That the Edmonton Oilers are not a good team is not news. Three coaches (if we include Craig MacTavish’s five-game stint) have now tried and failed this season to get good results out of this roster. The question now is whether the third coach, Todd Nelson, should be back next season.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman touched on Nelson in one of this week’s 30 Thoughts and provided what I felt was a pretty fair assessment of the coach:
When Todd Nelson took over for Dallas Eakins in Edmonton, I’m not sure how many people thought he would be the permanent choice. It’s no guarantee, but it’s very clear he’s put himself deep into the conversation. The Oilers are determined to wait until after the season before making any decisions, but it’s going to take a real high-level candidate to push him out.
I’d wondered if (for argument’s sake) Todd McLellan was the guy, if the Oilers may ask him to keep Nelson as his top assistant. But that’s a recipe for trouble, and it’s believed Nelson, who has already been an NHL assistant, would rather run his own bench than return to that position. One thing is for sure: everyone’s learned he coaches at the NHL level exactly how he does it at the AHL level. Players relate to him, and play hard for him.
There are still nine games left in the year, of course, and those games will be telling.
One thing Friedman does here is avoid measuring Nelson in a vacuum. The Oilers don’t have a binary decision to make (i.e. Todd Nelson: Yes/No); they have to compare their interim head coach with the many and varied options available this summer. We might lay those potential levels of replacement out thusly:
- Mike Babcock-or-bust. I can’t imagine Babcock being willing to leave the Detroit Red Wings to come to Alberta, but it had to be mentioned.
- A high-level candidate. This is how Friedman sees things. We’re talking about someone like Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippett or Claude Julien, a star coach currently employed who we know will almost certainly be snatched up in the summer. Dan Bylsma’s name is also probably worth keeping in mind here, though presumably the Oilers would have acted on him already if they were interested. A recent equivalent of this would be New York hiring Alain Vigneault away after Vancouver dismissed him.
- A mid-level candidate. There are plenty of good coaches around who don’t have the cachet of a Julien or Hitchcock. We put together a long list on this site two months ago when we last considered this question and it held names like Brent Sutter, John Stevens and Guy Boucher, good coaches who aren’t seen as slam dunks. A recent equivalent of this would be Calgary hiring Bob Hartley after a few years in exile.
- Almost anyone else. This is the ‘I don’t know who replaces him, but Nelson has shown he can’t get the job done’ option.
In my view, Friedman (and presumably the Oilers) have it right. It’s going to be awfully hard to turn down, say, Ken Hitchcock if he’s on the market this summer and willing to come to Edmonton because his past work is so impressive. And even in that case, the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ approach of asking Nelson to stay on as an assistant is awfully tempting if all parties would go for it.
Further, to me it doesn’t make sense to swap Nelson out for a mid-level candidate, because Nelson is one and has the advantages of incumbency (he knows the players and managers and they know him).
But this segment isn’t about my opinion, it’s about those of our readers. How do you view Nelson? Which plausible coaching candidates out there would you hire over him if given the choice this summer?
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