WWYDW: The Long-Term Coach of the Edmonton Oilers

Todd Nelson6

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?

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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 List

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.

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Coach Currently Wins Points % Stanley Cups
Ron Wilson Maple Leafs head coach* 684 0.531 0
Mike Keenan KHL head coach 672 0.551 1
Jacques Martin Penguins executive 613 0.551 0
Marc Crawford NLA head coach 549 0.556 1
Terry Murray AHL head coach 499 0.557 0
John Tortorella Canucks head coach* 446 0.538 1
Randy Carlyle Maple Leafs head coach* 364 0.574 1
Andy Murray NCAA head coach 333 0.537 0
Craig MacTavish Oilers general manager 301 0.537 0
Dan Bylsma Penguins head coach* 252 0.670 1
Peter Deboer Devils head coach* 217 0.517 0
Brent Sutter WHL head coach 215 0.584 0
Joe Sacco Bruins assistant coach 130 0.493 0
John Stevens Kings assistant coach 122 0.521 0
Tony Granato Red Wings assistant coach 104 0.560 0
Guy Boucher NLA head coach 97 0.546 0
Claude Noel WHL head coach 90 0.507 0
Kirk Muller Blues assistant coach 80 0.500 0
Mike Sullivan Blackhawks dev. coach 70 0.543 0
John Anderson AHL head coach 70 0.485 0

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.


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  • vetinari

    To me if Nelson can build the right culture in this dressing room and starts winning then you cant take the chance that you bring in a new coach who the team wont buy into aka Keenan. They made that mistake with Eakins they cant take that chance again .

  • vetinari

    “Is Nelson a long-term fit, or should the Oilers look to a veteran replacement this summer?”

    Get a veteran coach! No more “maybe’s” I want sure things! Get a guy with NHL experiance and a proven track record!

    • oilerjed

      Is there such thing as a sure thing? There are veteran coaches who for one reason or another don’t workout just as often. Your chances improve somewhat but I don’t think there is such thing as a “sure thing”.

      • Oilers4ever

        Exactly. Look what happened here with Pat Quinn. Nelson is working. If it builds further you keep him. I said 2 years ago should have hired him. Its a no brainer.

        • Tikkanese

          Pat Quinn was 7-3 before the mass injuries hit the Oilers. They set a record for man games lost that season. I don’t think Quinn was given a fair shake.

  • oilerjed

    If the oilers were going to get a new coach they should have grabbed one right after Eakins was fired. Then the new coach has 40 games to assess and get his systems and culture into the players heads BEFORE next season starts. This would eliminate any growing pains and hopefully get the oiles off to a good start. Still not happy they went with Nelson.

    Nelson may be a good coach but I want an experienced coach who knows the NHL game. I’m sick of developing coaches and players at the NHL level. Time to aqcuire proven talent!

  • oilerjed

    If coach Nelson can continue to get this team to play solid hockey he deserves a shot at the job next season.

    If the Oilers do not hire him guaranteed another team will and forever we will regret it. It would be a colossal mistake.

    This guy has been groomed and is ready to be an NHL coach, unlike some prospects he was not rushed and has paid his AHL dues.

    There are some who believe this team needs a coach with NHL experience and they may be right but without being overly optimistic and naive does Nelson not feel like the right guy?

    This coach has not only got the players to relax but all of Oiler nation too.

    He is Barry Trotz junior.

    He needs a better tailor.

      • Anton CP

        It is something about how to determine if a coach is focusing on his job or not. I don’t like a pretty boy image on my coach because that meant he spent way too much time to pretty himself up. Which is why Belichick looks like a bum and Popovich looks like an alcoholic dad.

    • Patrick Marleau's Eyebrows

      Agree, I wish we had hired Trotz as soon as Nashville let him go but we didn’t so Nelson is a similar candidate with less experience. The next 35 games should help with the decision. Aside from that the housecleaning starting with Lowe needs to happen, Howson , MacGregor for sure ,I am mixed on MacT but am very fussed about what deals this group may do at the trade deadline.

