coaching position with the Oilers, working with the D men and running the PP, but surely other NHL teams must be aware of his skills. He has served his AHL apprenticeship and is ready for an NHL job, initially as an assistant coach, and likely ultimately as head man, here or somewhere else if the Oilers don't promote him. He was openly disappointed to being passed over for Eakins, a rather unfortunate decision, and an indication he feels he has earned a better job.

My fear is that old boys club loyalty to Steve Smith and Eakins' possible resistance to having an assistant who could be a threat to his position will block such a move. Yes, Eakins, as head coach should choose his own assistants, but MacT should press the case for Nelson to him. At this point, the appointment of Eakins appears a very serious mistake, which will not be remedied in the short term, largely because of the massive and disruptive turnover at his position in recent years. The addition of Nelson would have the double advantage of providing superior coaching in crucial areas and grooming a gifted gifted coach for future success within an organization desperately short of such skills. The right decision is obvious, but given recent history is unlikely to be made.

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#47 David S
April 23 2014, 02:48PM
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So you're advocating an inexperienced NHL coach AND a no-NHL experience assistant?

If anything Eakins needs a top notch NHL savvy assistant to make up for his *ahem* lack of tactical awareness at the NHL level.

I can see it now.

Eakins (on the bench - looks over at Nelson) - "Doesn't look good Todd, got any ideas?"

Nelson - "Gee Dallas, YOU'RE the head coach. Wanna get some slurpees after the game?" *does best deer in headlights impression, begins drooling*

Eakins - "WE'RE SCREWED NOW BOYS!" *Starts doing (now famous) Velociraptor impression on bench*

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#48 Manfly
April 23 2014, 03:01PM
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hiring Todd Nelson makes too much sense....therefore the Oilers won't do it....at least at the expense of lifelong assistants Bucky and Smith....

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#49 Randaman
April 23 2014, 04:28PM
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Wildcard wrote:

Already planning for McDavid?

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what's wrong with the fanbase. A loser mentality that supports tanking year in year out.

What do you expect when we have been subjected to this loser mentality management group for soooooooo looonnnggg? Garbage in, garbage out.

Back to the article; Out with Smith & Bucky, in with Nelson for the defence and Oates for the power play.

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#50 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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