The Edmonton Oilers would be foolish not to look at all available coaching candidates between now and next season, but if Todd Nelson can keep the team collecting points at the rate they have in his first 18 games solo behind the bench, he at least deserves to be in the conversation.
With their 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, the Oilers rebounded from a particularly feeble effort in a 5-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs to improve to 8-8-2 under Nelson with 28 games remaining. Granted, the bar was set low by Dallas Eakins in terms of results and Nelson has benefitted from some roster additions, but he’s so far made a case for consideration.
If the Oilers can continue at or near a .500 clip in points percentage, Nelson will finish with a better percentage than Eakins, Ralph Krueger, Tom Renney and Pat Quinn. The team last played .500 or better under now-GM Craig MacTavish in 2008-09 (.518). That’s not the be-all and end-all because this team isn’t good enough in terms of player personnel to be a contender no matter who is coaching, but it’s not to be dismissed.
Nelson will have been behind the bench for 46 games when the season ends, just two short of Krueger’s 48-game stint. Krueger went 19-22-7 for .469 in 2012-13 and did at least a passable job considering the roster he had to work with before MacTavish sacked him via Skype.
MacTavish saw fit, mistakenly, to dismiss Krueger to bring in Eakins, who had zippity-do-da on his resume as an NHL head coach. If a big fish like Mike Babcock or Dan Bylsma is available, it won’t matter what Nelson does because you have to bring in somebody like that if you can, but that’s a big “if.” Nelson has done a nice job so far.
For me, the measure of Nelson won’t come down to just wins and points the rest of the way, although they obviously matter. The way I see it, Nelson can make a compelling case if he can turn around some of the players who were regressing and languishing under Eakins.
In that regard, we’ve seen some decent results through 18 games – that doesn’t necessarily mean Nelson gets all or even most of the credit for that because there’s a lot more at play than a coaching change, but, again, it’s a consideration when assessing the job he’s doing.
I’ve liked what we’ve seen from Jordan Eberle of late. He had two assists against the Devils and now has scored 9-6-15 under Nelson after struggling mightily at times and collecting 6-14-20 in the previous 36 games. Much of Eberle’s resurgence can be attributed to the fact he’s not fighting nagging bump and bruises as he was earlier, but not all of it.
Nail Yakupov, who got the winning goal against the Devils, has looked more energized under Nelson. He’s still not producing enough, but he’s engaged in games and seems to have regained a measure of the confidence that was lost under Eakins. Likewise, Justin Schultz has been less of an adventure on the blue line. Still not nearly good enough over a long enough period of time, but there have been fewer WTF moments in recent weeks.
While Nelson has had the benefit of additions like Derek Roy and Rob Klinkhammer, he’s also been without Taylor Hall and Benoit Pouliot for chunks of his brief tenure. Again, it’s too early to suggest Nelson is the man for the job next season and the roster has to be bolstered considerably for any coach to have success, but it’s a start.
More of the same in the remaining games will, and should, put Nelson in contention for the job.
THE GAME GOES ON
- Just another mention of the World’s Longest Hockey game hosted by Brent Saik at Saiker’s Acres in Sherwood Park as participants are into the fifth day of a 10-day marathon that will see them play 250 hours to raise money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
As of this 11 p.m. Monday, the game has raised $338,395.00 toward a goal of $1 million that will go to the purchase of a PET-MR machine for the Cross Cancer Institute. These next few days are a real grind for the 40 players involved, so if you get the chance to make it out to the game to cheer them on, it’ll provide a real boost for the participants.
Saiker’s Acres is located at 52269 Range Road 220 in Sherwood Park. If you would like to make a donation on-line, you can do that here. You can also make donations at the game. You don’t even have to rough it outside as was the case at previous versions of the event. That new 7,700-square foot clubhouse Saik built will keep you from the elements if you want to pack up the family and have a look-see.
Jason Gregor is doing his show out there Tuesday on TSN 1260 starting at 2 p.m. and he’ll have an update on the fund-raising efforts.
WHILE I’M AT IT
. . . Interesting stat from the win over the Devils regarding Yakupov, who notched his sixth of this season, the winner, in New Jersey. Yakupov had 17 goals in 48 games in his rookie season. The goal he scored against the Devils gives him 17 goals in 117 games since then.
Yakupov had a shooting percentage of 21.0 as a rookie in 2012-13, including a stretch that saw him score six goals on 13 shots in the team’s final three games. His shooting percentage dropped to 9.0 last season and he sits at 5.4 so far this season.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.