  • D'oh-ilers

    Too early to make a decision yet. Let’s wait and see how the final 35 games go. If the team wins more games than they lose down the stretch, it’ll be tough to argue Nelson shouldn’t get the job for next season. Right now he’s just auditioning for a chance to interview for the full time position.

  • Barring Babcock shaking loose, I feel quite comfortable with the team in Nelson’s hands. The wacky coaching decisions seem gone, and the team says they’re enjoying playing more. I think at this point, the team just isn’t good enough to do that much better… Nelson doing what he can with the hand he was dealt.

    That all said.. Anything can change.. Too early to really know what we have in Nelson, but so far so good.

    • BlazingSaitls

      1) He was not “hazed” by the boys back in the day

      2) Much like Tom Renney, he was not a hockey player but a hockey “intellectual”

      3) MacT always knew he was a soccer lover at heart

      4) #BecauseOilers

    • Derian Hatcher

      It’s because Eakins, he was such a used car salesman so he got MacT at ‘Hello’ to hire him.

      Kreuger was a good coach, team was playing good with PP and PK. I know the team was losing near the end of the season but with bad players. Look at the Leafs now they are losing too and so are the LA Kings (defending champ here). It’s not easy to keep winning.

      To make playoffs the team has to start strong, get at least 50 plus points in first 41 games. Because the last 41 games are hard to win, 92-94 points to get in.

      Look at the Penguins now with 2 super star centers, Malkin and Crosby, but they are struggling also.

      Next season is going to be great, I have a good feeling, Nelson will lead this team.

      • Derian Hatcher

        Wow! A positive oiler fan! Well sir I hope your right, my glass is half empty. I like Nelson and hope he does well, just wish the oilers didn’t have to keep training players and coaches for other teams. It’s not working out so well. As for next year, I’m not very optimistic. Too much wrong with this club.

  • Derian Hatcher

    The coaches above MacT are all old and cranky, that’s why they are fired or coaching somewhere other than NHL.

    The coaches below MacT, Bylsma and DeBoer are fired, the others are working with other teams so why hire them?

    Todd Nelson worked hard over the years, he deserves this chance to coach this team.

    Promote within, why hire people from other teams and ignore your own people within?

    How do you get experience coaching in NHL if you don’t get a chance to coach?

    Everyone start from somewhere, even Scotty Bowman started from scratch.

    Give Todd Nelson the chance, but the problem is if the team keep winning then the team will lose out top picks.

    It’s good to play competitive but to finish from 17th to 26th is pointless since the team already missed playoffs. Finish 28th-30th at least for good picks.

  • S cottV

    If Nelson can achieve .500 through the balance of the season, it would be quite an accomplishment.

    However – doubt that will happen.

    It comes down to the power of influence. A Coach that leads the way – who is able to influence the player group to follow him, wherein they all end up in a good place.

    That process comes with many ups, downs, twists, turns, popular moves, unpopular moves, belief, doubt, support, rebellion etc etc.

    The longer the road (as in 30th overall to 16th) – the more the challenges and the greater the potential strain between the Coach and player group, particularly when the inevitable pushes become shoves.

    A guy like Babcock would have more experience navigating in rough waters, to avoid unnecessary distraction in the first place, but where unavoidable – he would also better maintain his following after strong push to shove moments.

    Getting the Oilers to 16th overall – let alone beyond, will involve a lot of pressure and many unavoidable push to shove moments.

    I think it’s a job for a more experienced guy.

