Training Wheels

Todd Nelson6

On December 15, coming off a 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers, the Edmonton Oilers made the decision to fire head coach Dallas Eakins. It was an inevitable decision, in a lot of ways; coaches just don’t survive teams that post the kind of record that the Oilers did under Eakins’ watch, regardless of whether that record is the fault of the coach or not.

Todd Nelson was promoted from Oklahoma City to replace Eakins on that same day, but for the past two weeks, he’s done his job with the general manager hovering over his shoulder. That finally seems to have come to an end. 

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Delegation

Craig MacTavish2

In a large organization, it’s impossible for one person to do everything. Many NHL teams used to have one man who was both coach and general manager, but it doesn’t happen anymore because those are both full-time jobs and sticking one man in both roles means neither gets the attention that it really deserves.

So a good general manager has to trust his people.

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He has to trust his amateur scouts to come up with a reasonable draft list because he doesn’t have time to drive from rink-to-rink watching players that his team may or may not draft. He has to trust the input of his professional scouts on other NHL players, because while he’s evaluating his own team he doesn’t have time to sink hours and hours into watching the league’s other 30 clubs. He has to trust his people in the minors to bring his team’s drafted prospects along, because he doesn’t have the ability to go down there and do it himself.

A general manager also needs to trust his coach, because in between evaluating his own team and managing the scouts at the amateur level and the scouts at the professional level and the guys down on the farm and taking trade calls he simply doesn’t have the time to pre-scout the opposition and come up with a game plan and fit the individual players on the roster into that game plan.

It’s plausible that the time behind the bench was useful for MacTavish in evaluating his team, but it could never last. Managing a team is a full-time job. 

Undercutting the Coach

Todd Nelson

On Sunday, Todd Nelson addressed his team prior to practice, and explained to the Oilers’ official website why it was important that he do so.

“It’s big,” he said. “It’s important that I’m very clear with them about who I am as a coach and what my philosophy is so there is no second guessing by the team. I think I have to communicate that consistently.”

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Nelson is right, of course; a coach needs to be clear and direct with his team, and he can’t have his players wondering what he wants. But by the same measure, isn’t it vital that those players not be wondering which of their coaches is really in charge behind the bench?

“Right now, I’m in control,” Nelson said in that same piece. “If [MacTavish is] on the bench, he’s there to assist me.”

Let’s assume that’s 100 percent true. Let’s believe for the sake of argument that MacTavish was the perfect assistant coach, and that Nelson wasn’t even the tiniest bit intimidated by having his boss – a career coach – in a supposedly junior position behind the bench. Even if that’s exactly what was going on, does a player worry more about what the head coach says and thinks or more about what that coach’s boss, who is standing right there, says and thinks?

Having MacTavish on the bench undercuts Nelson’s authority. It’s impossible that it should be otherwise; he’s the most powerful man in the organization and having him standing over the coach’s shoulder conveys more forcefully than any words possibly could that there is a lack of trust there. That the same coach is stuck with an “interim” tag and was previously passed over for an outsider with no NHL experience only reinforces that idea.

Nelson is a solid coach, and he knew the vast majority of the players before he was promoted into the top job. It was always a little ridiculous to stick him with training wheels; it’s good that he’s finally being given a little bit of space. 

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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  • Nelson may think he’s in charge, but we’ve seen MacTavish intervene all year long.

    I don’t think MacTavish has had a sudden epiphany that’s he’s actually the problem and should let smarter people do there jobs.

    • Serious Gord

      I agree. Many of The bizarre roster moves this season seem explainable only if they are viewed from the perspective of MacT – not eakins.

      The proof will be how the roster is handled going forward: marincin and lander remaining in the AHL seems implausible if Nelson truly has freedom.

    • Grant

      Lou lamorillo has done the same thing in Jersey,so what’s the difference?nobody is sqwabbling about that.
      No matter what move is made here , it will never satisfy anyone in Edmonton , and if they start winning… What a good move???

        • Oilers4ever

          Thats just msm making those comments. We all know how some, not all, of you like to stir the pot just for reading material JW. So unless you have an inside ear in the Devils organization how do you know that’s true?

        • Andy7190

          Lou Lam is 72, and he’s been a very effective GM in the NHL for a long time.

          But that time is up. New Jersey would be well served hiring from outside and bringing in fresh voices for a new Era there.

          I suspect that is why Lou didn’t designate a new coach. He’s toast at the end of the season and he knows it. Time’s up.

          And hopefully, it is up in Edmonton to, for the Lowe/MacT regime. New blood is sorely needed here.

