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?



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.


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?


  • Aitch

    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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    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.

  • 15w40

    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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    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.

  • 15w40

    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……

  • NewfoundlandOil

    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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    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.

  • S cottV

    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.

  • vetinari

    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.

    • Czar

      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.

  • NJ

    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.

  • Spydyr

    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?

  • 1979

    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.

    • bazmagoo

      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.

      • Rick Stroppel


        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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    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.

      • gus1000

        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.

      • Randaman

        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.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        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.

        • 15w40

          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

  • Muji


    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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    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.

  • ThatGuy109

    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