  • Rdubb

    in all honesty it is pretty hard to say whether or not the Oilers should keep Nelson or not, mainly because the Oilers as a group haven’t played good hockey since MacT walked away from behind the bench several yrs back.
    But, one must ask themselves these questions; have the Oilers started playing better hockey? YES… Have the Oilers started going to the net and scoring those “greasy” goals? YES… Has the Oilers PP improved? YES… Have the Oiler become a team that has @ least been competitive? YES… Has the overall attitude of the dressing room improved? I think YES… Has Nelson got the focus and attention of the players? Again, I think YES…
    So, if you ask yourself all of the above and 3/4 or your answers are a YES, well, i think that you retain Nelson @ years end & allow him a clean slate to work from, allow the players to come in fresh and have something to play for. Everyone knows that by Edmonton being out of the playoffs this early that it must be extremely difficult for the players to play like they would @ the start of the yr, isn’t it? But, give Nelson a new year, fresh legs, fresh attitudes, and perhaps a few fresh faces and a few veteran faces & i think that he could have this team playing the right way off of the bat. Not to mention that all these younger guys won’t have to learn a NEW SYSTEM all over again, for the umpteenth time…
    Nelson has paid his dues in Edmontons farm system, just like any player, he has done a more than adequate job thus far, so, if he can continue to have the Oilers play competitive hockey the rest of the season, then KEEP HIM. Right now he has the players attention and focus, plus from what i read and hear he also has their respect, which i don’t think Eakins ever had….
    @ years end, sign him to a year by year rolling contract, to go increase by 5-8% every year, that way, if things go backwards, Edmonton won’t be on the hook for another 2 or 3 years of a coaches contract…
    Just a thought

  • Zarny

    Obviously you wait till the end of the season to see how Nelson does.

    Krueger had 45 pt in 48 games (0.938 pt/gm). Over the final 61 games last year Eakins had 57 pt in 61 games (0.934 pt/gm).

    Nelson’s record has to be above 1.0 pt/gm to be considered permanently. And if it’s 1.0something I’d still consider an established coached like Sutter or Bylsma if they are interested.

    Wilson, Carlyle, Keenan, Murray etc…no thanks.

    • pkam

      So Nelson will be gone no matter what if you’re the GM.

      He is not good enough if he does not get more than 1.0 ppg. But how dares he if he does cause we now lose McDavid/Eichel.

      • Zarny

        Krueger and Eakins both sustained identical 0.93 pt/gm rates for 48-61 games. Seems like a consistent baseline if you ignore the Timbits moments.

        If Nelson can’t get over 1.0 pt/gm he is no better than his predecessors. I wouldn’t say it’s an absolute he’d be gone but I think you have to take a serious look if statistically the team is no better than before.

          • Zarny

            No I like Nelson. At least he seems like a guy I’d like to play for.

            But winning over the remaining 35 games is counter-productive to long term success. That’s just how the draft lottery is currently set-up. Winning an extra 6 games and finishing 27th will accomplish SFA.

            It’s rather comical that some think winning an extra handful of games and moving alllll the way to 4 last will teach anyone anything or better yet…”build confidence”. Garbage is garbage and 27th is just as sh*tty as last.

          • Serious Gord

            Where do you keep coming up with this six extra wins thing? Those are your words, not mine. I’d like to see them win every game left this season if it was possible because I like watching the Oilers win hockey games.

            If you think that getting the number one pick will happen in a bubble without any negative consequences I wouldn’t call that comical, I’d call it delusional. Nelson will not be back if the team does not continue to show the improved play that they have so far so if you like him you should be wishing him success for the remainder of the season instead of cheering for losses.

          • Zarny

            The key phrase in your reply is “if it was possible”.

            My first choice would be for the Oilers to finish 35-0 and we could forget about draft picks. I’d also like a Ferrari Enzo and an orgy with the Victoria Secrets models.

            Reality though is the Oilers aren’t going to finish 35-0. They have no chance of finishing 25-5-5. I think the very best the Oilers could do is ~ 0.500 +/- a few games – in the range of 14-18-3 to 18-14-3 or 31-39 pts. For arguments sake go with the mean 16-16-3 or 35 pts. If you think there is any chance this roster does significantly better than that we’re back to Enzo’s and models.

            To finish last the Oilers probably have to go 10-21-3 ish. You’ll notice that is ~ 6 fewer wins than what is realistically a best case scenario.

