(Updated) Coaching carousel: Bucky stays, Nelson buys the farm and Smith comes back …

EDMONTON, CANADA - MARCH 5: Assistant coach Kelly Buchberger, Shawn Horcoff #10, Robert Nilsson #12 and Andrew Cogliano #12 of the Edmonton Oilers rest on the bench against the Minnesota Wild on March 5, 2010 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

Starting today with the announcement Todd Nelson will be named coach of the Oklahoma City Barons, we’re likely to know who fits where behind the bench with the Edmonton Oilers in the next 24 hours.

Multiple sources, notably Jim Matheson at the Edmonton Journal, are reporting Nelson will be unveiled as head coach of the AHL Barons at a news conference.

That means incumbent assistant Kelly Buchberger, rumoured to be a candidate for the AHL job Nelson will get, will remain on the Oilers coaching staff. The other member of Edmonton’s staff from last season, Wayne Fleming, is out. That’s been obvious for weeks.

What remains now is for GM Steve Tambellini to announce who will round out Tom Renney’s staff of assistants. That’s a formality I expect will be dispatched with by the weekend.


Nelson, 41, who spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers, takes over the Oilers top farm coaching job from Rob Daum, who was not re-hired this off-season after two seasons with the mess that was the Springfield Falcons.

Nelson’s head coaching resume consists of three seasons with the Muskegon Fury of the UHL, including league championships in 2004 and 2005. Nelson got the Oilers attention when he was short-listed for the head coaching job with the Edmonton Oil Kings.

I don’t see anything on Nelson’s resume that separates him from Daum in terms of accomplishments behind the bench, but that’s a story for another day. In an off-season of change after a 30th-place finish by the Oilers, sweeping changes should surprise no one.

I, for one, thought Buchberger and the organization might be best served by a return to the minors to hone his skills behind the bench, but I’m told Bucky balked at any suggestion of a ticket to the minors. Enter Nelson.


The question now: who will round out Renney’s staff with the Oilers? Don Hay of the Vancouver Giants, who coached with Renney with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL, emerged in recent days as a front-runner for the job, but Giants owner Ron Toigo says he isn’t going anywhere.

Hay, an assistant under Ken Hitchcock with the Blazers back in the late 1980s when I was covering the team, was certainly a worthy candidate, but he’s got a sweet deal with the Giants.

With Hay out of the running, I’ll be putting in a call to former Oiler Mark Lamb, who was an assistant here in 2001-02 before spending six years in Dallas under Dave Tippett, to see if he’s been short-listed. Lamb is running the bench with the Swift Current Broncos these days.

I’ll be on the sniff for other candidates, but I’m guessing I won’t have long because, like I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Renney’s staff is unveiled by the weekend.


Well, that didn”t take long — former Oilers defenceman Steve Smith has been named to Renney’s staff as an assistant coach. Here’s the release from the Oilers:

General Manager Steve Tambellini announced today the Edmonton Oilers have appointed Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith as Assistant Coaches to Tom Renney and named Todd Nelson Head Coach of the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League.

Buchberger, 43, spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Oilers. Prior to that the former Oilers captain was Head Coach of the Springfield Falcons, the Oilers’ AHL affiliate where he guided the team to a 35-35-10 record. Under Buchberger’s guidance the Falcons showed a 21 point improvement over their record of 28-49-3 in 2006-07.

A veteran of 18 National Hockey League seasons, including 13 seasons with the Oilers, Buchberger began his coaching career in 2004-05, serving an Assistant Coach with the AHL’s Edmonton Road Runners. He held the position of Oilers’ Development Coach in 2006-07.

Smith, who spent the past two years as a scout with the Chicago Blackhawks, re-joins the team that drafted him back in 1981.

The 47-year-old Glasgow, Scotland native had a solid career in the NHL playing in 804 games recording 375 points (72G, 303A) and 2,139 penalty minutes. He won three Stanley Cups while with the Oilers and made it to the Finals twice more with the Blackhawks. In 134 post-season games Smith had 52 points (11G, 41A).