      • Motown Fisher

        You need to highlight the word “IF”, make it 52 font and bold it…

        I’m PRETTY sure we won’t have to worry about your scenario coming to fruition…

      • Grant

        This all day. Until the Oil have some on ice success anything they do will be trashed by many. There are only a small minority of people on this site who seem to try to assess Oiler’s move in some rational fashion. Many just automatically trash what ever they do.

      • Serious Gord

        I heard a stat on sportsnetast night that I think ingot right: lamorello has made 15 coaching changes in 17 years.

        It has been said by many that lamorello was a lousy GM for much of his tenure but that he had the greatest goalie in the history of the game to cover up much of his mistakes – that he would be exposed once Brodeur retired.

        • Sal-Sational

          Lousy. Because he only won 3 cups, often with some average caliber teams. Remember the first cup where thy trapped the hell outta Detroit, and ran Peluso out regularly. His teams over-achieved. What you talking bout?

          He could of changed the coach 17 straight years, who cares.

  • paul wodehouse

    …it’s too bad y’can’t see the way MacT is saying what he’s saying to Toddy out the side of his mouth …~ it’s like this coach, you stand back here and do your job as your told but remember how to spell the operative word.
    T.A.N.K…our collective dreams will come true in Florida in June Toddy so hold the line and don’t f*ck this up…~

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i guess that after spending several games behind the bench, MacT decided that Arco was the source of all the teams problems, and made a *BOLD* move and traded him.

  • Athabascajim

    This is a systemic problem the Oilers have had for many years. Their management (largely ex- Oliers) have an arrogant attitude that leads them to believe they are smarter than everyone else and therefore they need to micromanage those they hire to work under them. Good managers know that the road to success is to hire good people and then LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS! Bad managers hire their friends or unqualified people and then hover over them, telling them what to do. Lowe and MacT are terrified to actually hire some one with experience as this person would no doubt outshine them, thereby making it obvious to even Katz that they are the problem. They are managing to hold on to their jobs, not to actually improve the team.

  • Motown Fisher

    Note how savvy MacT was to say “Todd Nelson is the official coach on record” early on… that way he wouldn’t have the 4 losses coming up on HIS record…

    #craigissofakingonit

  • Newj

    Actually Mac Ts time there has been productive he has seen that Hunt ,Arco and Pinizotto are not going to be NHL players .He has probably also made up his mind about some other players on the bench and I would not be surprised that other folks are on there way out .As to the Other responsibilities the scouting is being vetted by Bob Nicholson and Moore is working with the coaches on the development teams .So I think he did the right thing in taking a couple of weeks to get to know some of these players when they are “under fire” so that he can make better informed decisions .I think he wants to see who ( which of the young stars) are going to resist the message from Nelson .There have been many rumours under previous coaches that some of the young guns just do their own thing and are resistant to change maybe he wants to verify if this ti true. Do we have a coach killer on the team ?

    • Gilmore Tuttle

      So why did MacTurd not see this from the skywalk? Is he that blind? I doubt being on the bench adds that much extra insight into the players and their attitudes. It might look better “visually” but doesn’t fool anybody.

      • S cottV

        Exactly. It begs the question, why didn’t #Craigsonit believe the coach he hand picked & endorsed? Why didn’t he go down to the bench when Eakins was there to get a feel for what players were toxic & confirm what his “trusted” coach was probably telling him before firing this trusted individual. What makes him think his presence on the bench is going to give him all the data in a small sample size from players who are obviously going to be on good behaviour? My Lord. If I had to take a piss outside, I sure as heck wouldn’t take it when a cop was watching. What a joke.

    • It seems to my obviously over simplistic view that if a player isn’t doing what a coach asks he simply gets sat for a shift of two and tried again. If the behaviour continues, you sit them in the stands to watch and learn. I say this is over simplistic because it would rely on the GM actually letting the coach do the coaching which this organization seems unwilling to do. I think the last win was with Justin Schultz sitting, is that right?

  • camdog

    First and foremost a GM must trust himself. Hence the reason Mact was behind the bench, he was second guessing decisions that he has made in the past 2 years. When a GM no longer trusts themselves and all of the players know this you have a big problem.

  • camdog

    Interesting footnote with the Arcobello trade. If you remove the 7 goals Arcobello scored this season and add the 1 Roy has gotten, the Oilers are now starting each and every game with the lowest scoring line up in the league (barring injuring of course).

    In the west the Oilers are a full 16 goals back of a healthy Arizona (barring no trades) team for second least productive in the west.

      • camdog

        The Oilers current line up is the worst in the league at scoring goals.

