Todd McLellan’s coaching staff appears to be coming together

Todd McLellan3

On Thursday night, the Oilers announced that associate coach Keith Acton and assistant coach Craig Ramsay would not be back with the team. Left unresolved was the future of interim head coach Todd Nelson and assistant coach Rocky Thompson, which may or may not be a tell as to what the group behind the bench will look like next season.

The Dearly Departed

Acton, Keith

There’s a phrase that conveys the way the Oilers’ fanbase has assessed the team’s assistant coaches over the years. It’s “guilt by association”. Without the ability to peer behind closed doors, to see what area each coach is responsible for and how he handles those duties, it’s tough to get an accurate read on the competence and performance of anyone other than the man in charge of it all, the head coach (and at times, even assessing him can be difficult). Things have not gone well in Edmonton, however, so there’s a tendency to tar everyone with the same brush.

Keith Acton has spent two decades as an assistant or associate coach in the NHL. He worked under Terry Murray in Philadelphia in the early 1990’s, was part of John Muckler’s Rangers staff (working with at various times John Tortorella, Charlie Huddy and Craig MacTavish). He was the right-hand man to Pat Quinn, Paul Maurice and Ron Wilson in Toronto over close to a decade with the Leafs. Before coming to Edmonton he worked for Todd Richards in Columbus.

The point here is that he was a veteran hand and a top lieutenant to some very accomplished head coaches.

Craig Ramsay2

Craig Ramsay’s career was even more impressive and featured three head coaching stints. He had a nice run in Philadelphia (43-28-11, with those 11 being ties) but was dismissed after losing in the first round. He had a pretty decent stint with a woeful Atlanta team, too (34-36-12), but was a casualty of a change in ownership. Along the way he’s worked on the staffs of people like Scotty Bowman, Roger Neilson, Jacques Martin, John Tortorella and Claude Julien.

Given Ramsay’s age, he’s likely missed his window to be an NHL head coach, but it’s hard to imagine a more experienced or accomplished associate.

In all likelihood, both of these men are simply victims of the numbers game. Todd McLellan will want to choose his own staff and there will be no shortage of candidates, both quality people he’s met along the way and quality people already in the organization. The head coach has to be able to build a group that works for him, and sometimes in hockey that means departures like this.

Currently in Limbo

Todd Nelson12

Todd Nelson shouldn’t have a shortage of options if he’s looking for a lower-level head coaching job or assistant coaching position. However, he’s proven all he needs to prove at the minor-league level, so it’s questionable whether it makes sense for him to accept a job coaching some other team’s minor-league affiliate. And if he’s going to take an assistant coaching position, one wonders if there’s a better fit than Edmonton, where he’ll have the advantage of working under McLellan and in an organization seemingly on the rise.

The question, of course, is whether McLellan will want him. The two men both have ties to the Detroit organization and both were under the Red Wings’ overall umbrella in 2005-06. For McLellan it was a launching pad, for Nelson a formative experience of which he still speaks fondly. More importantly, no man in the organization has a better appreciation for the young players on the way up and those currently on the roster; Nelson would be an invaluable resource to McLellan, particularly in McLellan’s first year in Alberta.

Rocky Thompson’s fate is also in the balance at the moment. He served as Nelson’s “eye in the sky” down in Oklahoma City before making the jump into the same role in Edmonton. He’s intelligent, enthusiastic and for the Barons at least was a perfect fit in the role. The trouble is that he’s in what might be regarded as an NHL entry-level position, which means that McLellan probably knows dozens of people who might be good fits for the job. From what I saw in Oklahoma City he’d be a good guy to keep around, but if McLellan opts to replace him he might be a nice fit in another capacity in the organization, too.

If both Nelson and Thompson are retained, McLellan’s staff will certainly have a youngish feel. Terry Jones reported in May that 38-year-old Jay Woodcroft would be coming over from San Jose with McLellan; he’d likely assume the No. 3 role on the staff with the 46-year-old Nelson sliding in as McLellan’s No. 2. Thompson is 37 while McLellan himself is only 47; hypothetically, this would give the Oilers a full coaching staff under the age of 50.

Despite the youth, experience wouldn’t be an issue. Thompson has eight years of coaching experience, Woodcroft 10, while Nelson is halfway through his second decade behind the bench and McLellan is early in his third.