“Steve was an integral part of the Oilers on the blue line,” said Tambellini. “He will be playing an important role in developing our young defense group.”

Smith also served as an Assistant Coach with the Calgary Flames during the 1997-98 season but elected to return to the ice playing three more seasons with the Flames before retiring.

Todd Nelson joins the Oilers organization after serving as Atlanta Thrashers assistant coach for two seasons. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Nelson, who spent the previous two seasons as an Assistant Coach with the Atlanta Thrashers, is the Barons’ first Head Coach since becoming Edmonton’s AHL affiliate this summer.

“Todd has demonstrated a winning record and attitude throughout his professional career and we know that he will be a very valuable asset mentoring and developing our players in Oklahoma City,” said Tambellini. “He has a wealth of experience both as a player and a coach in the NHL and AHL, which will be an added benefit to our organization. We are extremely excited to have him as our coach.”

Prior to being with the Thrashers, Nelson was also an Assistant Coach with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL from 2006-2008. In his last season with the Wolves the team won the Calder Cup, had an impressive regular season record of 46-25-3-6 and broke or matched 30 franchise records.

Nelson, who hails from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, spent three seasons (2003-2006) as Head Coach of the Muskegon Fury of the UHL. In his first two seasons with the Fury the team was Colonial Cup Champions. Nelson is the all-time winningest coach in Fury club history with a 149-58-25 record.

Nelson was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 4th round, 79th overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft following a solid junior career with the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL.

Gerry Fleming, who was an Assistant Coach with the Springfield Falcons the last two seasons, will continue the same role under Nelson’s leadership.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Still not sure about Nelson. If he can’t get the Oil Kings job, how can he get the Barons one? Did he impress that much in his interview?

    Sorry about double post. please delete one.

  • That’s an easy answer, Todd will work for Tambellini and report to him the Oil Kings coach has to report to Bob Green the Oil Kings GM. Todd Nelson had to impress two different people.

  • I, for one, thought Buchberger and the organization might be best served by a return to the minors to hone his skills behind the bench, but I’m told Bucky balked at any suggestion of a ticket to the minors. Enter Nelson.


    I’m just wondering if you find it somewhat surprising that Tambo and Renney have opted to retain Bucky’s services as an NHL assistant.

    How strong was that “suggestion of a ticket to the minors?” Was it a strong suggestion or just a trial-balloon?

    Is Bucky that well-liked and respected in the organization that he has that kind of job security?

    (that’s not a loaded question – I’m asking because I really don’t know)

      • Robin,

        Are you suggesting cronyism here?

        The Oilers in the last 16 months have purged the organization of Craig MacTavish, Charlie Huddy, Sparky Kulchisky, Barrie Stafford and Ken Lowe.

        If those guys, including Kevin Lowe’s brother, couldn’t keep their job through their connections with Katz and Lowe, then how is it that Buchberger can?

        It looked like he took on additional responsibility last year under Quinn, and now he appears certain to be retained by Renney. Is it possible he’s just a decent assistant coach? I really haven’t heard much one way or another. He definitely gets questioned a fair bit by the fanbase, mostly because he was a role player and a pugilist for most of his career, but then, so was Tim Hunter, Bob Boughner, Don Cherry…there’s been no shortage of role players who’ve become decent coaches or assistant coaches.

        So, to put you on the spot, are you suggesting he doesn’t have the acumen to be an assistant coach, and it’s simply his friendships that are keeping him in place?

  • Travis Dakin

    Can you tell me how Buchburger is in any position to call the shots? I’m completely baffled as to why he seems to be Katz’s chosen one. What’s the deal?

    EDIT: What Scott said….

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Hopefully Nelson works, seems like and odd choice as he really has no connection and well he was fired by the Thrashers of all teams.

    Any word on how Daum’s interview went with Howson in regards to the Springfield job?

  • Bob Cobb

    Two former Oilers, way to look outside the box guys.

    Does Renney have any say on who is picked because from the sounds of it Tambellini is making the decisions?

  • Ryan14

    Out of all the coaches, Bucky has too be the worse. How is it when they are cleaning out everyone in the organization he still keeps his job.

