WWYDW: Handling Todd Nelson

Todd Nelson9

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

The Options

Mike Babcock

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?


  • freelancer

    Babcock in any role in the organization that he wants for whatever $$ he wants. Hitchcock if he’s available, but I doubt he would be. Other than those, stay the course with Nelson, Ramsay (to be like a Roy to Yak but for Nelson) and whoever Nelson wants. Make the decision prior to the draft in case the name of the coach helps some players with trade restriction contracts reconsider Edmonton (potentially making off season trades a little more likely) and so UFA’s know who the coach will be. Any resumes offered by Tortorella, Keenan or Crawford don’t even get looked at.

  • Ready to Win

    Nelly might be the guy. That being said, there is such a thing as due diligence and the Oilers have a brutal history of total disregard for it. I don’t care who the Oilers hire as head coach, I want to see the process though. I want to see evidence that the person who will coach the Oilers next season has earned the job by being first in a field of candidates. Kiki and Craigers need to make a decision that they can defend when things go wrong as easily as they can defend when things are right. That’s not a name that justifies the decision but a process that justifies the decision.

  • Ready to Win

    Now no one will work with KLowe and MacT. New management at first. All other elements of competitive team coming with competent managers.
    Talking about new coach – with new sufficient management team have excellent roster. Adequate players reveals all talents and strengths of the coach. Until Nelson can’t get an adequate roster into his hands, we dont’ know how he’s strong or weak.

  • Ready to Win

    Mact Et al are further confusing the evaluation by forcing Nelson to play Nikitin in the top 4. How do you assess a coach all the while handcuffing him with such a pathetic D core. And then forcing him to run this joke in the top 4?

    The only thing that worries me about Nelson is he will be controlled by MacT. Would Babcock be playing Nikitin 23 min’s a night put in the same position? And yes I know he would not come to this Sh*&%t show in the 1st place.

  • Ready to Win

    Good article Jon.
    I would like to here Young Willis’ opinion.

    Personally, here is mine:
    If Babcock, McClelland, Hitch, Tippett, or a high level guy comes available, you take him. Otherwise, Nelson. Nobody can complain about that scenario.

    High Level or Nelson.

  • Ready to Win

    If Nelson keeps listening to MacFail to play Schultz, Nikitin and Scrivens that much, it doesn’t matter if Yakupov, Eberle, Hopkins, Hall score more goals, cause we’ll let in an average 5-6 goals per game. If that’s the case, I won’t support Nelson!!

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Yes, I don’t know how we could say no to Hitch if he is available, but other than that I think Nelson at least deserves another year. Give him a legitimate Number One goaltender and at least another legitimate Top 4 defender and you will see improvement in the standings. Besides, for God’s sake lets give the players some continuity. If Eakins got another year to finish the job of destroying the team, Nelson richly deserves another year to finish repairing the damage.

  • sportsjunkie007

    Nelson has been better than Eakins, but that’s not saying a lot. I like Nelson, but if we can get a talented veteran coach that would probably be for the best.

    Rookie players are best served by an elite veteran coach, one who knows how to develop and utilize those players best. If the Oilers can’t get an elite veteran, stay with what you know.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    People are complementing the coach because some players are putting up points and being allowed to play their game. I would rather have a coach like Hithcock who demands that the players play to a game plan that will lead to wins even if it forces some players to adjust their game.

    • S cottV

      Can’t believe you got trashed on this?

      100% agree – that Hitch is the kind of Coach who’s main focus is directing team play in a manner that produces more wins.

      He has proven systems, that do not short cut the defensive flip side of the game.

      Players understand – that if they play within the system (at times to the detriment of personal point production and or ice time), the team is more likely to win.

      To pull this kind of Coaching off, you need proven street credibility. Otherwise – the players who have to make some personal sacrifices, will negatively push back if they detect Coach weakness.

      Hitch would be an excellent candidate.

  • Darth Oiler

    I wonder if Babcock could be tempted to take the role of President of hockey operation / head coach.

    Think about it Kevin Lowe job is basically a caretaker advisor who’s day to day duties are not too taxing as president and head coach he would hire the new GM assistant gm’s. The coach and GM need to work well together who has the ultimate power in the relationship should not be important. It’s an outside the box solution but I think it could work.

    Of course this means firing Lowe and Mctavish.

  • oilerjed

    If someone with quality experience comes in that should be taken as a very good sign as I can’t imagine a guy like Babcock would come here without an understanding from the GM that the sh!t show is at an end.

    Otherwise the devil you know (Nelson) is better than the one you don’t. Nelson has shown progress with the problem children and has earned a second chance. What’s the chance that a new average coach comes in here and has a bigger impact.

  • bazmagoo

    No “big time” coach is going to come WORK FOR MacT or KLowe. Why would any person with lots of choices give their career over to these two guys? “Big Time” coaches want to work for teams that are trying to get better players and have teams that win.

    We sign rookies to run this club, because that is what is who is wiling to work for a team this bad …

    1) MacT

    2) Eakins

    3) Nelson

    4) Bob Green

    5) Dustin Schwartz

    6) Bill Scott

    7) Rocky Thompson

    tip of the hat to Lowe (the manager), Acton, Ramsay and Howson and the winning records they have brought to the team.

    We interview fine, I think good people don’t want to waste prime years with KLowe and MacT building the strategy for success.

  • Rdubb

    Why WOULDN’T the Oilers keep Nelson around? The players, especially the core guys adore him and are playing some of their best hockey ever, and this is only a very short amount of time with him behind the behind the bench, and all of this after all of them took @ least two steps backwards, three and four steps back in some cases too when Eakins was there.
    I cannot see Edmonton considering hiring Ken Hitchcock either, he has never really been able to keep a job in the NHL. Yes, he does something that generally gets teams going, but he loses those teams just as quick too. Players do not generally respect or want to play for him in yr 2 as he seems to wear on them somehow. I think his longest stint was behind the DAL bench and all other stints have been 3yrs or less (although I not looked this up @ the time I am writing this, but i believe it is a stat that I have recently heard somewhere).
    Edmonton’s best option is to keep Nelson, as he has his young core trending in the right direction, they are playing competitive hockey (even when they loose on most occasions), and give him a top D-man and a tender that doesn’t allow that one (and in some instances two) bad goal a game and this team could be battling for a wildcard spot next yr, perhaps better. The one thing we have bitched and complained about in Edmonton is the revolving door of coaches, and you think switching one out that is so liked by it’s best players is a good thing, especially when he is 3rd coach this team has had this year alone, and prior to eakins, they had what, 3 in 3, 4 in 4?

  • Rdubb

    We are building a team heye. Key word being TEAM. I think Todd Nelson has done some good things with this team and all its flaws. although their win-loss percentage under Nelson still leaves room for improvement, one can argue that the roster still isn’t as solid as most other clubs and, hopefully, can be improved upon this summer. Barring a complete fallout in the last few games of the season, I’d be comfortable moving forward with Nelson as the bench boss regardless of other available options for the job. The players are responding well to him and I think if Mac T can tweak and solidify the roster for next season, we will see better results under Nelson’s tutelage. Team chemistry is important and I believe he has that between himself and the players as well as with the players themselves. Don’t mess with that, it’s a good thing and something we haven’t seen for a long, long time. Give him his shot, he’s earned it.