What To Do With Todd Nelson

The Edmonton Oilers are moving forward, as they should, with Dallas Eakins as their head coach this coming season. Eakins had a rough year, but learned a lot in his first season and is bound to show improvement in 2014-15. To help him, the Oilers moved out Kelly Buchberger and brought in veteran coach Craig Ramsay, a very solid move.

The Oilers also offered assistant Steve Smith a new job as the man in the booth, the eye in the sky if you will. Smith has yet to accept the role, and likely will be making his decision in the next week and a half, at least that is the time line MacT outlined earlier this week. If Smith declines, the Oilers will have an open spot on their coaching staff, and will need to being someone in.

This leads us to Nelson, who has been great in the AHL for the Oilers and their affiliate in Oklahoma City.

The Positives:

Todd Nelson really has done a remarkable job when you think about it. He took over as the Barons coach before their first season in Oklahoma City, the 2010-11 season. This was coming on the heels of Edmonton’s stint in Springfield, where they were one of the worst development teams in the league, and rarely won anything. They were bad, real bad.

In the four years since then, Nelson has led the Barons to four straight post-season appearances, with two of those being trips to the conference finals, in the springs of 2012 and 2013. He’s led the team to three 40 win seasons, with his worst being 36 wins this past year, playing with a roster that saw over 100 transactions, an insane amount.

Overall, Nelson has been a winner in the AHL. His regular season record sees him stand in at 161-105-42. He’s a guy that knows how to get the most out of his teams, and is a guy that can teach a winning group. That’s important, and it’s a quality Edmonton really could use on their staff.

Development wise, he’s done a pretty good job with some of the Oilers young players. He helped Martin Marincin develop at the pro level and get adjusted to the game, sending him to the NHL ready for top-four minutes. He was a huge help in Oscar Klefbom’s rookie season, teaching him the North American game and helping him become a solid contributor in the NHL towards the end of the year.

He’s put Anton Lander in a spot to succeed, and made him one of the better AHL players Edmonton has seen in a while, and he’s helped guys like Tyler Pitlick and Mark Arcobello become real prospects with the Oilers. His work with guys like Martin Gernat, David Musil and Brandon Davidson has put them on the map too, and he had a hand in Colin MacDonald’s career turn around back in his first season in OKC.

He’s yet to truly develop any stars, but he has helped push a number of important Oiler prospects to the brink of permanent NHL employment. In five years, I suspect we look back and see a list of Todd Nelson graduates that is really, really impressive. They won’t all be playing in Edmonton, but the list will still be pretty darn good.

The guy is not only a winner, but he’s a great teacher too for young players. He knows how to push the right buttons, and he knows how to get his message across.

The Situation:

Todd Nelson was understandably disappointed in the summer of 2012 when he was passed up in Edmonton as head coach in favor of Ralph Krueger, an internal candidate. He was even more so last summer, when Edmonton dipped into the AHL for Dallas Eakins to replace the departed Krueger.

Nelson deserves a shot in the NHL, and had been passed up twice in Edmonton in as many summers. Considering everything he has done for the organization, it isn’t surprising why he was upset. This summer, Nelson had a real shot at a head coaching job, getting an interview and serious look in Carolina.

However, on Thursday, the Canes decided on Red Wings assistant Bill Peters to take the coaching job, meaning Nelson will again go another summer getting passed over for bigger named candidates.

What will happen with arguably the best coach in the AHL, especially now with Texas Stars head man Willie Desjardins likely off to the NHL?

An assistant coaching job in Edmonton makes the most sense to me. He’d be heading back up to the big leagues (Served as an assistant in Atlanta before) and would be getting another nice resume point. That being said, he’d be the eye in the sky and won’t be behind the bench, where he likely would want to be.

He’s certainly deserving of being on the NHL staff, and I’d imagine he’ll have the option if Steve Smith decides to leave, but I beleive Nelson will be back in Oklahoma City this fall for his fifth year as Barons head coach. How much longer he holds that title? I’m not sure, but I’d be stunned if he held it for a sixth season in the fall of 2015.

If the Oilers end up getting off to another horrible start this fall, we might even see Nelson taking over in Edmonton…..That said, with Nelson missing out on the Carolina job, it seems like he has two options, come to Edmonton in the event Smith leaves, or stay in OKC for another year.

Expect Nelson to be running the Baron bench again when hockey revs up in September.

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