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Clearing the air

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

Oilers interim coach Todd Nelson addressed the team before practice on Sunday. It seems like a simple thing, not outside of what’s normal interaction between coaches and players.

However, with general manager Craig MacTavish overseeing the transition to Nelson, it was important for the new coach behind the bench to have his turn in front of the group.

“It’s big. It’s important that I’m very clear with them about who I am as a coach and what my philosophy is so there is no second guessing by the team. I think I have to communicate that consistently,” Nelson said.

Photo by Getty Images.

Since joining the team two weeks ago, Nelson has unfortunately been witness to five-straight losses. The Oilers are 14th in the Western Conference with 21 points. Nelson was familiar with the task at hand when he accepted MacTavish’s offer to come to Edmonton, but he’s now had an opportunity to see it firsthand.

“I knew what the challenge was coming in,” Nelson said. “I think over the last couple of weeks, I have a clear vision of what I feel we have to do moving forward and so I have to message that to the team. It started today and it was the first real day where I was able to address the team and let them know who I was or who I am as a coach and what my philosophy is. Everything is clear and now we can start building on what we have to do. It’s a lot more clear to me now than maybe two weeks ago. I knew how it was before I got here so right now it’s just a start and we have to build off some of the positive things and get rid of the negative things we’re doing on the ice.”

When it comes to changing the fortunes of the Oilers, Nelson says it comes down to changing bad habits.

“It sounds like it’s really something simple, which it is, but along with those good habits and details it’s hard work,” Nelson said. “It’s stopping and starting. It’s stopping in front of the net after you take a shot and facing the play instead of circling. These are all things that we have to do right consistently. Along with that, the compete in front of our net and the compete in front of their net. I think those are things we have to nail down and make that a staple.”

Photo by Getty Images

That starts with practice as MacTavish and Nelson continue to hammer in their messaging. On Sunday, following their annual Skills Competition, the Oilers took back to the ice for more practice.

“You guys saw practice today,” Nelson said. “We did a lot of battle drills and it has to become second nature.”

As for when the transition to Nelson is complete, in some ways it already is. Although MacTavish was still on the bench last game and was on the ice for practice on Sunday, Nelson says he’s in the driver’s seat now.

“Right now, I’m in control. If he’s on the bench, he’s there to assist me,” Nelson said of MacTavish.

And now Nelson has had the opportunity to present to the team what he can bring to the table as coach and what he expects from them. That took place on Sunday.

“It was just to clear the air a bit,” Nelson said.

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