Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
The easily quotable English author, Douglas Adams, wrote a phrase I use often in life. “I seldom end up where where I wanted to go, but I always ended up where I needed to be,” he poetically lamented. There is a lot of inevitability in life, but rarely is it in the form and fashion with which we presume it will take shape. This happens both personally and professionally.
This week, Jason Gregor interviewed Barons Coach Todd Nelson via his radio show, and asked him about his coaching future. He also posted the quote and commentary at Oilers Nation.
“I expect them to talk to me about the future of the Oklahoma City Barons, but if something else comes up then we’ll talk about that. It’s been so busy here lately for everybody in the organization. Tambi and Kevin have been jet setting everywhere to watch different games, and we just finished up our exit meetings so everybody’s been very busy. I’d like to talk to them about the future of the Oklahoma City Barons and go on from there,” said Nelson.
“I was already an assistant in the NHL. I’ve been there and saw what it was like. Right now I really like my role with this team. I love being a head coach, and if I had the opportunity to be an assistant elsewhere I might entertain it, but it would have to be a pretty decent offer. I’d like to stay here (OKC) as a head coach and eventually try to make it in the NHL as a head coach.”
Notice the careful terminology when answering this question. Nelson is a daft fellow. He simultaneously campaigns to stay within the organization, albeit on the farm, all the while leaving the door open for future coaching spot in the NHL. This is strategic in nature, and likely the correct response.
For as good as Coach Nelson has been, he’s also benefitted from deeply stacked teams. Seasons with vet scorers like Ryan Keller and Alex Giroux is proof that the farm team was more than prepared to succeed. It also sets a standard of winning within the prospect culture in OKC. This in no way removes Coach Nelson from the upper echelon of AHL coaching prospects. Instead it gives the Oilers reasons to attain him as the coach of the Barons at least for the next two seasons. But is he really a better option than Tom Renney?
Ultimately that question will need to be answered with a statement – the future Oilers coach needs to be better than Tom Renney or else the firing was for nothing. I believe that Todd Nelson will hold court in the NHL one day, maybe not with the Oilers, but some city, somewhere, he’ll get a HC job. He’s that good of a coach. But remember, the AHL is a prospect league for future NHL coaches as much is it is for future wingers, goaltenders, and defenders. And I’ll take that thought one step further. Would a player be fully prepared for the NHL after only two full seasons in the minors? Maybe, but those players are rare (crosses fingers for Hartikainen).
The telling year is on the horizon. With new defensive prospects headed to OKC for some ironing of the rough edges is Todd able to put together a defense-solid team? Year three will be the one that makes or breaks the Barons coach. He’ll have plenty of work cut out for him.
Thus Coach Nelson’s career in OKC likely continues, I’d guess for at least two more years. In that span a new Oilers coach will have a chance to make things more respectable in the NHL. And if he doesn’t, you’ve always got Nelson in your back pocket. But don’t think for a moment other teams aren’t watching, waiting, and hoping to pounce if/when he’s turned loose. He’s that carefully watched. And rightfully so.