Todd Nelson Coached Teams: From December Goat To February Prize Pony

Photo by Steven Christy

Taking a quick look at the standings in the AHL, you might notice something interesting today. The Barons are tied with the Milwaukee Admirals for the 8th seed in the West. Keep in mind, the Ads have a few games in hand, but the fact that OKC has climbed the ladder a few more rungs is nothing short of remarkable. You could try to explain this phenomena, but the wisest explanation is that Todd Nelson is a good coach, and a better one when he has to be.

Nelson has now placed three straight AHL teams in the playoffs. Three seasons as head coach, three post season births. That is a pretty incredible feat given the sad sack nature of the Oilers farm team that had once been basement dwellers in the minors. The creation of a squad in OKC, the “diamond in the rough” hiring of Todd Nelson, and better management from GM Bill Scott, the team has been highly successful since the doors opened in 2010.

Last season, the lockout season, it felt as if Coach Nelson legitimized his giftedness as a coach. The lockout brought a wealth of talent to the AHL, not just for the Barons, and offensively the team dominated in goal scoring, but the pace / quickness of the game hosed down the defense and goaltending almost nightly. A league where goals were scored, and defenses were burned had the Barons out of the playoff picture up until January. Then the lockout ended. The Barons scrambled, had a soul crushing January (we will get to the exact number in a bit), yet were able to resurrect themselves to become one of the best teams in the West (just inched out of a Calder Final spot when Grand Rapids outlasted them). I’m sorry, but that’s a simply incredible turn-around in a lesss-than-three-month span. Simpy incredible.

But is there a consistent pattern to Todd Nelson’s surging teams? Yes, with a few important points worth mentioning.

I’ve calculated the outright winning percentage, per month, for each of the four seasons that Todd Nelson and the Barons have had a wonderful marriage. Here are the totals per month, with an average per month across those four seasons, as well as the yearly win percentage averages.

Let’s start with the obvious thing first. December is an awful month for the Barons, always has been, always will be. You can see that the team trends up in most cases from October to November, and then mostly declines sharply in December. That’s disgusting. It’s also a product of an Oilers team that gets call-up / injury happy in December. It’s also about the time that teams, NHL ones, begin to build a fully realized hockey club. By December, what you get is what you get, at least in most cases. The decline ends in January, the team surges through February, dips near trade deadline in March, but roars to life in April. Strong starts, December hiccup, roar to life, minor blip, domination – that’s the path that the team has carved for itself over the four years led by Todd Nelson.

Below is a pretty graph that gives us a little more optical clarity. Here is the monthly win percentage per year.

Here is the monthly win percentage ON average PER month

It’s pretty clear that Oklahoma City Barons squads, but more importantly Coach Nelson helmed teams, have a tendency to trend upwards over the duration of the season.

Now if you take the current season we are in, you’ll notice that on the average, March is a so-so month. Nelson has his group of prospects marching headstrong currently, which is a rarity in March. And if the statistics continue to hold up, April will be equally as dazzling.

In the end, these graphs, charts, and numbers prove what we all know already –  Todd Nelson is a heckuva coach. Regardless of the make up of the team, he has a way of squeezing every ounce of goodness from their being. This season, even if they collapse down the stretch, which I don’t think they will, you can still see value in his ability to both manage lineups and motivate players. Whether it is vet heavy or prospect heavy, like Shania Twain said, “You’ve Got A Way”. And that’s great news.

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