  • Alberta Bound Edmonton

    Leave all coaching decisions to McLellen. Nelson would be a great add especially to inform the head coach on the positives and negatives of guys playing on the farm. His work work Yak speaks volumns on his ability to create positive relationships with players. Just the same leave the final decision with the head coach

  • bazmagoo

    “However, he’s proven all he needs to prove at the minor-league level”.

    This is what has been plaguing Oilersnation since 1990. Nothing but a championship should be acceptable, would Gretzky or Messier be satisfied with anything less? I disagree, Nelson hasn’t done everything to prove himself at the AHL level, he never won the Calder Cup. Settling for mediocrity went out the window when we won Connor, thanks McJebus!

  • Tikkanese

    Now that the Defense Coach Ramsey is gone, I guess we’ll never know who was to blame for the terrible D; Ramsey, Eakins or MacT/Tambo. I’m leaning towards MacT/Tambo.

  • I don’t mean sound facetious, but I didn’t read anything about the “coming together” part. At this point all that has happened is members of the coaching tandem from last year have been relieved of their duties.

    Todd Nelson is still a question mark. Same for Rocky Thompson. Until there is an official announcement from the Oilers, I would say that Jay Woodcroft is still a question also.

    So far, all we really know is Todd McLellan is the Head Coach. But we’ve know that for a while now.

    What did I miss?

    • Oilcounty88

      McLellen already mentioned that Jay Woodcroft would be joining the staff and that the details would be worked out over the next couple of weeks. Saying that publicly means that its a done deal.

      • It wasn’t McLellan that said that. It was Terry Jones that reported it. When He approached Woodcroft about it, this is what was said…

        Terry Jones: “How does Jay Woodcroft feel about being an assistant coach of the Edmonton Oilers?”

        He laughed. The laughter, I believe, translated as “nice try.”

        Not exactly a done deal as far as I can tell. I’m not saying it wont happen, but it’s far from official.

        Just sayin’.

        • bazmagoo

          I heard McLellan say he was bringing in Woodcroft live that day to Reid Wilkins and then later heard it on replay on Oilers Now. So he announced it less than an hour after his own hiring was announced. If for some reason you don’t believe us, you can probably find it in the Oilers Now archive web site for that day. Besides McLellan had said weeks before that Woodcroft was coming with him wherever he went.

          • pkam

            Oh I believe you as I heard the statement myself. It’s just after compensation for a fired GM and a fired coach, maybe, just maybe, the oilers are waiting for a contract to expire

  • Jaxon

    Of note, McLellan coached Rocky Thompson for 22 games in 96-97 for the Swift Current Broncos. Last season Rocky was their eye-in-the-sky Assistant Coach / Video Analyst, a job Jay Woodcroft held in Detroit, so I’m sure they have a good relationship and appreciation for what he does.

  • What I particularly like about this article is the common sense arguments about the difficulty of assessing assistant coaches, especially when we don’t know precisely what they are responsible for. God knows a terrific old pro like Ramsey, who as a Sabre I remember fondly as the absolute embodiment of the kind of smart, dedicated competitor every team wants, deserves our respect. I wish Ramsey and Acton the best going forward. On the other hand goaltending coaches are the exception, so Justin Schwartz may be on the way out as both Scrivens and Fasth played the worst hockey of their NHL careers last season.

    Of course McLellan should choose the assistants he wants and while I hope for and see the logic in keeping Nelson, I will certainly accept whatever decision he makes. For both Chiarelli and McLellan, Nelson is far and away the best source on evaluating our players and prospects, along with Gerry Fleming, of course. He also has developed good working relationships with the players, all of which makes him a very valuable asset.

  • Oilcounty88

    I also hope Nelson sticks around. In both Nelson and McLellan, you have two guys who know how to run a power play. In Nelson, you specifically have a guy that can get the most out of Yak which is going to be key for the Oilers success. You also have a coach that can get the best out of Klefbom, Marincin, and Lander. Assuming all three make the opening night roster, that is pretty invaluable to have an assistant coach that knows what it takes to get the most out of a quarter of your line up, and can help on the PP.

  • I want Todd Nelson to stay here, but #1,i want McLellan to want Nelson to stay here. No more forcing our choices on people. Let McLellan do what he feels best. If he finds Nelson appealing, great.. Then I hope Nelson stays on.

