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 S cottV
April 23 2014, 01:29PM
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Synergy and cohesiveness is extremely important between the Head Coach and Assistants.

There also has to be a high level of trust, to the point where the Head Coach allows himself to be challenged by his Assistants at the right times and in the right places.

Buchberger and Smith are too connected to the old boys establishment, to be ideal compliments for Eakins. If there were a smooth way for Eakins to replace them, he would probably go for it.

Can't see Eakins agreeing to work with Todd Nelson re trust issues.

At this point, he isn't dealing from a position of strength, so - will likely do whatever MacT wants.

This makes Eakins a bit of a lame duck and hard to believe that a lame duck can effectively lead the team where it needs to go.

The best of the best would have a difficult time leading the Oilers to the playoffs within 2 years.

Eakins is at best - the worst of the best.

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#52 Aitch
April 23 2014, 02:20PM
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Christmas 1991 I got my first ever Oilers jersey. It didn't come with a name and after the mass star exodus that was well underway, I left it blank. I did briefly consider Buchburger because I theorized he would be the last of the old school to leave/be traded.

Perhaps I should get his name on a sport coat instead.

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#53 Racki
April 23 2014, 02:59PM
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This is just one man. In my opinion, all of Acton, Smith and Buchy have shown nothing to keep them around any longer. Nelson sounds good to me for one of the 3 replacements.. Who are the next two? Would Rocky Thompson be a good candidate for promotion as well? More familiarity.

What about the other usual suspect.. Mr. Laxdal..?

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#54 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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#55 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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#56 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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#57 Czar
April 23 2014, 04:19PM
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nunyour wrote:

Why would you bring in someone with no nhl experience,we already have lots of that.

Could we talk someone with NHL experience in to working with Eakins? That might be a tough sell in itself?

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#58 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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#59 Vinotintazo
April 23 2014, 01:18PM
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anyone have a link to watch okc play tonight?

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#60 1979
April 23 2014, 01:18PM
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Does anybody have Eakins and Mac-T's email address so we can send them the link to this article??

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#61 DAVE
April 23 2014, 01:40PM
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Spydyr wrote:

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.

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

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#62 Micbilly
April 23 2014, 03:14PM
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If the Oilers truly want to improve, they must take a long look at the players and the coaching staff. The players did not perform to the best of their abilities and the coaching staff did not perform well. If you look at the Oilers defense over the last few years, they have not developed a defenseman. Gilbert/Petry have not grown (Gilbert is gone). Development cannot be totally blamed on the player. The assistant coach needs to take some of that responsibility. The Oilers need to find an assistant coach that can develop young defenseman or they will be in the same position for years.

And who was the last goalie that the Oilers developed or at the least improved with the Oilers? Ah....no one. Whoever has been coaching these goalies has got to go. Find someone else because they are not getting it done.

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#63 BobbyO
April 23 2014, 03:10PM
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I think the Oilers should stay with there current strategy and hire a former Oiler. It seems to work !

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#64 nunyour
April 23 2014, 03:25PM
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Why would you bring in someone with no nhl experience,we already have lots of that.

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#65 Yaz
April 23 2014, 04:21PM
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@2004Z06

Big yes on Huddy..Also bring up Nelson as an assistant, Smith and Bucky gone . That way when Eakins falls flat on his face 20 games into next year it is all on him and we can move Nelson up as in interim HC if Mac T doesn't just take over the job, either way Nelson deserves a hell of a lot more than the entitled ones in the 6 rings club. Note I have given up that 6 rings will throw in the towel, that would be the best thing that could happen in advance of Eakins face plant.

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#66 gk1980
April 23 2014, 04:33PM
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If you think about it, what if the Oilers had hired an experianced NHL coach last year instead of a rookie in Dallas? Would our record have been better? If it would THEN we could say it was the coach all those years. BUT, if the record had remained the same with an experianced coach, then we would hava e better understanding on the state of the team.

A rookie coach leading a bunch of rookie kids is an imppossiblwe way to guage the issue with this club.

It's like a blind pitcher throwing to a blind catcher. Which one is worse? Who's fault is it? The pitcher throwing wild pitched or the catcher who can't see the ball?

(Just an analogy, no disrespect to blind peope)

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#67 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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#68 Old Timer
April 23 2014, 02:02PM
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If the Oilers decide to change assistants, and that is a big if, Eakins should be allowed to pick his own assistants with no meddling from MacT or Six rings.

I think Eakins should offer Nelson a coaches position but as some on here have stated, he probably won't and that would be yet another nail in Eakins coffin.

Whatever happens, I doubt that Nelson will want to be the coach in OKC after this year. He has way too much experience not to be considered for a coaching position somewhere in the NHL.

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#69 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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#70 tileguy
April 23 2014, 04:47PM
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Messier

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#71 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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#72 Wildcard
April 24 2014, 01:02PM
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Quicksilver ballet 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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#73 westcoastoil
April 23 2014, 03:40PM
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more and more teams have assistants that were head coaches, so there's no reason for Nelson to have his nose out of joint to become an assistant. Since Eakins is staying, I'd be trilled to see him joined by Nelson and some combo of Ramsay and/or Dineen (assuming Eakins would want to keep Acton which seems obvious).

With what teams pay players, having marginally extra dough on your bench in coaches is pennies particularly if it can get your club closer to the payoffs where it's all gravy for the owner.

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#74 Fresh Mess
April 23 2014, 04:39PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

One quibble: everybody down there calls him "Nelly", which is a great familiar nickname.

Effeminate, but not quite nauseating enough to make the grade. I'm sure some oiler fangirls could add a flourish to put it over the top...Nels City..Nelly poo?

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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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