    Also not sold on Nelson for the farm.

    • You are typical idiot that posts comments without having anything to back them up. You should read and formulate you’re own opinion.

      You aren’t sold Nelson for the farm? LOL, I don’t care what you’re sold on.

  • Poo Czar

    I LOVED Bucky as a player – buddy was a pure Oiler, all heart. But as a coach? How does a willingness to collect scar tissue in your face translate into coaching acumen? It’s not like we’ve seen he’s been able pass along his best playing attributes (heart, grit, determination, etc) to any of the younger players since he’s been behind the bench.

    Look, I don’t know jack about coaching hockey players and don’t pretend to – but perhaps Robin can give some insight. Is Bucky really that good of a good coach? And if so, what the hell are his coaching strengths? Must be something there to survive this many organizational purges.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I think we go way to far assuming guys can (or should) pass on their on their on-ice ability through coaching. (ie 5 straight years talking about Oates coming in to teach FO).

      Realistically coaches, and especially assistant coaches are very hard to evaluate from a fans perspective as the vast majority of their work is done when the camera’s arn’t around.

      I doubt theirs one poster here that can accuratly evaluate a coach any deeper then simply looking at W’s/L’s.

  • Ryan14

    Oiler Nation not pleased with Bucky for whatever reason (s) . I like what Bucky did with the AHL’ers in his stint there . It was the last time i seen some forward progress with players down there . If Renney to fail , then i feel he might do same with NHL club of youngsters if given the opportunity to do so .

  • MikeH

    Everyone, okay not everyone but a lot of posters, claim that Bucky is a lousy coach. Where are they getting their information? What proof do they have? I’ve never seen anything anywhere that Bucky was a lousy coach.

    I don’t understand why, if the coach was once a player, he has to have been a star player? What automatically makes those players better coaches?

    If anyone cares to remember, it was a player that was a gritty, determined player by the name of Glen Sather that orchestrated five cups in this town as a coach/GM.

    • When did anyone say a coach had to be a star player? Most good coaches are 3rd and 4th line players. However, I do not think Bucky is one of them. He did a bad job on the farm and after 1 year he got moved up here. He was in charge of penalty killing which was terrible last year. The only reason he has the job is because of the owner and KLowe. There are a lot of good young coaches out there and any of them would be better. Bucky was a good player with a lots of heart but those days are over. We need good coach you can teach young players.

      • MikeH


        Okay maybe nobody has said the coach has to be a star player but that’s the perception I get from a lot of people (I agree with you that most of the good ones were 3rd or 4th line players, that was my point when I used Sather).

        If you look at Ryan14’s post it looks like Bucky was the best coach Springfield has had in a decade record wise (Daum got a raw deal with all the injuries and what he was given to work with).

        I guess my point is, with assistants, unless I see guys like Gregor or Brownlee saying, “XXXX is a bad coach.” I don’t see how anyone can actually say he’s a bad coach. A head coach it’s fairly easy to make a judgement call but with an assistant…. who knows? Maybe the PK did terrible last year because Quinn wanted it done differently than Bucky wanted to.

      • Name one coach who would have done better with the lineup , injuries and goaltending problems we had last season ! Not like he was strapped with competent players to kill off penalties to begin with . He’s retained on past merit at AHL level , get used to it .

  • Ryan14

    Only once in the last 8 years has Springfield been .500. that was under Buchy. that year is also the most wins they had since 2001-02, as well as their highest placing since 2002-03.

  • Ryan14

    RE:Everyone, okay not everyone but a lot of posters, claim that Bucky is a lousy coach. Where are they getting their information? What proof do they have? I’ve never seen anything anywhere that Bucky was a lousy coach.

    I know one thing for certain.

    He helped coach the team to a 30th place finish last year…

  • LAMB UPDATE: Mark Lamb isn’t a candidate for the Oilers assistant job.

    He hasn’t talked to Tambellini, Renney or anybody else with the Oilers about it. He’s got a sweet deal as GM and coach in Swift Current and he’s happy there. Scratch another name off the candidates list . . .