Grand Rapids Griffins coach Todd Nelson’s decision to move on after three years as the Griffins’ bench boss wasn’t surprising, but it did leave some fans scratching their heads.
At 49, Nelson told the Grand Rapids media that he “had to go” back to the NHL to further his hopes of landing a head coaching job in the NHL at some point in the future, and as Nelson had won a pair of Calder Cup championships, there really was nothing more for Nelson to prove at the AHL level.
More than a few Wings fans were dissatisfied with Nelson’s move not because he chose to move onward and upward, but because he didn’t end up flanking Jeff Blashill’s shoulder as the person filling the assistant coach’s spot vacated by John Torchetti. That means that Wings fans are angry (though it takes nothing more than a sneeze from the management group to piss off a Wings fan these days).
As far as I can tell:
1. The Red Wings appear to have gone in a different direction in terms of their coaching search, and if I were to hazard a guess, coach Blashill is probably going to hire an NCAA coach to fill the void.
2. It also appears that the Red Wings wanted Nelson to stay on as their AHL coach, if only for one more season, and that’s understandable as Nelson did an admirable job in Grand Rapids, mentoring the next generation of Red Wings prospects.
3. It’s also possible, if not probable, that Nelson felt that he needed to join a different organization to stretch his professional legs and head out on his own. It can be argued that Nelson is more likely to be perceived to have earned a coaching spot on his own merits outside the Wings’ organization, too…
4. And, of course, there’s something to be said for Jim Nill and the Stars pouncing when a star AHL coach was made available by another team…
5. Along those lines, I suppose it is possible to fault Red Wings GM Ken Holland for affording both an AHL and NHL coach (see: Mike Babcock) the opportunity to speak with other teams regarding positions while still under contract to the Wings. It’s a part of Holland’s loyalty to “company men” that I don’t really understand, but he still extends the privilege to both players and front office personnel…
And in almost every case, Holland has lost personnel, which I suppose is the cost of doing business in such a manner…
6. In my personal opinion, however, I don’t really blame Holland for Nelson’s departure. As far as I’m concerned, as soon as Nelson was granted permission to speak to other teams, he was gone, and I believe that Nelson probably felt that joining another organization was in his best interest.
The Red Wings and Griffins lost a good man in Nelson, and I’m disappointed that he chose to leave, but I cannot begrudge him the desire to become a head coach in the NHL, especially given that he’s nearing 50 years of age…
And while I’m not thrilled with the organization’s deference to the “company man,” I don’t begrudge the coach or GM for affording Nelson the opportunity to stake out on his own if the team wasn’t going to promote him as an assistant coach. That’s only fair to Nelson given his aspirations.
I wish Nelson the best of luck in his new position, and I can’t say enough about his accessibility to and candor with the media.
Nelson gave a superb interview to the Grand Rapids Press’s Peter J. Wallner yesterday, and I was intrigued when WOOD TV’s Larry Figurski suggested that Jim Paek might be a possible head coaching candidate in addition to Griffins assistants Ben Simon and Bruce Ramsay, as well as Toledo Walleye coach Dan Watson.
As the Wings search for a new head coach in GR and an assistant at the NHL level, all of the candidates to coach the Griffins are excellent, but Paek is a step ahead as he helped the South Korean hockey team qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics.
We’ll see what happens over the course of this month.