        A lot of people talk of the Oilers being an offensively gifted team, but the numbers say that they are not.

      • camdog

        The Oilers just traded one of their top offensive scorers for a guy who’s got 1 goal. Arcobello was 3rd on the team in goals. Even Bob Stauffer doesn’t understand what’s going on “Surprised by Roy for Arcobello. I see them as a roughly the same with Arcobello cheaper. Very lateral move”

        Not saying that Arcobello is great, just that Mact should be fired immediately.

        • BubbaZanetti

          They’re more to this than just a straight up swap ?
          Arco was tight with Hall & Eberle. IMO, I think MaCT is sending a message. The reasoning that Roy is more experienced is nonsense. Yes this team needs more NHL experience but a player like Derek Roy does not necessarily fill that need. Roy is known as a me first type of player. Why would you bring that type of player into this locker room unless you were looking to rattle some players ?
          Hopefully this means that MacT has seen something inside the dressing room and is addressing it.

        • camdog

          I’ll say it again just to get more thumbs down. lol Arcobello was third on this team in goals. Only Behind RNH and Hall. And he didn’t get prime minutes…

          Another scary thought is having Roy centring a line with Shultz and Nikitan of Defence. This could get a lot worse before it gets better.

        • Salty

          3rd on the team in goals, while the team is 3rd last in the league for goals for. Whoop-dee-doo. Arcobello rarely creates his own chances or drives the play with most of his goals just being a result of him being in the right place at the right time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that mind you, the Oil would certainly benefit from more guys being willing to go to the net to look for garbage goals or tips, but don’t act like they just gave away an offensive dynamo for nothing. I highly doubt Roy turns his faltering career around but at least he has some NHL experience under his belt, which is more than I can say for Arcobello.

          • camdog

            You misunderstand me, Arcobello is no offensive gem, never have I said that. The message that I am trying to convey is that if Arcobello is your third highest goal scorer your GM should be fired for putting together a team where Arcobello is third on your team in goals.

    • pkam

      He hasn’t had to answer the same questions after every loss for 15 months.

      Eakins didn’t beat around the bush in his first 2 months, did he?

      Not saying Nelson will, but only time will tell.

  • pkam

    I don’t know why this is such a bad move for MacT to step in as the head coach for a few weeks.

    If MacT wants to find out the players who are the problem, shouldn’t he go to the dressing room? How would the coaches and players feel if the GM keeps coming to the dressing room? Is it more natural if you are part of the coaching team?

    Is it not worth risking the players and media and fans get confused for a couple of weeks so MacT can get in the dressing room in a regular basis to try to sense the temperature there and find out where the problem is?

    • Clarkopolo

      No other GM in the league has had to do this. He can find out about locker room dynamics from the coaching staff that he put in place. You have to trust the people that you hired to give you the relevant information. And do you actually think spending a handful of games with the players will give you all the answers? I imagine if their are any players that are a ‘problem’, my guess is they would be on their best behavior while the GM is around. Probably need to be in the dressing room on a more long-term basis to actually get to know the locker room…

      • pkam

        If you have to fire a coach you trust and you don’t think he is the problem, shouldn’t you at least try to go into the dressing room to find out what is not working so the next coach you trust with the job have a better chance to succeed? Remember, we had 5 coaches in 6 years and it is still not working, would you wonder why and want to find out? And 2nd hand information is never the same as 1st hand.

  • Gilmore Tuttle

    Arco, Hunt and Pinzotto all got their chance and were ok. We need more from those positions but until a goalie establishes himself this team goes nowhere.
    I hope coach Nelson knocks it out of the park. MacT needs to concentrate on improving this team and stay off the bench.

    • BubbaZanetti

      Scratching my head here trying to figure out who these two non-centers, big egos, high picks are ??
      Can’t be Boyd Gordon, no ego plus he’s a center, maybe it’s Gazdic, no he isn’t a high pick. Can’t be Nuge or Draisaitl, can’t be Yak, he definately has no big ego, what if it’s Hemsky and Smitty ? Nah can’t be them either, wait, it’s gotta be the new guy, Derek Roy and someone else ?? Whom could it be ? If only it was obvious to everyone and anyone who watches a game ?

  • Goodkimchee

    I truly hope that Nelson is given time and space to work, but I don’t trust this organization to have his back, and I especially don’t trust MacT to have his back. This is a GM who callously fired the incumbent Head Coach over Skype, not even doing it in person, who endorsed his handpicked coach and never did one thing to try and help him improve the team, who has bragged about needing bold moves to propel the team forward, and not wanting or being able to make those moves.

