Implementing a winning culture is nothing new to Todd Nelson, who as a new addition to the Edmonton Oilers coaching staff will embark on the biggest challenge of what has been a successful coaching career.
Nelson was promoted to the Oilers staff Monday after coach Dallas Eakins was fired. Nelson will work under interim coach/general manager Craig MacTavish while he transitions into the interim coaching role for the remainder of the season.
"He's done a terrific job with our minor league team in the American Hockey League," MacTavish told the Oilers website. "He's deserving of this opportunity. I want to help him transition this group and … give myself a chance to get my hands on it."
Nelson was 176-123-34 in parts of five seasons as coach of the Oklahoma City Barons, the Oilers' American Hockey League affiliate. The Barons made the playoffs in each of his four full seasons, including two trips to the conference finals.
Todd Nelson will work under interim coach/general manager Craig MacTavish
while he transitions into the interim coaching role. (Photo: Scott Cunningham/NHLI)
In Edmonton he will be charged to help transform the fortunes of the Oilers. Edmonton has the fewest wins (seven) and points (19) in the NHL, and is 1-11-4 since winning back-to-back games Nov. 7 and 9.
A fourth-round pick (No. 79) of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1989 NHL Draft, Nelson played 12 seasons of professional hockey, which included short stints with the Penguins and Washington Capitals. He had 37 goals, 168 points and 223 penalty minutes in 306 AHL games with the Portland Pirates, Hershey Bears, Rochester Americans and Grand Rapids Griffins. He won the Calder Cup with the Pirates in 1994 and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2009.
Nelson's first coaching job was as an assistant coach/player for the Muskegon Fury of the United Hockey League in 2001-02. He first became a head coach in 2003 when he returned to Muskegon after serving as an assistant for Grand Rapids. He led the Fury to two 50-win seasons and two Colonial Cup championships.
Nelson then spent two seasons as an assistant with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL and helped Chicago win the Calder Cup in 2008. He worked in the NHL as an assistant for the Atlanta Thrashers for two seasons and then took the job as Barons coach July 15, 2010.
In his first season Oklahoma City went 40-29-2-9 and made the playoffs. Oklahoma City made the conference finals the next two seasons; in 2012 his team lost in five games to the Toronto Marlies, who were coached by Eakins.
Two seasons later Eakins was hired to coach the Oilers. Rumored to be a candidate, Nelson did not receive an interview.
"Looking back, was I disappointed? Absolutely," Nelson told The Oklahoman in October. "Dallas ended up being Craig's guy. That was his call. I see it as a positive. It gives me more time to hone my craft at this level so if I get that [NHL] opportunity I'll be a better coach. If I get to the NHL I don't want to be a flash in the pan."
So far in his coaching career Nelson has known a lot of winning. He leaves a Barons team in first place in the AHL West Division.
"Being a head coach is more or less managing people, trying to get players to care more about each other than themselves," Nelson told The Oklahoman. "I really enjoy that aspect."