As we near the end of Sportsnet's first of twelve seasons as the NHL's broadcast partner, I have a lot of complaints about how things are going so far. One thing that I can't complain about though, is their decision to bring Elliotte Friedman on board. For my money he one of the very best in the business and I consider his "30 Thoughts" to be an absolute must read. For those who might have missed it, in yesterday's "30 Thoughts" Friedman touched on the Oilers coaching situation, writing this:
When Todd Nelson took over for Dallas Eakins in Edmonton, I’m not sure how many people thought he would be the permanent choice. It’s no guarantee, but it’s very clear he’s put himself deep into the conversation. The Oilers are determined to wait until after the season before making any decisions, but it’s going to take a real high-level candidate to push him out.
I’d wondered if (for argument’s sake) Todd McLellan was the guy, if the Oilers may ask him to keep Nelson as his top assistant. But that’s a recipe for trouble, and it’s believed Nelson, who has already been an NHL assistant, would rather run his own bench than return to that position. One thing is for sure: everyone’s learned he coaches at the NHL level exactly how he does it at the AHL level. Players relate to him, and play hard for him.
There's a couple things of interest in there, I want to touch on the latter first, the idea of keeping Nelson around as an assistant should the Oilers hire someone other than him this summer as the Oilers next Head Coach. Assuming of course that Nelson would take the job which is a very big if. This is an idea that's come up in a couple of Twitter conversations too and I understand the logic behind it. By all accounts the players like Nelson, so this could be seen as a compromise between the wants of the players and wants of the front office.
In theory it might not be a bad idea, in reality I'm not so sure. Having the new boss and the person who used to be the boss in the room seems like a good way to muddle the organizational chart; especially if the players really liked the old boss, which seems to be the case in Edmonton. New coaches come with new ideas and new ways of doing things. If the players can look around the room and see a guy who did things differently, in a way that perhaps they liked more, then I think you've got a potential problem on your hands. From where I sit, I just don't see a lot of upside with a situation like this.
More on Todd Nelson
More on Todd Nelson
Fortunately, it's a situation that I don't think is likely to occur. If rumours are to be believed, Nelson didn't want to be an assistant last summer, I don't expect that he's completely changed his mind about that in the course of eight months. If the Oilers do go with someone other than Nelson, there might not be a coaching gig in the NHL for him next season, but I'm sure he'll be able to find something to his liking in the AHL. I doubt very much that we'll see him back in Edmonton as an assistant.
But will the Oilers go with someone other than Nelson? I've said repeatedly that I think the Oilers would benefit from bringing in a coach from outside of the organization and, to be quite honest, I'm not sold on Nelson just yet, I want to dig a little deeper into the numbers before making a final decision. But "it’s going to take a real high-level candidate to push him out" makes me think that perhaps some others already have made a decision. If Friedman is right, and he quite often is, then if the Oilers can't land a stud, someone with a long track record of success - think Mike Babcock, Todd McLellan, or someone of that ilk - then they'll go with the man that they've already got.
So what are the odds that a rock star head coaching candidate would choose the Oilers this spring/summer? Probably not great. If every NHL team in need of a coach was knocking on your door, would you choose the one that's equal parts tire fire and three-ring circus? If the offer came with a dump truck full of cash (and it would absolutely have to), I can't say that they wouldn't consider it, but it's hard to imagine someone in a position to choose their employer choosing the Oilers right now. We already now that Edmonton isn't a desired location for players, there's no reason to think that coaches view the team in a different light. Of course if it happened I'd be absolutely thrilled, I just won't be holding my breath.
And that brings us back to Nelson. When he was given the interim tag I hoped that he'd do enough to at least be considered for the job on a full time basis when the season ended. He seems like a good person and I felt that a good performance now would go a long way to securing him a future coaching job in the NHL. And there have been some things during his tenure that I've liked, but I'm not convinced that he's done enough in his time as the Oilers bench boss to be given the job by way of the two sweetest words in the English language should the best of the best turn the team down. Who gets named as the Oilers 19th head coach is going to be one of the most important decisions Craig MacTavish will have made as the team's general manager, hopefully he won't just do what's easiest.