    • Brad 21

      I guarantee that Mac C will choose what’s best for the oiler’s as well as himself to succeed. I gathered from his press conference that he has full input on who would be on his coaching staff. Why else would he come to Edmonton?
      He could have coached for 6 other teams this season. Why would he come to Edmonton if restrictions were put on him, picking his coaching staff.
      Also I have a hard time believing that Chiarelli who was trying to beat the heard to the water hole, would fly half way around the world to try and lure Mac C to Edmonton and the first thing out of his mouth is I want you as our coach but you have to hire this guy and that guy on your coaching staff. What do you think Mac C would say? Bahhhhhhhh ok.

  • 916oiler

    What is this? The staff is not coming together at all. All we know is that Mclellan is coach and Woodcroft will be with him. We also know that Acton and Ramsay are gone. That’s it. And it probably won’t be Nelson and Thompson filling the last 2 spots as neither of them run defense. So you can be sure another coach from the outside will be brought in. Mclellan could very well bring in Jim Johnson who ran his defense in SJ. But it surely wont be the 4 you suggested.

  • pkam

    Is Jay Woodcroft still under contract wth SJ? Will he cost us another draft pick?

    Perhaps the Oilers should extend Nelson, Acton and Ramsay before firing them. We need to somehow recoup the draft picks that lost to the new GM and coaches.

    • pkam

      The draft picks aren’t too important.

      The average draft year only 43% or so of the players drafted ever play in the NHL.

      Of these only 25% play who are drafted in the second round play.

      it is more important to have proper pro scouts and proper player development than worry about losing a few draft picks for a excellent coach and GM.

      The new GM and coach will be more valuable than a couple of draft picks.

  • pkam

    This is so strange! You mean the oilers fired them? As in let go? Like there not gonna be around at all??? They didn’t just give them a new title or somthing? This doesn’t sound very oiler like…

  • Johnnydapunk

    Thanks for the update Jonathan—seems we are through the first of a 2 or 3 part story on the coaching changes. So it is appropriate to anticipate further episodes when the first piece is entitled “Coming together”

    Journalists sometimes have information that it is premature to release and out of respect for the source they hold off—–until some information has been substantiated.

    These are people with real lives and families outside of Hockey and good reporters are courteous to await further word and confirmation prior to speculating. I am as anxious to know “our” new coaching team as anyone and would definitely feel that it is poetic justice that we have both Todds on-but let’s take a breath and await the information which I am sure will come soon.

  • Johnnydapunk

    I, like a few others are curious if the Oil are going to look at a different goalie coach as well, still think Burke is available and not sure with the compensation stuff if it’s doable or not.

    Any idea of the Oil are still sticking with Dellow? Thought he was part of the Eakins car crash that many of us suffered through, would think that a proper house cleaning would be in order as basically almost everything from the past was wrong (except Joey and Sparky, as they are maybe the only ones who I would want to have a job for life with the Oil)

    I would also be hopeful that Nelson sticks with the Oil as he seemed to get a lot out of the players and I also think that NHL head coaching jobs are fast dissappearing for the upcoming season.

  • Serious Gord

    Glad to see the back of both Ramsey and Acton. Their dismissal indicates that the organization is getting a complete flush of the cronies save mact and klowe in ceremonial roles.

    This is not just a turning of the page but a burning of the book. With apologies to the late (great) President Ford:

    Our long national nightmare is over.

  • Serious Gord

    I guess we’ll know soon enough regarding coaching assistants etc. I normally don’t spend a lot of time pondering the coaching personnel as long as the coach is someone of the quality of a McLellan. I just hope the owner doesn’t try to crowbar in Buchberger or Smith or some other ’80’s has been. I really hope that trend is broken once and for all.

    Just sayin’…

  • Serious Gord

    Nelson is a good coach.
    It would better for him and McLellan if he got picked up by another organization.
    I hope Mike Babcock snaps him up for Toronto.

    p.s. Chiarelli would be better off too if McTavish moved on.

  • pkam

    I know people won’t like this, but here it goes.

    This organization from the top to bottom has been the worst over the last 10 years.

    It is time to get rid of everyone. From Lowe to Rocky.

    Sorry guys, but to really get rid of the culture of losing all the old stagnant ideas from this team need to leave. Despite the change at the top and in key positions, they job is not yet finished.

    Can you imagine how “smart” Mac T is going to be with this new organization. He wasn’t splitting atoms on his days off, and he won’t be anytime in the future.