It was the last question but maybe the most important one of Todd Nelson's Thursday morning press conference. Nelson was asked about his future. His answer was short and polite. He basically said I'm not thinking about it. I'm just taking it day-by-day and having fun. Really, that is exactly what the former coach in Oklahoma City has been doing since he became the coach in Edmonton. In the process, he's helped the Oilers to better results(which is always fun), a different style of play and a different attitude to go with it.
I have to say the day that Dallas Eakins was relieved of his duties and Todd Nelson added to his duties I just didn't believe one person, one coach could make a big difference. I felt like it was more than just a behind-the-bench issue that had side-swiped the Oilers into a painful, slow crawl of despair. As Craig MacTavish said the day Dallas was let go, after 15 losses in 16 games, he had to do something and he did. The GM made the smartest move he could make at the time and that was to bring in Nelson. There was no sense going outside the organization two months into a new season. Instead, looking within the Oilers to find someone you know, someone you like, someone who has done a good job of developing players and someone open to accepting the challenge of stepping into a difficult situation.
I knew of Todd Nelson more than I actually knew Todd. A few chats with him in Penticton at the Young Stars tournament; a couple "Hello. How are you?" at main training camp and then he went his way and I went mine. Yet from the first day I really got to know him as he arrived in Phoenix to share the bench with MacTavish I really liked him. As down-to-earth as a next door neighbour. Honest, humble and friendly. All the things you would want in a buddy but being pals isn't why Nelson got the job and it certainly wasn't the way he could potentially keep it. Underneath all that was a coach and a darn good one. His approach working everywhere he had been through his minor league crusades and in his brief NHL stop as an assistant with Atlanta.
The players don't have to like you but they do have to respect you. From what I've seen and heard from the Oilers, that's not a problem. They like him, they respect him and as a result they have played for him. I think it's in the way he treats them and talks to them. I truly believe he cares past the number and name you see on a jersey. It's also what's inside that counts. I'm no Dr. Phil (and I don't play one on TV) but Nelson has been able to get into a player’s heart and soul to try and bring out their best. He understands people and how to manage them.
One other thing that truly has impressed me and maybe even shocked me has been Nelson's approach to this opportunity. The 45 year old has a chance to be one of 30 head coaches in the NHL. Yet I have never, ever seen him stressed about shedding his 'interim' label. He's always been about what’s best for the players, team and then himself and his staff. Nelson said to me last week that he wasn't going to change just because he's working in a league that starts with an 'N' and not an 'A' or a 'U' (UHL).
Like every GM in the NHL, Craig MacTavish has big decisions to make this off-season. Maybe the biggest is on his head coach. MacTavish will look at all his options which includes Nelson. There have been no conversations about the future. That will take place sometime after Edmonton wraps up their season on Saturday. Whether he gets the full time job or not Todd Nelson has proven he can coach in this league and that he was the right man at the right time for what the Edmonton Oilers needed.