Off the Top of My Head: The Oilers’ Calder Drought, Todd Nelson, and the Hockey Hall of Fame

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
9 months ago
With five Stanley Cup parades in the books since 1979, seven players and coach/GM Glen Sather in the HHOF, and Connor McDavid well on his way, you’d think the Edmonton Oilers would’ve claimed at least one Calder Trophy, awarded to the top first-year player in the NHL, by now. Nope. Not one.
Wayne Gretzky wasn’t even in the running in 1979-80 despite a 137-point season because he played in the WHA. McDavid got into just 45 games as a rookie in 2015-16 because of a broken clavicle and finished third in voting. That leaves the door wide open for stopper Stuart Skinner to do the honors Monday at the NHL Awards night in Nashville.
The team’s trophy case is crammed with silverware. The Oilers have claimed the Hart Trophy 12 times, the Ted Lindsay Award 10 times and the Art Ross Trophy 13 times – McDavid will add to those totals Monday — but no cigar on the Calder. Skinner is the team’s fifth finalist, joining Grant Fuhr (1982), Jason Arnot (1994), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2012), and McDavid.
Skinner, 24, put together a 29-14-5 record with a 2.73 GAA and .914 save percentage in 50 games. He joins Seattle forward Matty Beniers and Buffalo defenceman Owen Power as finalists. How Skinner stacks up depends on who you ask, but it’s worth noting that ballots were sent in before the post-season began. The reality is Skinner wasn’t nearly as good in his 12 playoff appearances as he was in regular season.
“I don’t know a ton about goalies and their numbers and what they all mean, but what I do know is he’s won his games, and we haven’t always been the best team in front of him,” McDavid said going into the playoffs. “He’s always given us a chance to win. You know, he really stepped up throughout the whole year. I’m not sure where we’d be without him. I think it would be hard to find a rookie who’s had a better year than Stu.”
I’m with McDavid. If I still had a PHWA vote, I’d have Skinner at the top of my ballot by a hair. While Beniers had a really good first half and was clearly the early favorite, the Oilers would have had no sniff of the post-season if Skinner didn’t win those 29 games, representing a franchise record for rookies.


In yet another example of how times flies, I still think of Todd Nelson as a young coach, but he’s 54 and now and celebrating his second Calder Cup title as a head coach after Hershey’s 3-2 OT win over the Coachella Valley Firebirds Wednesday.
Nelson started the 2014-15 season with the Oilers as an assistant under Dallas Eakins. When Eakins was sacked after a 7-19-5 death march to start the season, Nelson took over after an interim stint by GM Craig MacTavish and he took the team to a 17-22-7 record. More than a few people thought that Nelson might have the “interim coach” label removed and that he’d keep the job, but it wasn’t to be.
The Oilers instead brought in Todd McLellan as head coach the next season and Nelson went to Grand Rapids, where he won the 2017 Calder Cup. Starting in 2018-19, Nelson spent the next four seasons as an assistant with the Dallas Stars before moving on to Hershey, Washington’s AHL affiliate, this season.
When the Capitals fired Peter Laviolette in mid-April after missing the playoffs, there was talk Nelson might be in line for the job, but the Caps instead hired Spencer Carbery May 30. Carbery is 41 and very well-regarded. Where that leaves Nelson with Washington, I don’t know.
Laviolette wasn’t unemployed long as he was unveiled as head coach of the New York Rangers Tuesday of last week. There is a connection to the Oilers here was well – Michael Peca, a member of Edmonton’s 2006 Stanley Cup final team, has been hired as an assistant on Laviolette’s staff.


There are two unrelated items from last week I don’t understand. The first is the decision by the NHL not to allow “cause-based” jerseys – for the likes of Pride Night, Military Night and Hockey Fights Cancer – to be worn in warm-ups. The second is Alexander Mogilny being overlooked yet again for induction into the HHOF.
To hear commissioner Gary Bettman and the league’s board of governors tell it, the refusal by a handful of players to wear Pride jerseys for warm-up and the fall-out from that is reason enough to end the practice. Teams will still have jerseys on theme nights, but they won’t be worn in warm-ups. Pardon?
“That’s just become more of a distraction from really the essence of what the purpose of these nights are,” Bettman said. “We are keeping the focus on the game. And on these specialty nights, we’re going to be focused on the cause.”
As for Mogilny, eligible for induction since 2009, his exclusion calls into question the entire process by which players are called to the hall. Mogilny wasn’t only a brilliant player with 1,032 points in a career spanning 990 games, he was a trailblazer as the first major Soviet star to defect in 1989. His exclusion is a farce.


You never have to look far for a good time in Nashville, so it’s no surprise the after-party following the NHL awards at Bridgestone Arena Monday is being held at a bar named Tequila Cowboy just down Broadway and not far from the rink.
It’s about a five-minute walk and not far from a honky-tonk and steak joint owned by Kid Rock. The first round of the Entry Draft takes over Bridgestone Wednesday. 

AND . . . 

Congratulations to McDavid and longtime girlfriend, Lauren Kyle, who announced Saturday they are engaged to be married . . . last one out in Calgary, turn off the lights. Mercy, the Flames are in big-time trouble down the road in Cowtown. Good luck with that to new GM Craig Conroy. Heritage Classic? Sure.

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