            I disagree that at this point ~ 6 fewer wins over 35 games and getting the number one pick will have negative consequences. Those negative consequences have already been realized by winning once in 22 games.

            More importantly, I completely disagree with the notion that getting ~ 6 more wins and finishing 27th or 28th will have any positive effects whatsoever.

            They did that last year. Started in a black hole (4-15-2) but finished the season 25-29-7. None of that carried over to this season. They learned absolutely nothing by leapfrogging Florida on the last day of the season.

            People talk about “winning games” as some abstract concept and as if there is an entire season left. The reality is that there are only 35 games left and the roster still has one of the worst bluelines in the NHL and average goal-tending (and that is being extremely generous).

            So realistically, the difference between the Oilers finishing last and the best that they are capable of amounts to about 6 more wins. Sure, maybe it’s only 5 or as much as 8. Regardless, it’s irrelevant.

            The team isn’t suddenly going to learn anything by winning 6-8 extra games over 2 months. The players’ confidence isn’t going to sky-rocket by going to 18-14-3 versus 10-21-3. The Oilers aren’t going to suddenly change perception and attract more UFA’s because they play decent after the all-star break.

            There isn’t a single positive I’ve seen quoted that will actually occur if the Oilers play ~ 0.500 hockey over 35 games. It didn’t happen last year and it won’t happen this year imo.

            Ergo…the best result for the franchise next year and the 9 after that is to get the best player possible in the draft.

            Now if you think the Oilers can actually go significantly over 0.500 over the next 35 games we’ll simply have to disagree. I don’t think that is even remotely realistic with this roster.

  • Zarny

    From now to the trade deadline I can believe that Nelson can hit 500 based on what I have seen so far. IF he can stay there after MacT trades half the team including the best Defender at the trade deadline not only will he have earned a shot to be coach next year I for one will start dreaming again.

  • Rdubb

    I found MacT’s comments interesting.

    “We’ve had stretches over the whole year where we’ve played pretty good hockey,” said Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish. “We’re in one of those stretches now. As I’ve watched the games, we’re moving the puck better than before … you have to be able to make plays.

    “But we haven’t been able to sustain it. In Tampa, we still lost, probably playing our best game of the year. The challenge is maintaining it. And when you start winning, it reinforces the positive behaviour we’re seeing.”

    MacTavish said the Oilers are playing “a simpler, safer game” with fewer mental mistakes.

    “A lot of that can be attributed to (newcomers) Rob Klinkhammer, Derek Roy, Anton Lander. They play an intelligent, smart brand of hockey. Before, we were self-destructing far too many nights,” he said.

    “Now we can settle in and play a smarter brand than I’ve seen us play in quite some time. We’re chipping the puck in, not carrying it in unwinnable situations. We’re nowhere close to being perfect or where we need to be, but there’s been a much smarter brand. That’s a credit to Todd, also credit to some of players coming in.”

    He had a chance to be magnanimous but was not. It is true that his latest trades have helped but he created the problems in the first place. I think he still clings onto the notion that the problem was not Eakins and that some of the blame goes to the veteran players like Hall and Perron. I think that Hall will be traded. I am not sure that MacT is not a little jealous of Nelson at this point. His ego is bruised that is for sure. Nelson is not a lock.

  • Serious Gord

    If Nelson finishes a true .500 or better (no otl points factored in) win loss record for this year then he should be included as one of those interviewed in the proper professional search – the first ever of any kind under Kevin Lowe – that should be done at the end of the season. Veteran nhl experience should be a top priority in the candidate and should in all likely put Nelson at the bottom of the list. I suspect he will get at least an assistant nhl coaching job next season with some other team – I wish him the best of luck.

  • camdog

    I am not a GM wannabee. All I ask of a fan is that they better hockey similar to what we have seen for the last two games. Be in the game for 60 minutes. As far as the draft, what will be will be. I do not want to pay money to attend games and watch a tanking team