At this point in time, it appears that Dave Tippett is the leading candidate to be the next head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. On his tail? There are two men, one of which is familiar to fans of the Oilers. Todd Nelson joined the Oiler organization in the spring of 2010 as the head coach of their new AHL affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons.
Nelson would lead that club for four full seasons, guiding them to the playoffs in each year while reaching the Western Conference Final in both 2011-12 and 2012-13. Nelson would last only 25 games into the 2014-15 season however, as he got a call that changed his career. The Oilers had fired Dallas Eakins, and Nelson would take over as the interim head coach of the club for the rest of the season.
Nelson led the Oilers to a 17-22-7 record over the course of 46 games, and many were hoping he would get the job on a more permanent basis for 2015-16. It wasn’t meant to be, as the club hired Todd McLellan and Nelson elected to leave the organization.
His next stop? Grand Rapids, to the be the head coach of the Griffins. Of course, the Griffins are the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, then under the leadership of Ken Holland. Nelson coached the Griffins for three seasons, winning the Calder Cup in 2016-17 and making the playoffs each year. He left Grand Rapids last summer to join the Dallas Stars as an assistant coach.
Why Is He Out There?:
Nelson has paid his dues, being a head coach for seven full seasons in the AHL and making the playoffs each and every year while adding a Championship. He did solid work with a brutal Oilers team in 2014-15, and I thought he did a good job on the staff of rookie coach Jim Montgomery this season with the Stars.
Nelson is a good young coach that deserves a chance. He’s grinded through the minors and multiple NHL assistant/interim jobs to get to this point. He’s a proven winner at the AHL level and has proven at the NHL level that he can get the best out of guys.
I think he’s become almost overrated by Oiler fans, but Nelson is a strong coaching candidate that I think deserves a look. He’s only out there because he has earned this opportunity, with Edmonton or with someone else.
What Does He Do Well?:
Guys would run through a wall for Nelson, that is well documented. He was a favorite among the Oil when he arrived on the job in December of 2014, and many of his players from both Oklahoma City and Grand Rapids have spoken out about how much they respect him and would battle for him.
The Oilers haven’t had a coach like that since arguably Ralph Krueger. A guy that commands the room and the respect of the players, while also being someone that guys want to play for and want to win for. Think that doesn’t matter? Take a look at what the Carolina Hurricanes have accomplished this season. Take a look at what the Boston Bruins have accomplished this season. It matters.
The thing I thought Nelson did best when in Edmonton was handle Nail Yakupov. The first overall pick from the 2012 entry draft was entering bust territory and struggling under Eakins, but when Nelson came to Edmonton there was a bit of a turnaround in his game.
Nelson placed him with veteran center Derek Roy and Yakupov produced in a more secondary role. He wasn’t a game-breaker, but the Yakupov/Roy combination was solid for the Oilers down the stretch. He also had Anton Lander looking like a real NHL center during his time at the helm as well. Guys were put in the right spots with him and they produced. That counts for something to me.
I do think that Nelson has become almost overrated in some circles around Edmonton, but I very much like him. He’s a young coach that has established himself as a winner at the AHL level and shown some strong positives when on an NHL bench. He’s not perfect by any means, but Nelson is a very strong candidate.
I think it is very important that the next coach of the Oilers is a strong communicator and someone who builds relationships with his players. You want the players to be playing for their coach and you want them to respect him to the point where losing feels like letting him down.
Nelson checks off that box, along with the box of handling young players at this level. You think his prior experience with Yakupov wouldn’t help him with Jesse Puljujarvi? I think it would.
In the end, I still believe the job will go to Tippett. That said, my preferred candidate at this point is Nelson.