Shopping for an Assistant Coach for the Edmonton Oilers

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?

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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

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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.


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.

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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?

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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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Czar

    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)

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    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.

  • 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

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    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…

  • nuge2drai

    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.

  • nuge2drai

    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

  • 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.

  • NJ

    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.

    • 15w40

      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).

  • NJ

    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.

  • 15w40

    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.