Barons to Name Head Coach

This is the legendary Al Rollins. He was born in Vanguard, Saskatchewan (1926) and had an exceptional career. Rollins was on the 1949 Allan Cup winner (Edmonton Flyers). He graduated to the NHL that fall, won the Vezina in 1951 and the Hart trophy in 1954. He was on the 1951 Stanley team (Toronto).

When his playing career ended, Rollins got into coaching. His first stop was Spokane (WIHL), followed by the old Western (Pro League) and then one season in the WHA (76-77 with Phoenix).

When the WHA folded into the NHL, Rollins landed with the Oilers organization and was GM/Coach for the Houston Apollos (CHL) in 1979-80. Among the players he coached that season were future NHLers Charlie Huddy, Mark Messier (sent down for a cup of coffee) and future math legend Jim Corsi.

The Oilers minor league system hasn’t produced enough talent in the last 10 seasons. Some of the top talents procured through the draft (Hemsky, Gagner) skipped the minors altogether by arriving in the NHL as teenagers. Others (Tom Gilbert, as an example) appear to have done most of their developing in college, and waited in the AHL until opportunity knocked. The actual number of minor league hires who arrived, adjusted, honed their skills into something useful for NHL coaches, is very low.

Word tonight the club is going to hire Todd Nelson. He has coaching experience at the AHL and NHL level, and we can’t really gather any kind of conclusion about him based on his resume as an assistant coach. What can we say with authority? Nelson will likely benefit from the Oilers stated goal to improve the team from the ground up.

At some point it doesn’t matter who to blame about the past. It might have been the EIG, Kevin Lowe, bad coaching or poor drafting. No matter, the organization had decades of evidence suggesting that there was a way to develop talent (having an AHL team with experience and sprinkling in your best kids as they earn the opportunity) and chose to flush it to save money.

Todd Nelson is joining the group at a very good time. Rob Daum didn’t get the opportunity to coach a team with experience, depth and quality kids from junior/college. Nor did Jeff Truitt, nor did Kelly Buchberger. Timing is everything, and Daryl Katz appears ready to bankroll “doing it right” in the minor leagues. The results should start to arrive in the NHL in the next 24 months.

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