The Edmonton Oilers are just 5-9-2 since firing Dallas Eakins, but with Tuesday’s shootout win the club has improved to 5-4-2 since general manager Craig MacTavish went back upstairs and left the whole kit and caboodle in the hands of interim head coach Todd Nelson.
Is Nelson a long-term fit, or should the Oilers look to a veteran replacement this summer?
It’s not a question the organization needs to answer right now; while this season has certainly dragged there are still 35 games to go, meaning that there are a lot more games under Nelson on the horizon than there are in the rearview mirror.
I’ve said all along that if the Oilers can play (sustainable) 0.500-ish hockey than Nelson should be retained. The goal now has to be to make a playoff push next season and if Nelson can get the current group on a playoff-ish push than there isn’t much reason to go looking for outside help. But, for the sake of argument, what kind of outside help is likely to be available in the summer?
The following chart (made using the excellent hockey-reference.com) is a selected list of coaches with more than 164 games (i.e. two full regular-length seasons) of NHL head coaching experience. It lists their current positions, or in cases marked by an asterisk, their most recent job. Coaches are ranked by career wins, and please note that points percentage is going to be a harsher judge of an older coach (say Mike Keenan) than it will of one whose career is largely post 2005-06 (like Randy Carlyle) because of the change to award points for overtime losses.
What isn’t shown on this list is a lot, including relative team strength. For instance, I don’t think John Anderson is the worst coach on this list even if he does rank lowest in points percentage; that’s what running the Atlanta Thrashers for two seasons will do to a man (Anderson’s an interesting assistant coach idea if Nelson ends up staying on given their shared history).
To me there isn’t any one name that screams for attention, though Dan Bylsma’s cup ring and 0.670 points percentage pretty much guarantee he’ll get another NHL job really soon. Aside from Bylsma, the most interesting names to me (in order of career wins) are probably Ron Wilson, Mike Keenan, Andy Murray, Brent Sutter, John Stevens, Tony Granato and Guy Boucher.
Of course, the coaching market this summer could be turned on its head depending on which current NHL coaches end up out of a job when all is said and done. Would a first-round playoff exit lead to coaching changes in San Jose or St. Louis? What will Mike Babcock do, and will there be a ripple effect?
I’ve also intentionally neglected up-and-comers like Grand Rapids’ coach Jeff Blashill. To my mind, if the Oilers go with an inexperienced coach it will be Todd Nelson and if the decision is made to move on than bringing in a warhorse like Keenan or Sutter makes far more sense than rolling the dice with another reasonably inexperienced head coach.
But WWYDW isn’t really about my opinion; it’s about the comments section. How good do the Oilers need to be the rest of the way for Nelson to earn the head coaching gig full-time? Do any of the veteran coaches above appeal? Am I missing some obvious candidate who needs to be brought to the fore? Let us know.