    MacT may have been a good coach, but he had no experience as a GM and his record pretty much displays that lack of experience for all to see.

  • S cottV

    The Oilers have had opportunity to bring in higher profile Coaches including Hitchcock in the past.

    Never got done because higher profile Coaches demand more autonomy to run their deal and the Oilers want to preserve their ancient run and gun dynasty.

    The Oilers thought they could expand the concept with Eakins run and gun swarm defense.

    Anyway – it’s good that Nelson is on his own, compared to the MacN
    alternative. He seems like a good guy and I hope by some miracle the players play for him.

    Miracle’s aside – this team most likely needs one of those high profile coaches, that the Oilers will have to pass the reins to.

    • pkam

      When MacT resigned, Hitchcock was the HC of Columbus. He had a contract and couldn’t go to another team.

      When we hired Quinn and Renney, my understanding is Quinn was just transitional and Renney was promised the job when Quinn stepped down when his contract expired in a couple of years.

      When we didn’t renew the contract with Renney, Hitchcock was the head coach of the Blues.

      So when was the opportunity to bring in Hitchcock?

      • When a coach of that calibre become available you fire who you currently have and hire them. Oil should hired Trotz in the summer. It’s called an upgrade. But then that goes back to not hiring rookie coaches and giving them four year deals.
        Ultimately no veteran coach is coming here unless they can actually pick their staff and have say over player personnel decisions.

  • S cottV

    The Oilers have had opportunity to bring in higher profile Coaches including Hitchcock in the past.

    Never got done because higher profile Coaches demand more autonomy to run their deal and the Oilers want to preserve their ancient run and gun dynasty.

    The Oilers thought they could expand the concept with Eakins run and gun swarm defense.

    Anyway – it’s good that Nelson is on his own, compared to the MacN
    alternative. He seems like a good guy and I hope by some miracle the players play for him.

    Miracle’s aside – this team most likely needs one of those high profile coaches, that the Oilers will have to pass the reins to.

  • Mason Storm

    I was listening to Nelson on 630 CHED from an availability . I certainly got the impression that Nelson thought that Mac T was there for his own benefit. I would not be surprised if it was Nelson who initiated the control change. That was the impression that I had after listening to him.

  • Oilers4Ever

    If I was Eakins or any oiler ex-employee I would write a tell-all book about the oilers’ management and ownership. Guaranteed the book would be a best seller.

  • Andy7190

    MacTavish was not behind the bench to ‘transition’ or ‘assist’ or otherwise interfere with Nelson.

    MacTavish was there to see the reaction up close and personal to see if his personnel is willing to be coached. Willing to be challenged, and seeing if they respond to their buttons being pushed by different people.

    I suspect given how flat the team looks during most of its games, MacTavish wanted to see if they could at least practice hard.

    Guys that won’t be coached probably won’t be here, assuming MacT finishes the year as GM.

    I really don’t think MacTavish being behind the bench has anything at all to do with Nelson.

    • Gilmore Tuttle

      If Tier 3 fans can see the players lack of testicular fortitude from the local watering hole or their basement man cave, then why can’t Mr. EMBA see it from the arena?

      • Andy7190

        I hear your point, but there essentially has been a trade freeze in place for most of MacT’s time behind the bench.

        I actually don’t see a problem with his presence there over these past few games.

        Now, he’s had his chance to interact with the players and should go back upstairs and start re-shaping this roster.

  • Andy7190

    MacT cant be that intimidating. Him being on the bench sure didnt make Hall backcheck. Or make Hall stick up for Nuge and Ebs when they were getting mauled buy the Flames after the whistle. All Hall did there was look over his shoulder at the situation and skate back to the bench.

  • BubbaZanetti

    This organization has to do what every fan has repeatedly said……mainly secure positions that you are weak at.

    We did not accomplish anything by adding Fraser and Roy, of that I’m certain. But if this creates real options for Mac T at the trade deadline, then I will cut him some slack.

    Bold moves requires adding real goalies, real defencemen, and real centres……..everything else will be met with cynicisim and indifference.

    • BubbaZanetti

      I think what was accomplished is that MacT removed one of the brat pack sidekicks, and brought in two veteran guys who will fit in well with the other vet guys ( Gordon, Hendricks, Ference etc ). MacT probably finally figured out that there is a division in the dressing room and the wrong “guys” were calling the shots.

  • Andy7190

    I really don’t think MaCT should be fired…
    he’s not the one putting on the jersey and playing the game out there. although if he were to.. I bet we’d win more games.