The head coach of the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, the 2017 Calder Cup champions, has his eye on greener pastures. According to The Athletic’s Craig Custance, Todd Nelson is a hot name on the coaching market right now among teams in need of an NHL assistant. Nelson is reportedly considering offers from many teams. Custance describes Nelson as an AHL coach who has proven himself ready to be an NHL head coach, but is facing the dilemma of deciding how best to position himself for that move.
Nelson, 49, has a long history with the Griffins and will not be quick to choose an NHL assistant position if the fit is not perfect. The former defenseman spent much of his playing career in the minor leagues, wrapping up his career in Grand Rapids in 2002. He immediately jumped into coaching as an assistant with the Griffins the next year. While he left the team after just one year, Nelson found his way back to Grand Rapids in 2015 as the head coach and took home a title last year. In his decade away from the team, Nelson spent time as an assistant with the Atlanta Thrashers, was the long-time head coach of the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, and even briefly served as the interim head coach of their then-parent club, the Edmonton Oilers. While Nelson’s Oilers won just 17 of 51 games under his guidance, it was an invaluable experience and strays greatly from Nelson’s other head coaching outcomes, in which he has a career .611 points percentage in the AHL.
It’s possible that Nelson could land in the same scenario as Oklahoma City if he stays in his current position, possibly taking over for Jeff Blashill of the Detroit Red Wings, who have struggled of late, during or after the next season. However, this time he would likely be given a longer tryout as head coach for Detroit given his improved coaching pedigree. Nelson could also get a jump on that process by simply becoming one of Blashill’s assistants, the same path that Jack Adams candidate Bruce Cassidy took, moving from head coach of the Providence Bruins to an assistant in Boston before taking over. Yet, Custance hears that Nelson is still considering a move. “By no means am I unhappy in Grand Rapids,” Nelson told Custance, but added “I just want to see what the next step might present… My goal is to be a head coach in the National Hockey League. Maybe it means going with a different organization where I’m more visible.” Teams reportedly chasing Nelson include the Dallas Stars, and new head coach Jim Montgomery, and at least one other Western Conference team, per Custance. Only time will tell what choice Nelson makes, but he is certainly a name to keep an eye on in the coming years as a top head coach candidate in the NHL.