Oilers patient in head coach hunt
Todd Nelson remains Edmonton Oilers interim head coach until GM Craig MacTavish makes up his mind on the future direction of the team (Matt Kartozian, USA TODAY).
Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish does not want to repeat the mistake of his first coaching hire, even if he won’t admit it was a mistake.
Though many signs point to Todd Nelson being the logical choice as the team’s next head coach, MacTavish is not willing to make that commitment just yet.
“I’d be crazy not to acknowledge the good job Todd did since he took over,” MacTavish said on Monday. “I don’t want to get into too much about specifics what the next coach will look like, but I’ve been consistent in what I’ve said about coaching.
“I have to let the emotion die down from the season. We’re going to give a fixed amount of time going forward to see what that landscape is and then we’re going to make a decision. But in my experience, you’re better off buying time before we get to that conclusion.”
Nelson took over from Dallas Eakins on an interim basis in mid-December.
He first shared the bench with MacTavish, who wanted to get into the trenches and see first-hand what the issues were.
Once Nelson took over exclusively, the Oilers started to play a better, more structured game and the power play began to flourish. Not counting the five games he spent with MacTavish behind the bench, Nelson finished with a 17-22-7 record.
“I’ve said this about coaching all along, I was a coach, coaching is about timing,” MacTavish said. “The timing was good for Todd and it wasn’t so good for Dallas. Todd came in here and we were able to get more experience in terms of (Rob) Klinkhammer who added quite a bit of experience on the fourth line, Derek Roy which had a residual affect on (Nail) Yakupov.
“Todd, to his credit, got more out of some of the players here than, frankly, I thought was in them. Guys like Anton Lander, who played well for Todd, there was a familiarity with Todd. Todd put him in situations that perhaps I wouldn’t have put him in if I was coaching the team. There are things that Todd does well, he’s always had a group that performed well at the American League level as well.”
With a number of experienced coaches expected to become available this season, it is natural MacTavish will wait to see what’s out there before making a decision on a coach. It’s the type of due diligence he did not undertake when giving Eakins a four-year contract based on an interview and recommendations from media pundits in Toronto.
“I’m not saying that Dallas is a bad coach, I’m not going to stand up here and say Dallas won’t have success as a coach, I still believe he will,” MacTavish said. “But the timing just wasn’t right and it looked like the timing was right for Todd.”
Despite the timing, if another more experienced coach becomes available, Nelson could be out of luck.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock is expected to become test the market once his contract expires this year, although the likelihood of him being lured to Edmonton are slim. If Todd McLellan in San Jose becomes available after the Sharks failed to make the playoffs, he, too, will be a highly sought-after commodity.
“There is no downside for me to taking that time to make that decision,” MacTavish said. “I’ve had that dialog with Todd, I’ve communicated very clearly to Todd that I’ve admired the job and respected the job that he’s done. I’ve seen it much like you have, there has been an improvement in the on-ice performance. Todd gets the lion’s share of credit for that.
“There has been personnel changes that have helped as well that I wasn’t able to do with Dallas here. But Todd is a laid-back guy who’s messaging is really resonating with this team. But saying that, I still want to give myself some time to see what the landscape is going forward.