As tempting as it might be for the Edmonton Oilers to wait on Mike Babcock and throw the bank at him if he becomes available, if I’m Peter Chiarelli, I’m doing everything in my power to persuade Todd McLellan and Todd Nelson to be my coaching tandem next season.
Given reports the Oilers have not only reached out to McLellan but interviewed him for the head coaching job, Chiarelli is already a step ahead of me on that front, having spent time with him at the World Championships. Word today from TSN’s Darren Dreger is Chiarelli will interview Nelson this weekend for the top job. I wonder if the associate option will be raised.
“Edmonton has always been an interesting spot for many people, I think,” McLellan told the Edmonton Sun. “It’s a team with a rich history and they have some good players there. Now you add in (Connor) McDavid, Bob (Nicholson) taking over and Peter coming in. I really do think there were good people there before. What job descriptions they end up in, I’m not sure. But there will be a very strong team and group of people there.
“For any coach to consider all of that, it has to be a positive. It has to be exciting, not just for myself but for anybody. With all those good players there, it will eventually get going the right way. I think some of the changes and the No. 1 draft pick in Connor McDavid’s year make it enticing.”
There’s an understatement. McDavid has been called a game-changer, and in more ways than one. Is he enough to prompt McLellan to sign on the dotted line? I think so. Is McDavid enough to convince Nelson, who deserves consideration to be head coach, to put what could be a very good situation ahead of pride and agree to come back as McLellan’s associate? I hope so.
BE THE FIRST DOMINO
I get it that Babcock will be the biggest fish in the coaching pool if he opts to leave the Detroit Red Wings and sell his services to the highest bidder or the most favorable landing spot. The problem is Babcock hasn’t clarified what his intentions are. Will he stay? Will he go? A lot teams, the Oilers included, would like to know.
What we do know is Babcock will attend the World Championships with Detroit GM Ken Holland. Making that journey together doesn’t strike me as something they’d do just to talk things over. The “I’m outta here” meeting doesn’t go like that. Holland and Babcock have a long history together and Babcock’s family is happily settled in the Detroit area.
My sense is Babcock will stay in Detroit, but that’s just my read without being privy to conversations he’s had with Holland. Simply put, we don’t know, and neither does Chiarelli. That’s why, if I was him, I take the bird in the hand rather than one in the bush. I’d put a contract in front of McLellan and another in front of Nelson this weekend – assuming, of course, Chiarelli already pitched that to McLellan and he’s agreeable to it. It’s not something Chiarelli can force.
Rather than wait for the dominos to fall, I’d take a swing at that knowing there might be a chance Babcock becomes available. Even if that’s the case, it’s not like McLellan is a consolation prize. As for Nelson, who was passed over once already when Craig MacTavish fired Ralph Krueger to bring in Dallas Eakins, he’d obviously have to be on board.
I’d roll those dice right now if I was Chiarelli rather than waiting on Babcock and then having a line-up of teams courting McLellan. It seems to me that being pro-active rather than re-active makes sense in this situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chiarelli is exactly that when he meets with Nelson.
I like the idea of Nelson staying because he clearly pushed the right buttons with a flawed roster after taking over from Eakins as interim coach. Between his time in Edmonton and in OKC of the AHL, Nelson has a connection with many of the players who’ll be part of the next edition of the Oilers.
That’s a valuable tool to have in the transition that takes place when a new head coach comes in. It could be very valuable to McLellan. Eakins didn’t have that benefit, save for assistant coach Kelly Buchberger. I suppose that Keith Acton, brought in my Eakins, could provide that link to a new head coach, but I’m not sure what’ll happen with him or Rocky Thompson.
Of course, a tandem of McLellan as head coach and Nelson as assistant is a moot point if McLellan doesn’t want Nelson or has somebody else in mind for the job, which has to be his call if he takes the job. It also falls apart if Nelson says “no thanks” and chooses to move on.
I see it as an intriguing possibility and one that might best serve the Oilers, rather than waiting around in the hope Babcock becomes available. I wonder if Chiarelli feels the same way. We’ll find out soon enough.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.