ANOTHER WORST KEPT SECRET?
Now that it’s good and official that Tom Renney has been relieved of his duties, we get to spend the next _____ (fill in the blank) weeks wondering when Brent Sutter will be hired as the new coach of the Oilers.
I spoke to Oil On Whyte magician and partner-in-crime Grant (@realoilfan) last night about a couple of things, and one of them was about how he’s not exactly thrilled that Brent Sutter might be the next in line for the Oiler gig. I think Sutter is as good as some other names, but there’s no reason that Sutter sticks out in my mind.
Really, there’s a handful of choices that could fit the bill. Marc Crawford. Paul Maurice. Jacques Martin. Colonel Jimmy Hart.
I’m going to go off the board a little bit and throw Ted Nolan’s name into the fire. I think he’s ready for another shot, and the time is now. Right now.
Ted Nolan has a relatively small sample size to work with. Combining his time with the Sabres and the Islanders, he’s coached four years total, and was an assistant for the Harford Whalers for one season. I’m going to put any and all statistical analysis behind me for a second and say that he’d be a smash in Edmonton for one reason and one reason alone: his blue collar mentality. The fans would love him. Anyone who uses or enjoys words like ‘grit’, ‘toughness’, ‘clutch’, any of those terms, would instantly fall in love with Ted Nolan. If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that I hate words like ‘grit’, ‘toughness’, and ‘clutch’ because they are not measurable statistics, but I think that we could come to a compromise here in Ted Nolan. In the time I’ve seen him coach, he gets the most with the least.
Look at the teams he’s coached: Let’s start with the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres were dubbed ‘The Hardest Working Team In Hockey‘ under Nolan’s watch. In the second of two seasons with the Sabres, he took a team that was led in scoring by Derek Plante (!) to the playoffs. Yes, he had the wonderpower that was Dominik Hasek between the pipes, but Derek Plante!
Team Captain Pat LaFontaine took an especially vicious elbow from Pittsburgh’s Francois Leroux early in the season, sidelining him for the remainder of the 96-97 campaign. This was a team that was one year removed from guys like Alexander Mogilny and Dale Hawerchuk, and LaFontaine ended up missing most of the season. You had Derek Plante, Brian Holzinger, and Jason Dawe in Buffalo’s top 5 scorers that year. If you don’t recognize all of those players as household names, I wouldn’t hold it against you. Richard Smehlik has 30 points that season, along with eleven other Sabres. Nolan helped lead the Sabres into the second round of the playoffs that season, just one year after missing the dance completely.
There was absolutely no superstar on that squad, other than the goaltender. Dixon Ward did have 45 points, however. Ted Nolan was able to take a lot of guys that nobody outside of Buffalo really gave any thought to, and put them in the second round. Maybe it was dumb luck. Maybe it wasn’t.
Fast forward to 2006-07 while he was coach of the Islanders. You may remember this year as the year Ryan Smyth was jettisoned at the deadline to these very same Islanders. Nolan was brought in after a disastrous previous campaign by Steve Stirling and Brad Shaw, and he took the team to a 40 win season. The offence was a bit better on this team than with the Sabres (you did have Alexei Yashin and a more experienced Miroslav Satan banking at least 50 points each, not to mention Jason Blake with 66), but it came down to a goaltending tandem of Mike Dunham and Wade Dubielewicz towards the end of the season.
The Islanders needed a lot of luck to best the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 8th spot (it came down to the last game of the season), but with Wade Dubielewicz hanging on to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Devils, the Islanders somehow found the playoffs. As of today, it’s the last time the Islanders were able to qualify for the postseason.
Today, Nolan is the coach of Team Latvia (and Oilers prospect Kristians Pelss in the 2012 IIHF). That sounds like a punchline to a joke, but Nolan’s been out of the NHL more than he’s been in due to what he calls his ‘being too honest’. I’m willing to say that Nolan probably doesn’t toe the line too awful much, and isn’t that what you want from a coach?
Nolan would be the fourth coach in five years for the Oilers. The guy has taken two clubs who would’ve likely been afterthoughts to the postseason. Edmonton’s got a few guys who are already near PPG players, so this club is at least offensively greater than the Sabres of ’96-’97. Ted Nolan isn’t the vanilla flavoured choice, which may be a big reason as to why I’d give him a shot.
And? Fans would love his blue collar work ethic. Hire Ted Nolan. I’m done here.
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