22
Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

At Random: Back in the Show

I believe the Edmonton Oilers got it right with the hiring of assistant coaches Glen Gulutzan, Trent Yawney and Manny Viveiros. That said, it’s always bothered me they managed to get it so wrong with Todd Nelson, who the organization basically whiffed on three times before he ended up as the head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit’s AHL farm team.

It’s good to see, then, indications are that the Dallas Stars are today closing in on a deal — as of noon nothing had been confirmed or announced — to bring Nelson in as an assistant coach under new head coaching hire Jim Montgomery. After three years back in the AHL, a stint that included winning the 2017 Calder Cup, it looks like Nelson is on his way back to The Show, where he belongs.

Nelson, now 49, did get a shot as the interim coach of the Oilers during the 2014-15 season, leading the Oilers to 17-25-9 record, after Dallas Eakins was fired. When new GM Pete Chiarelli hired the more experienced Todd McLellan as his head coach, Nelson went to Grand Rapids. Previously, Steve Tambellini looked at Nelson as a head coach when he was behind the bench in Oklahoma City, but opted for Ralph Krueger. When new GM Craig MacTavish fired Krueger via Skype, he didn’t even bother to talk to Nelson and hired Eakins.

While the ship has clearly sailed on Nelson’s time in Edmonton, I’m glad to see him back in the NHL. He’s always been an honest coach with the ability to communicate — a must-have coaching tool today. Simply put, most players love playing for Nelson because he tells it straight and doesn’t leave them guessing. I would’ve liked to see what Nelson could have done with this group of players as opposed to the roster he had to work with during his tenure here, but it was not to be.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL

The 2018 edition of the NHL combine is on this week in Buffalo and, as always, any results and conclusions drawn from the annual round of fitness testing need to be taken with a grain of salt. The exercise provides nothing more than a snapshot of where any given prospect sits right now in terms of their physical maturity and condition — nothing more, nothing less. History tells us that much.

At the 2015 combine in Buffalo, Jack Eichel showed way better than Connor McDavid in fitness testing. At the 2014 combine in Mississauga, a fair amount of fuss made in some corners when Sam Bennett failed to manage even a single pull-up. At the same combine, Leon Draisaitl didn’t finish in the top-10 in any of the categories that were tested.

Doing well in the testing is never going to be a negative, but that needs to be taken for what it is in the here and now. From where I sit, I see just as much value in NHL teams getting another chance to interview prospects as in the results of the testing. The complete list of the 104 players invited to the 2018 combine is here.

WHILE I’M AT IT

  • If you haven’t yet seen the NHL Under Oath series running on TSN this week, there’s a trailer here and Part One is here. It’s videotaped sworn testimony from NHL officials, including commissioner Gary Bettman, team owners and officials related to the concussion lawsuit that was filed against the league more than four years ago. Not surprisingly, it’s pretty much a bunch of ass-covering across the board in response to the lawsuit by former players.
  • If you like to swing the clubs, are looking for a fun day out of the office and want to support the ongoing battle against homelessness in Edmonton, consider joining us June 19 for the 16th annual Mustard Seed golf tournament at The Highlands. If you don’t want to embarrass yourself on the links, you can still donate via the link provided. We’ve again got Jason Strudwick hosting, so that’s worth the entry fee right there, no?
  • Baggedmilk touched on the theft of Norm Lacombe’s Stanley Cup ring earlier today, but I just want to add a thought because this kind of opportunistic theft really pisses me off — I’ve had it happen to me. Yes, you should lock your car. Yes, it’s best not to leave valuables lying around. Failing or forgetting to do so, however, doesn’t give anybody the right to take what is not theirs. Do the right thing. Return the ring.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • crabman

    I agree Robin, the physical tests are probably less important than the interview portion as long as the person doing the interviewing is a good judge of character. The physical tests are good to see how competitive some players are and how close to physically ready for the next level they are on combine weekend but I doubt a team is getting any new information from the testing.

  • RJ

    I have been in the Nelson camp for a while so it’s good to see him back in the NHL.

    The thing that I’ve always had an issue with is the narrative that TM was a superior coach and that he had an elite coaching team around him, so he was preferable. With the new round of assistant coaches being hired, it’s clear TM didn’t have this elite coaching staff supporting him.

    Hope to see him get a head coaching gig in the NHL somewhere.

  • Kr55

    If we were a normal org that fires people that fail miserably, we could have brought Nelson back. But since MacT is still here, the guy that felt the need to become training wheels for Nelson in his first NHL gig, then bend of backwards trying to take credit away from Nelson for the team not looking like Eakins stole their souls anymore (apparently it was all thanks to macT getting klinkhammer and trading away our best D Petry), there is no way Nelson would come back.

      • PCL

        Yup. Until our owner shows some integrity and stops treating this franchise as his personal toy and the Old Boys Club players as his buddies, our reputation that has been dragged through the mud for 11 or the last 12 years won’t change!

      • MrBung

        Players avoiding the Oilers is not why this organization is a dismal failure right now. Bad ownership and management is why this team is poor. Losing draft picks for Chia and TMac plus Chias bone head moving Reinhart for picks hurt this teams depth. Also Chia putting this team into cap hell and bleeding value in the Hall trade.

      • McLellan and Nelson talked, but there was never anything to reject. No offer was made. At that point, Nelson wanted to stay on the path of being a head coach, even if that meant going to the AHL.

        “I’ve always had that feeling in my stomach when I was an assistant in Atlanta, even though it was great working with John Anderson, there was always a part of me that felt I could give more. But being an assistant you have to be loyal to your head coach and follow his lead. That was one part of it, but was there an offer? No, because we didn’t get that far,” explained Nelson.

  • Ol_OneNut

    The 104 players should thumb their nose at the meat market that is the NHL combine. They’re all getting drafted regardless.
    Their time would be better spent lying on a beach somewhere.

  • OilCan2

    I hope they swing for the fences with the #10 and pick the best RHD just like I been saying all along. W Gretzky said it best when he said he would hit the gym when the dumbells started scoring goals.

  • Make Another Bad Trade or Signing!!

    Always felt that Oilers should have stuck with Nelson. Liked the way the team reacted with energy. Didn’t see good energy during the Eakins run, particularly the last half-season, and certainly didn’t see it last year.

  • Oilman99

    Nelson has demonstrated a great ability to get the most out of his players. He is a players coach, given the chance I think he could be another Gallant. It would have been interesting to see what would have transcended if he had got a chance with the Oilers.

  • MrBung

    Personally, I think too much is being made of Nelson and his ability to be any better of a coach then what was available at the time. Some degree of hindsight bias. With TMac I hated that the Oil lost a pick.

  • Jaxon

    I think the combine is mostly useful as a tool to ascertain if a player is dedicated and putting in the necessary work to become a professional. I think it helps confirm red flags on players to avoid. If a player has a perceived attitude issue and this is confirmed by both the interview and the fitness test (while considering such factors as injury and age and body type and players skills), then you have a player to avoid at the draft.

  • M22

    My take at that time was that, in Eakins, MacTavish saw a fellow egghead, whereas Nelson seemed to me more blue-collar, rough-around-the-edges type of guy. Personally, I’d have been happier with Todd as HC then, but…